Sunflowers originally grew in North America. According to the National Sunflower Association of the USA, the plant was first cultivated in what is now Arizona and New Mexico in about 3,000BC. Its seeds were either eaten or used to make a purple dye for cloth. Parts of the sunflower were also held to be a remedy against snakebites. The biggest sunflower varieties can grow to over 6.1m in height, but most sunflowers are between 1.8m and 3m tall. There are also minature ones, which grow to less than 50cm.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Sunflower seeds
- Well-rotted compost
- Garden netting
Choose your sunflower variety. A plant such as "Titan" will grow to around 3.6m. For a smaller garden, try "Claret", which grows to around 120cm, or "Little Leo", which produces 45cm plants.
Rake over the ground in a sunny spot, as your plants need full sun for as much of the day as possible. With giant varieties, choose a position close to an eastward-facing wall or fence, so it will be easy to provide the sunflowers with support.
Dig in some well-rotted compost if the soil is poor, as sunflowers are hungry feeders.
Sow the seeds between March and May, directly into the soil. Space giant sunflowers 90cm to 120cm apart, medium-sized varieties 60cm apart and miniature sunflowers 30cm apart. Space rows of all varieties around 90cm apart, so the young plants do not get shaded as they grow. Cover them over lightly. Water the seeds well.
Cover the area with netting to stop birds, mice and squirrels from eating the seeds.
Water sparingly. Sunflowers can survive dry spells very well. Over-generous watering can loosen the soil around the roots and make this very tall plant unstable. Most varieties will be fully grown after two to three months.
Tips and warnings
- Sunflowers are strong and robust, but in windy locations, they may need stakes to give them extra support.
- Sunflowers grow to face the rising sun in the East, so they can be best seen from a west-facing position.
- Give your sunflowers a head start by sowing them into pots of good multipurpose compost, one seed to a pot. Put the pots on a sunny window ledge to germinate. Plant out the seedlings in June.
- Although sunflowers are hardy, young plants, they may need to be protected from a severe frost.
- Sunflower seeds make a great snack for people, birds and small furry pets such as gerbils or hamsters.
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