How to grow the perfect sunflower with Mary Hamblyn
Sunflower growing is a rite of passage for any young gardener. With their cheery faces and Jack-and-the-Beanstalk growth rate, it’s easy to see why they are a hit. Mid-April to June is the best time to sow sunflowers in the UK. Here are a few tips to help yours reach for the skies.
Sunflowers are great for introducing children to the wonders of germination. Sowing them indoors means you can start earlier, and it lets you get closer to the magic.
- Sow the seeds in pots of compost, two per pot, about 1cm deep. A three-inch plant pot is fine, as is an old yoghurt pot with a couple of holes poked in the bottom.
- Put the pots on a sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist but not too wet. Check them daily – they will almost grow before your eyes. Some will pop up with the seed husk perched precariously on their head.
- Sacrifice the weaker seedling if you end up with more than one per pot. If you’re a softie like me, you could try repotting it.
- Get your seedlings outside! If you keep them indoors too long the warmth and lack of light will make them tall and lanky. For now, you want a robust stocky plant; height can come later. I put mine in a sheltered sunny spot for a few weeks, and bring them in at night if it’s very cold. If you're after a weather-resistant pot, our silicone bucket makes the ideal home for growing sunflowers.
- Once the plants are well established and the frosts have passed you can plant them out in their final location…refer to steps 2 & 3 for outdoor sowing.
If you want minimum fuss, or summer is around the corner, sunflowers can be sown direct into the ground.
- Wait until the weather is fairly warm and the days are long, late May or June is ideal.
- Choose your spot. As you might suspect, they want somewhere sunny to thrive. At least six to seven hours of sun per day is essential.
- Prepare the ground by loosening it with a garden fork or sturdy spade. This makes it easier for the roots to get a firm hold. Dig a nice hole and mix in some manure if you want to.
- Sow two seeds (or three if you want to play it really safe) per hole, 2cm deep, and water them.
- If more than one seedling appears, wait until they are about 12cm tall and carefully pull up the weaker of the two. I know it’s difficult, but if you don’t none of your plants will have room to thrive.
A few more tips
Check your seed packet for spacing, but a good rule of thumb is to leave around 35-40cm between each plant. Some varieties can grow to 3 metres and beyond, so it’s a good idea to support them. A stick will do the trick, or try planting them against an east-facing wall (sunflowers always turn to the east).
Sunflowers quickly reach 'bigger than me' proportions! Regular watering is essential for strong, healthy plants. People who grow really, really tall sunflowers usually feed their plants weekly too. Most supermarkets and home stores stock sunflower seeds in the spring. But you’ll find a better selection if you go to a garden centre or an online seed specialist. There are lots of lovely varieties:
- For height – try Russian Giant, Mongolian Giant or American Giant
- Pot-friendly – go for Big Smile or Teddy Bear
- For picking – Vanilla Ice and Pastiche are gorgeous.
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