Learning to Grow Sunflowers

Sunflowers are a beautiful and ornamental flower for any garden setting. The best part is that the sunflower has many uses other than being ornamental. The growing of sunflowers can be used for livestock feed, dyes, and paper making. The oil of sunflowers is a lovely choice for cooking and is used in cosmetics as well. Finally, sunflowers grow tall, so they are a great decorative choice for a windbreak or privacy screen.

The sunflower comes in a wide variety of sized. Some flowers can grow to 15 feet tall with the flower being as large as one foot across. There are smaller varieties that only reach one or two feet tall. There are varieties in between these sizes as well. Some flowers have only one flower per stalk, while other features multiple heads.Sunflowers need to be planted in a location that gets full sun, preferably in the north side of a garden. This is important because as they can grow to be very tall they will not shade the other plants. The soil is not important, as sunflowers can grow in basically any soil.

Sunflowers are particular about their growing season. The seedlings are cold-resistant.  If you are located in an area with a short growing season, it is best to begin growing them several weeks before the last frost. Seeds should be sown one inch deep and six inches apart. Seeds need to be watered well after they are planted.After you have planted the sunflowers, apply a 3-4 inch layer of mulch. This will help to keep moisture in. Although sunflowers are drought-resistant they will grow best when they are watered regularly, especially from the time they are planted to when they reach maturity.

Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow, and fairly trouble free. They can be prone to leaf mottle, a fungus that will produce dead area along leaf veins. This can be fixed by rotating the crop. If autumn comes early, it can interfere with pollination, if this happens, plant earlier the following year. Seeds can be protected from birds by covering the flowers in mesh bags, cheesecloth, or perforated plastic bags.

You can harvest the sunflower seeds as soon as the seeds begin to turn brown. The sunflower heads will usually droop at this time. You can cut the heads along with 2 inches of the stem and hang upside down. Hang them in a well ventilated location, like a garage or attic until they have fully dried. The seeds can be stored in plastic bags or containers and used as bird and animal food. If you want to eat them, soak them in water overnight, use salt water for a salty taste, and spread on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven for three hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sunflowers are a tough and resilient flower, adding a beautiful touch to your accent. Sunflowers grow in tough soil conditions and they can resist drought. Be careful when planting them because they can inhibit the growth of other plants, so keep them separated from potatoes and pole beans. Otherwise, these are a great accessory for a garden, perfect to grow along a border!

By: Susan Soler of the Garden-Fountains.com Team