How To Grow Sunflowers: A Simple Guide to This Garden Favorite

If you’re looking for a fun and low-maintenance garden project, think about planting sunflowers. They’re easy to grow, which makes them perfect for beginners, and will brighten up any space.

Learn all about sunflowers and the different varieties you can choose from with this step-by-step guide to planting them. Before you know it, you’ll feel confident about how to grow sunflowers in your backyard garden.

What Are Sunflowers?

Native to North America, sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are annuals, which means they only grow for one season. Domesticated by Native Americans as early as 1000 BCE, some researchers believe sunflower cultivation took place before indigenous tribes introduced corn from Mexico.

Archeological evidence suggests pigment from sunflowers was extracted and used as a dye while other parts of the plant, such as the stem, were used to treat cuts and scrapes.

Today, growers love these bright yellow beauties for their vibrant appearance. They come in shades of orange, yellow, red, brown, pink, and even pale white. They’re also great at attracting pollinators into gardens, so don’t be surprised to see hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies make regular stops in your yard when sunflowers are around.

They’re also a food source for animals and humans alike. From sunflower oil in your pantry to a bird feeder staple, sunflowers are truly a multipurpose gift of nature.

Varieties of Sunflowers

There are several varieties of sunflower you can choose from for your garden. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Branching Cultivars: Have ample room in your garden? Branching cultivars might be a good option for you as they grow abundantly and are larger than average sunflowers. Look for Teddy Bear, Sonja, or Joker varieties.
  • Pollen-Free Cultivars: Mostly used as cut flowers, pollen-free varieties of sunflowers won’t stain since — you guessed it — they don’t have any pollen. These sunflowers typically grow from two to eight feet in height. Seed packets labeled as Sunrich or Double Quick are pollen-free sunflowers.
  • Dwarf Cultivars: Dwarf varieties are perfect for patio gardens, containers, or anywhere you’re short on space. Sunspot and Ms. Mars are what you’ll want to look for at your local garden center
  • Giant Cultivars: If you want to grow giant sunflowers, choose tall varieties. These flowers are likely to be taller than eight feet and will produce large seed heads and flowers. Much like the branching types, you’ll want to give these flowers plenty of space when you plant them. Keep your eyes open for Cyclops, American Giant, Autumn Beauty, and Mammoth Russian seeds. 

Psst: Did you know the center of a sunflower is really a bunch of flowers? It’s true! Sunflower heads are composed of hundreds of itty bitty flowers all growing at the same time. And the petals we see are protective leaves. 

How To Grow Sunflowers in Your Home Garden

how to grow sunflowers: Little girl smelling a sunflower plant

Sunflowers are a perfect place for beginners to start a gardening adventure. These bright and cheerful flowers are low maintenance and make an ideal addition to a backyard garden, and even more so if you have a veggie patch.

Along with lavender, sunflowers encourage pollination as they attract a variety of bees. The more pollinators you have in your garden, the more it can flourish. Whether you’re hoping to attract honey bees or plan to release native bees (such as mason or leafcutters), sunflowers will add more than color to your garden.

Tips for Planting 

Whether you start with sunflower seeds or buy seedlings to transfer into your garden, it’s easy to learn how to grow sunflowers.

Start planting sunflowers after the danger of frost has passed, otherwise the soil temperature will be too cold for proper germination to take place. Use our plant hardiness zone finder to discover your area’s last frost date and learn when you should start planting.

Maintaining proper spacing is also crucial when planting your seeds. Depending on the variety, some should be planted six inches apart, while others will need closer to one to two feet for proper growth.

Back to the Roots Organic Sunflower Windowsill Grow Kit makes it super easy to grow your own sunflowers indoors and out. Your growing kit comes with everything you need, including organic, non-GMO, USA-grown sunflower seeds and a custom organic soil blend. It’s the best way to ensure your sunflowers get all the nutrients they need to blossom.

If you live in a region with a short growing season, consider starting your seeds indoors before transplanting them into your garden later when it warms up.

Psst: If you notice your sunflower plants starting to droop or they struggle to stay upright when the wind blows, try staking. Depending on where you’ve planted them, you can use bamboo rods or secure them along a fence line. 

Soil, Water, and Light Requirements 

As their name suggests, sunflowers grow best in full sun, so keep this in mind when you’re thinking about where you’d like to plant them in your garden. You might notice your flowers move throughout as they follow the sunshine. Sunflower heads will track the sun, first facing east, then west, and back to the east once the sun sets.

Healthy soil conditions are essential for everything you plant in your garden, so always use quality potting soil for your plants to thrive. Good soil will add a wealth of organic matter, such as kelp meal, worm castings, and more, enriching the soil and ensuring your plants get an abundance of nutrients.

Sunflowers are adaptable, so whether you have heavier clay or lighter sandy soils, you can plant and grow them with ease. What’s essential is having soil loose enough for your sunflower’s taproots to grow deep into the ground. A taproot is typically the first root to grow and is more prominent than others that sprout.

Hold back on fertilizing until true leaves begin developing. Once they do, a slow-release granular fertilizer can give your sunflowers an extra boost of nutrients. 

Psst: If you’re looking for natural weed control, give mulch a try. You can use grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, and pine straw. Mulch will improve soil drainage and save you time on garden maintenance.

Keeping Critters and Disease at Bay

Like other plants, sunflowers have their share of insect and even wildlife pests. It’s something you’ll want to stay on top of when learning how to grow sunflowers, especially because damage can cause your sunflowers to droop or die altogether.

Watch out for stink bugs, aphids, caterpillars, and sunflower moths. A sunflower moth can ruin your garden as they eat through seeds and make your plants more vulnerable to disease. Try crafting your own insecticidal soap at home, or look for a chemical-free version to ward off a takeover. Another option is to introduce ladybugs into your garden. They’ll feast on aphids and other small insects that could harm your flowers, fruits, and veggies. 

If you live in an area where deer are common, keep an eye out. These gentle creatures love snacking on sunflower plants, so employ secure fencing to protect them from unwelcome snack breaks.

Be vigilant against disease as sunflowers are susceptible to fungal infections such as downy mildew. If you notice your plant’s leaves starting to yellow or see a downy white growth form underneath them, you’ll need to pick up a fungicide before it takes over your garden. 

Psst: Keep a watchful eye on your plants when you’re tending your garden. You’ll be able to prevent pests and diseases from running amok if you’re aware of when they arrive in your garden. 

Brighten Up Your Garden and Home With Sunflowers

Beautiful sunflowers with different kinds of flower in a garden

Learning how to grow sunflowers is easier than you think. There are so many different kinds of sunflowers to choose from, you may have a hard time sticking to just one. 

Fortunately, you can enjoy planting sunflowers anywhere. Whether you have plenty of space outdoors or want to perk up a windowsill, sunflowers are perfect for first-time gardeners or when you’re interested in a simple but rewarding gardening project. For more gardening tips and tricks, continue browsing our Back to the Roots blog.

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