We visited RHS gardens at Wisley the other day, and they were doing a grow your own sunflower event for children. Little George and Nathaniel planted up their sunflowers in a paper cup and bought them home to grow in the garden.
Inspired by this we planted several more when we got home. There was a sunflower species to suit us all; a medium height red sunflower for Daddy to put in his tropical border (Velvet Queen); a black one to put next to my dark foliage dahlia (Black Magic) and a really tall one for Nathanial and Ellie to grow for the giant sunflower competition (Russian Giant).
Growing sunflowers (Helianthus annus) really is simple, and great fun. They are hardy annuals, so you will have to plant from seed every year. Sow them direct into the soil in early spring and early summer, or a little earlier in pots. The advantage of growing them in a pot is that they get a chance to get established before any slugs get their chops around them.
Plant sunflower seeds into pots indoors in late winter/early spring. Sow into individual 7.5 cm / 3 inch pots. Fill the pot up with multi purpose compost and drop the seed in pointy tip upwards a 1/4 inch into the soil. Water gently and place in a sunny position of 20-30 C (a sunny windowsill will do). Germination will take about 21 days. Plant out in the border when the risk of frost has passed.
When planting directly outside wait a little longer until the soil starts to warm up. Choose a position suitable for your sunflower; most prefer a sunny border but they will tolerate most sites and soils. Rake the soil to a fine tilth and plant the seed 1/4 inch into the soil, pointy end up, and cover with soil. Place a cane nearby so that you remember where they are planted and water the seeds in.
Tie them in to the cane when they grow to prevent them from being blown over and feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser and water daily during the summer. Your sunflowers will flower in late summer. After flowering the heads will turn to seed and you can remove these and hang them up around your garden for birds to feed on.
The key to successful sunflowers is to select the correct species for your needs. If you want a really tall sunflower then you need to select a giant seed and a single flowering type. If its colour you are looking for then you can choose from red, black, brown, white, orange or bi-coloured varieties. Sunflowers come in a huge range of heights and are available as early, medium and late flowering varieties.
For related articles click onto:
Can you keep bees in your garden?
How do I attract bees into my garden?
How to grow giant sunflowers
How to grow sunflowers from seed
How to grow geraniums from seed
How to make compost
How to propagate from seed
Preparing a seed bed
What is a potager?
Which plant has the largest seed?
Which plant has the largest leaves?
Which plant has the largest flower?