Sunflowers are the epitome of summer. These magnificent giants stand bright and tall and you can’t help but smile when you see them. They are useful as well as cheerful, providing us with cooking oil and offering us (and the birds) a tasty nutritious snack from their seeds. They’re jam packed full of nutrients and they look great in a vase too, what’s not to love?
Sunflowers are ridiculously easy to grow too. They’re a great garden project to take on with the kids and also to make into some friendly competition. Below we show you how to grow sunflowers in a few simple steps and how to drum up the competitive spirit in growing these nodding giants. Read our other garden series blog, Projects for Kids, to find some more garden activities to keep the little ones entertained.
How to grow your sunflowers
What you will need
A propagator (if starting indoors)
A patch of soil or a container (planter, tub, pot etc)
Multi-purpose compost (for container growing)
A tall support cane
What you need to do
Sunflowers can be grown directly outdoors, or you can give them a quicker start in life via a propagator (see our blog post on how to grow with little space which briefly covers propagators). They can begin to germinate in just a day when grown indoors!
Indoor sowing – from March to May (flowering from June – September)
Fill your propagator cells with compost. Plant one seed per cell at a depth of 1.5cm and cover completely. Keep them moist during this stage. Seedlings can appear after just a couple of days so keep an eye out!
Transfer to large pots as they start to grow. (As they grow fast so we’d recommend buying your larger pots as early as possible) Once transferred you can start to ‘harden off’ your sunflowers by popping them outside in the day and bringing them in at night for a week. Hardening off means you are getting the plant used to life outdoors so it has a better chance at surviving a different climate.
Once hardened off, transplant into your containers or planter or soil with a space of 45cm between each one. Plant them in the sunniest spot in the garden as true to their name, they’re sun worshippers.
As your sunflower grows you may need to help support it with a cane and some wire so they can grow straight and upwards without bending under their own weight.
Keep watering when the soil becomes dry. Be careful not to over-water, being mindful of when it rains. Then watch them grow and grow!
Outdoor sowing – from March to May (flowering from June – September)
Step 1: In a prepared bed of soil sow 2 seeds together with a space of 45cm between pairs at a depth of 1.5cm. Cover the seeds with soil and keep moist. Seedlings grown outdoors can take 2-3 weeks.
Step 2: Once your seedlings emerge, remove the weaker of the two to let the stronger one thrive. You can always give this weaker seedling to a friend or neighbour or replant them another 45cm apart if you have the space.
Step 3: As your sunflower grows you may need to help support it with a cane and some wire so they can grow straight and upwards under their weight.
Step 4: Keep watering the same way as in Step 4 above.
Top Tips and Info
Take note of your seed packet for an estimate of their height - especially for the competition below.
Sunflowers are great plants for pollinators so growing them may attract bees and wasps to your garden, keep this in mind if anyone in your household is allergic or scared of them.
Check the seed packet to ensure your variety is edible. Seeds in the packet are not. However most sunflower seeds from the plant you grow should be.
A step ladder will help you out as they grow taller, especially when trying to measure. Make sure to operate ladders safely.
Sunflower heads will also feed birds as we move into autumn, so get your birdwatching cards out.
Start your own competition
Growing sunflowers is an easy way to bring out the competitive spirit between families and friends. To start your own competition, share this blog post with friends, family or neighbours and plant at similar times (so there’s an equal end date to your challenge). Then nature and a bit of watering should do the rest! Hand out certificates or prizes for the tallest one and see the how much fun can be had from one little seed.
Take a look at our printable certificates you can use for your own competitions here.
Sunflower fun whilst you wait
We’ve made some sunflower colouring sheets and activity pages to help pass the time whilst you wait for your sunflowers to grow.