Now is the time to plan to grow a sunflower forest. These plants are easy to grow from seed and you can tuck them in any sunny spot on your property. Don’t just think about growing sunflowers on the edge of a vegetable garden…plan on planting them in other places as well. Sunflowers can be grown in large containers, among foundation plants, in perennial beds, along fences and behind mail boxes. Perhaps you might even become a “Johnny Sunflower-Seed” and tuck a few in random areas that need a dose of fun and cheer. They are annuals, so nothing permanent is being planted. Tips for success below, along with suggestions for parents and grandparents for kids’ sunflower activities.
Tips for success with Sunflowers:
Buy the seed in the spring. The packets of sunflower seed sell quickly so be sure to pick up what you want to grow well in advance of planting time.
Read the label on the seed packet to be sure you’re getting the varieties you want. Some sunflower plants are bred to stay short. If you want to grow “a sunflower forest” you either want tall ones or a mixture of some tall and some medium in height.
If you want a long season of flowers, or enough flowers to enjoy in the landscape and bring in for a vase, make three or more sowings of seed about three weeks apart. This will give you constantly maturing plants and a longer period of bloom.
If the ground where you want to plant your sunflowers is very compact, don’t just tuck the seeds in such a hard or root-filled soil. Take a shovel and loosen the dirt at least a foot deep and up to two feet wide in diameter. Mix in some compost or composted manure with the native soil.
To encourage large growth feed your plants every two or three weeks with a liquid organic fertilizer such as Neptune’s Harvest.
Neptune’s Harvest Organic Hydrolized Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer 36 0z
Dust newly emerging plants with Diatomaceous Earth for organic control of slugs, snails and earwigs when the plants are small and most vulnerable to damage from these pests.
Safer Brand 5168 Diatomaceous Earth Powder Ant, Crawling Insect and Bed Bug Killer, 7 Ounces
Plant seeds about an inch deep, watering right away to settle the earth so that the critters won’t know that something has been planted here.
Water sunflowers deeply but less often. A long soaking once a week is better than a short burst of water every day.
Don’t plant sunflowers until the night time temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees. These are heat-loving plants!
Don’t look for large sunflower plants in the garden center. Plant seeds!
Here are some sources of sunflower seed on Amazon:
Seeds of Change S10846 Certified Organic Russian Mammoth Sunflower
Seed Savers Exchange 0307 Organic, Open-pollinated Sunflower Seed, Autumn Beauty, 100 Seed Packet
Sunflowers are perfect for busy parents who want an outdoor activity for their kids this summer. Get some seeds in the spring, and once all danger of frost is past, consider some of the following ideas.
“Secret Sunflowers” Give each child a handful of sunflower seeds and a trowel: tell them that the seeds can be planted in any location in the yard. When they come up and start flowering, this will be a surprise since no one else will know where the seeds were planted! Explain, however that this plant grows best in the sun so to look up and avoid planting in places where there are trees or other things above that block the sun. Explain too that the ground should be loosened down a few inches and in a circle about the size of a plate. Loose soil makes it easier for the roots to grow when they’re small.
“Sunflower Studies” For those who home school their children, sunflowers contain a wealth of opportunities. From looking at Vincent Van Gough’s sunflower paintings to studying the Fibonacci numbers and the golden spiral, the learning opportunities go way beyond the study of how plants grow.
“Sunflower Houses” Plant a bunch of sunflowers in a circle about eight feet in diameter. Mulch in the center with something soft such as hay. Once the sunflower plants are about two feet high, plant an annual vine around their stems. Cardinal climber vine is a perfect choice because it’s not too heavy and won’t shade the sunflowers or pull them over, and the flowers attract hummingbirds. Plant the sunflower seeds in a staggered (zig-zag) line around the circle, about six to eight inches apart, leaving a gap of about two feet for a door. From mid to late summer this will be a magical “house” for small children.
“Bird Feeder Garden” To grow sunflowers is to grow bird feeders on a stick! Kids can learn which birds will eat these seeds. Once the seeds are ripe they can either remain in the garden to feed the birds as is, or they can be harvested and placed out for the birds in the future.