Sunflower: How to Grow Sunflower
I went to Cebu, which is a city in the Philippines recently and I availed of a tour package that included a flower field visit. There are different plants there but what caught my attention was the Sunflower. We were informed about the health benefits, different types, and how easy it is to plant at home. They gave us seeds at the end of the tour and I just have to try planting it myself.
Sunflower has been part of our lives ever since we learned what flowers are. It’s a standard image of a flower aside from the Rose. They are the representation of happiness and warmth with their bright yellow petals that look similar to the sun.
Sunflowers came from the genus Helianthus that has 70 different species. They are annual flowering plants that naturally grow in tropical regions and reach their peak during the summer season.
They are well known as ornamental plants but they also have other uses like getting oil from its edible seeds. The flowers produce yellow dye and the leaves are used as food for cattle or livestock.
Facts About Sunflower
The Sunflower has a very interesting history. It’s native to North America and was first cultivated by American Indians. They gathered and ground the seeds to make flour for bread and cakes. They also ate the seeds as a snack or mixed it with their meals to add flavor and texture to it.
The spread of the Sunflower around the world started when the plant was introduced to Europe through Spain then Russia. It was then developed to be commercialized since its oil was considered valuable. They also realized that the Sunflower’s other uses were worth the plant production over time.
I’ve also found an origin story for Sunflower. According to Greek mythology, its scientific name “Helianthus” came from the word “Helios” and “Anthos”, which mean sun and flower. It was also said that it was named after Helios, which was the sun god. The name “Helianthus” literally means flower of the sun and the way it faces upwards when it blooms adds up to make the name more appropriate.
Sunflowers flourish in warm tropical regions and they have the capability to survive extreme heat. Nevertheless, the highest temperature they can bear is between 70-78° Fahrenheit. Given their heat tolerance, it's best to plant sunflowers in areas where they can get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. It has long taproots, which means that it requires moist, loose, and well-drained soil that has enough space vertically or horizontally, depending on the type of sunflower that you would like to grow. They also prefer alkaline soil.
The average height of the Sunflower plant is 6 - 10 feet tall. Although there are other variations of it like the small ones that grow up to 2 feet only and the giant varieties that can grow as tall as 15 - 16 feet. The tallest sunflower that was ever recorded stood at 30 feet and 1 inch in height.
The sunflower leaves are generally heart, ovate, or egg-shaped with a rough texture on its upper surface. They can grow up to 30 cm long and have short stiff hairs with a channeled petiole. The top part of the leaves is bland green and the petioles are colored light to reddish-green.
In general, sunflowers have really bright yellow-colored petals with reddish-brown centers where the seeds are located. This is why this flower has been the representation of happiness because no other plant can bring forth an uplifting color like this. There are also some variations of the sunflower that produce flowers that are red, cream, and bi-colored.
The sunflower plant has a very large flower head that looks like the sun that you can reach and touch without getting burned. The plant’s name was taken from its distinctive flower that has yellow pleated rays for petals, and a big brown central disk. The center is made up of florets that are little flowers that are always spiral in pattern, and a single flower can have approximately 20 up to 40 ray florets. They can measure up to 13 - 30 cm wide, depending on the type and care for the sunflower you have.
Types of Sunflower
Giant sunflowers, as the name suggests, are the type of sunflowers that can grow up to 15 - 18 feet tall. You can choose either to have tall sunflowers with little blossoms at the top or get the seeds for the towering and big sunflower heads.
It is important to choose the right seeds for the type of giant sunflower you would love to have. Different seeds have different growth size. Here are some of it:
- Skyscraper Sunflower - This plant grows up to 12 - 14 ft. tall and produces flowers that are 14-inch across or bigger.
- Mammoth or Russian Giant - The most common and known giant sunflower variation, It is considered the best looking sunflower in this variation. It also has a big flowerhead that can grow up to 20 inches.
- Sunzilla - It got its name due to its appearance of having a very big center in its flowerhead. This plant has an average height of 12 - 16 feet tall.
Given that this variation can grow so high, it is important to provide a windbreak to avoid damages made by strong winds or plant them in a place that can get enough sun while avoiding the direct wind. Having full sun exposure and rich loose soil will ensure the plant’s growth.
For you to grow this bigger variety of sunflowers, you will need to provide a large space for them to develop and freely spread their roots. Be wary of pests and remember to install supports so that your plants won’t fall over or bend in an awkward manner.
Medium Sunflowers are the variations of this plant that falls in between the giants and the dwarfs. They measure 5 - 6 feet tall and have flower heads that are 8 - 10 inches wide. You can choose to plant on the ground or in a large planting pot in your garden.
There are different types of medium-sized sunflowers, and here are some of them that I was able to find:
- Red Sun - This plant blooms dark red sunflowers and can grow up to 6 feet tall. Its flower head measures an average of 4 inches, and they are a remarkable addition to your garden or place it in a vase for display.
- Alchemy Sunflower - This plant produces the bright yellow flower image that we have when we think of sunflowers. Alchemy has contrasting silvery foliage and is considered a multi-stem, and they can grow up to 5 feet tall and has 6 inch wide flowers.
- Italian White - I included this here because of its unique color and it’s a sunflower that is considered medium height as it grows only up to 5 feet tall and has 4-inch wide flower heads. It is a multi-stem plant and blooms with white or cream-colored petals that have a dark brown center.
It’s common for medium-sized sunflowers to be a multi-stem variety, and this means that they produce more flowers throughout time. Although frequent trimming is not necessary, this plant will still require a lot of room to grow, and space where it can spread out. Once the flower’s backs are dried, you can remove them to let other blooms flourish. The cycle can continue until the start of winter.
There are sunflowers that we can call cute, dwarf, or little ones due to their size. This type of sunflower can grow only up to 3 feet tall. This variety of the plant is best grown in clusters and can definitely be placed in planters. Dwarf sunflowers are nice additions to flower arrangements due to their small stalks and colorful heads.
- Pale Purple Berkheya - I noticed this sunflower variety immediately. I have to mention it here because of its soft pale violet petals attached to a dark purple center that sits on top of a sturdy stem. Its silvery gray leaves are thin and sharp, and look like a thistle. They grow up to about a foot tall, and develop in clusters as they are multi-stem.
- Suntastic - This is the perfect sunflower to grow in a pot. With its height of up to 2 feet, it can produce 6 inch wide flowers that have bright yellow petals with a black center. In its plant lifespan, it can make up to 20 sunflowers per plant.
- Teddy Bear - This variety of sunflower doesn’t look like any of the standard ones as it produces yellow with a tinge of orange pompom-like flowers. It forms too many layers of petals where the center is sometimes no longer visible. They can grow up to 2 feet tall with 4 - 5 inch flowers, and they are considered branching or multi-stemmed.
Dwarf Sunflowers will flourish with the right type of soil, which is rich, moist, and loamy. Direct sunlight is a must, and you need to make sure to protect it against pests and birds. Covering the flower heads with garden fleece or chicken wire barrier may help. Spacing and watering them properly will ensure that your plant grows happy and healthy.
Pollenless sunflowers are primarily the first choice of florists when it comes to flower arrangements as they do not produce pollen that can be hard to clean in a white tablecloth or bridal gown. The first pollenless sunflower was made accidentally by nature through a mutation or a genetic defect. It was a nice discovery, and it depends on the situation as this flower doesn’t attract bees or other pollinating species.
- Sunny Smile - This pollenless sunflower stands at 1 - 2 feet tall with 5-inch flower heads. They grow bright yellow petals in a dark brown center and have a branching habit.
- Little Becka - This plant grows up to 1 -2 feet tall and blooms these bright red-orange petals with a yellow halo that makes it qualify as a bi-colored sunflower. You can grow this pollen less flower in the ground or in a planter. It is truly a stunning flower and it’s also considered as a branching plant as they grow in bunches.
- Claret Sunflower - It is the darkest pollen less sunflower you can find. With its deep wine red velvety petals with black centers, they grow up to around 4 - 6 feet tall, and the heads are 5 - 6 inches wide.
Since pollenless sunflowers can’t pollinate on their own or with the help of pollinating insects, they grow from seeds and need to be directly planted in the soil for germination. It needs moist and fertile soil with direct sunlight and just the right amount of water.
How to Grow Sunflowers
Sunflowers thrive in a ground that can go deep as they have long tap roots. It is important that the soil is fertile and it drains well since this plant requires enough moisture and will drown if it's over watered. The spacing between plants, if you're planning on planting more than one, depends on the type that you're going for. They like alkaline rich soil that has a ph of 6.0 to 7.5
A high quality all-purpose potting soil will do well with your sunflower too. Make sure that there is enough organic matter in the soil too.
At the start, Sunflower seeds need a lot of water to germinate faster and ensure thick and strong stems that can hold big flower heads. Once it's growing, it will only need an inch of water per week. Proper drainage helps to best avoid pooling in your pot or puddling in the ground because too much water may cause your sunflower to die.
Sunflowers need direct sunlight to flourish. They require 6 to 8 hours of sun exposure to develop beautifully. Spacing the flowers properly will make sure that every part of the plant is reached by natural light and not one leaf is deprived of the sun.
This plant is very hardy and tolerant of high temperatures. They can survive extreme heat and the best temperature for them is between 70 - 78° Fahrenheit. Sunflowers also thrive in soil temperature that is at least 55 - 60° Fahrenheit.
Since the plant is fairly hardy and tolerant, it doesn’t need much fertilizing. It prefers slightly acidic to a bit of an alkaline soil. Avoid feeding too much nitrogen as it will have a hard time blooming. Fertilize according to the soil you have and if you’re already confident that your soil is nutrient rich, you can just add a mulch to maintain the moisture in it and repel weeds.
Sunflower plants grow from long tap roots that settle deeply into the ground. It is hard to transplant them once they’re fully grown, and this is why sowing the seeds in their permanent location has been the best practice.
But if you really need to transplant your sunflowers, it is recommended that you do it by growing the seed in a container and transplanting the seedlings after they sprout. This normally happens within 3 weeks after planting the seeds.
As there are 2 types of sunflowers, the annual and perennials, the latter is the one that needs pruning or deadheading. This is because the perennials produce more flowers frequently and pruning will prevent them from knocking each other over. This way, they will give you fresh blooms that are healthy and pretty throughout their life.
Before starting, ensure that your pruning tools are sterilized. Then you can cut on the parts that are unhealthy or damaged. Check where the new buds are, and be careful not to hit them with your pruning tools. Snip the wilted flowers off beneath their stem and just above their leaves.
You can either produce more sunflowers from the seeds when the blooms ripen, or use cut flowers to propagate them.
With perennial plants, it’s best to get a healthy side shoot that has mature leaves without buds or flowers, and plant it to root.
As for the seeds, remove or wait for them to fall off a sunflower, and plant them in the location you want them to grow from.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Aside from being known as an ornament plant, Sunflowers also gained their popularity because of their seeds and their uses. Sunflower seeds have been appreciated because of these health benefits:
- Lower blood sugar level, cholesterol, and blood pressure
- Control cell damages
- Generate more energy in our body
- Help with the nerves
- High in protein
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Promote healthier bones
Uses of Sunflower
Every part of the sunflower can be used in culinary. The seeds, the petals, the roots, and the leaves. Chefs have found tons of fusion recipes that include sunflowers. Seeds are mainly for flavor and add texture to the food. Petals are used for flavor too and accent the plate.
Sunflower oil has been used in culinary as well throughout history. They are used as a vegetable cooking oil, an ingredient in margarine making, and is also used to make salad dressings.
Sunflowers were traditionally cultivated for their oils and the seeds grounded into flour for baking bread. It is a healthy bird food too.
In history, the sunflower has been a symbolic plant as its blooms resemble the sun and brought an image of light. Its leaves are made as tea or fodder.
I really had fun writing this article about Sunflowers and I hope you enjoyed reading and learning a lot of new things about this plant too. Growing and maintaining them is quite easy and the benefits are absolutely a plus.
Who doesn’t want to brag about a beautiful sunflower blooming in their garden? Imagine waking up and seeing sunflowers flourish outside your window. What a sight! Let’s all plant and have fun.
Frequently Asked Questions
How fast do sunflowers grow?
Sunflowers reach maturity within 70 - 100 days after planting it. Since this plant has several different species, some of them are annual and others are perennial. They either live and then die in a year or regrow every spring. They bloom during summer until early fall.
How long do sunflowers live?
Sunflowers have a longer lifespan when they are still attached to their stems. They bloom for 2 - 3 weeks before wilting and falling off. Cut flowers, on the other hand, last for 5 - 12 days, depending on how you take care of it while in a vase or on display.
Some of the things you can do to make sunflowers last longer is to pick them in the early morning, cut in an angle, immediately put them in the water, and change it daily.
Can you grow sunflowers in a pot?
Yes, you can grow sunflowers in a pot. It is the dwarf variety of sunflowers that mostly do well in containers as they are small and can live in a restricted space unlike the giant sunflowers that need deep and wide areas to fully develop and gain height. You can grow sunflowers of up to 4 feet in height and the size of the planter is determined by the type of sunflower you’re wanting to grow.