Sunflower 2
In this guide we talk about how to grow and take care of sunflowers, along with ways to get younger gardeners involved.

Helpful information

Timing: March - April (sow seeds into pots), Late April - May (sow seeds directly into the ground)

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Large garden, small garden, balcony

  • Sunflowers grow pretty reliably from seeds, making them perfect for newer or less confident gardeners - as well as experienced gardeners
  • Sowing seeds requires fine movements and works on our dexterity. As sunflower seeds are quite large, they can be more manageable than smaller seeds
  • The opportunity to enjoy observing your plant growing every taller before it opens up to a huge, bright flower
Clients sunflower competition 2016 21
A sunflower competition at Thrive

Few plants herald the summer quite like the sunflower. Because they are quite straightforward to grow, they are a common sight in many gardens, community gardens and allotments. They can quickly draw the eye with their bright colour and towering growth.

The sunflower got its name from the fact that its flower will often point itself towards the sun. Ancient Greek mythology tells us that this is because sunflowers were created from Clytie, a jealous nymph who betrayed Apollo the god of the sun for finding another love. She was buried and was reborn in the form of a sunflower. Her love for Apollo carries on, hence why she still watches him as he arcs above her in the sky.

The scientific story is a bit different. The stem of the sunflowers grows longer when it is sunny. As a result, the head of the plant turns with it. This helps the sunflower as the turning motion helps the sun warm the many florets in the flower head. It also helps it attract potential insect pollinators.

Essential items

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Small pot
  • Seed sowing / multi-purpose compost
  • Pencil
  • Watering can with rose attachment
  • Plant label and pen

Our step by step guide to growing sunflowers from seed will help you do it with ease.

Step 1: Gather everything you need

Find a comfortable spot to work. Get all the equipment you will need in one place.

Step 2: Fill pot with compost

Fill a small pot (around 9cm across) almost to the top with compost. Seed sowing compost is naturally nice and fine. If using multi-purpose compost, make sure to break up any large lumps of soil. Gently tap your pot against the table / surface you are working on so the compost settles.

Make it easier

You don't have to sow sunflower seeds into small pots first. You can sow them straight into prepared soil in their final growing place, whether that's in the ground or in a container. If you are doing this, wait until a bit later in the year - late April to early May - when the weather has warmed. You may also need to check for slugs and snails enjoying your little plants!

Step 3: Make a hole for the seed and place seed in it

Use a pencil or similar pointed object to make small hole in the centre of the compost. Place one sunflower seed in the hole.

Step 4: Cover with compost

Sprinkle a little compost over the seed to cover it.

Step 5: Gently water

Water carefully using a watering can with a rose attachment. Try not to disturb the compost and seed when you water.

Step 6: Add plant label and put in position

Write your plant label and place at the edge of the pot. Position your pot somewhere warm. A windowsill inside, or sunny sheltered spot outside, are good options.

Sunflowers Battersea Park
Sunflowers at our Thrive centre in Battersea Park

Continue to water and watch your seedlings as they grow. Once they have outgrown their small pot, you can plant them out into their final spot in the garden. Try and wait until at least late April to do this, once the weather has warmed.

Keep watering your sunflowers regularly as they grow. Sunflowers can require more nutrients than other plants to reach their full potential height. Make sure the soil they are growing in has plenty of compost or well-rotted manure dug in before planting and give them a feed once a week if you want an impressively tall plant.

Many tall sunflowers can hold the weight of their flower head without extra support. But, if you feel like your plant could use help to protect it from strong winds, stake and tie it in. Put a bamboo stick next to the sunflower and use garden string to loosely tie the plant to the stick.

In late summer or early autumn, once your sunflower has completely finished flowering, you could save the seeds for the following year. This is a great way to get free plants!

Sunflowers are great for younger gardeners to grow. Here are some ways to get them involved:

  • Sunflower growing competitions are a great way to get even the most hesitant gardeners planting a seed. With rulers and measuring tape, you can track the progress your seed makes. How close can you get to the world record tallest sunflower?
  • For any child that loves maths, this is a great plant to demonstrate the Fibonacci sequence. This is the name of the spiral pattern formed by the flowers within the head of the flower. Each floret is oriented towards the next by the golden angle of 137.5°. This sequencing can also be found in nature in pinecones and cauliflower heads.
  • Use your sunflower as artistic inspiration. Paints, crayons or clay could also be used to create sunflower artwork, releasing their inner Van Gogh.
  • You can give your sunflower a 'face'. Take out a few of the inner florets / seeds to create gaps that look like eyes and a smiling mouth. This will make your sunflower look even cheerier!
  • Once the sunflower has died back, use the spongy honeycomb-like centre as part of a bug hotel. Perfect for smaller creepy crawlies to feel right at home.

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