I love sunflowers! They are such optimistic and happy plants, lifting up their dish-like faces to the sun. Every year I grow too many, but just can’t resist all the latent possibility and enthusiasm in these lovely blooms.
They are a perfect choice when you are just starting a garden, because they will give almost instant architectural structure in just a few short weeks. They are great at the back of a border or perfect to provide a bit of screening, but it’s best to plant them in little groups, like soldiers standing to attention rather than dotted about.
Use the space in front of the sunflowers for mid-height plants with nice bushy leaves like Cosmos or even Globe Artichokes if you want to add a bit of ornamental spikiness. Both of these look much more attractive than the bottom of the sunflower stalk and lower leaves which can get a bit tatty as the flowers grow taller.
They usually germinate easily and sprint off to a lively start, but you may encounter problems later on, once they have been planted out. With a little nurturing and these tips for How To Grow Giant Sunflowers you will be able to fill your garden with beautiful sunshine blooms this summer.
How To Grow Giant Sunflowers
- First step is to choose a good variety; Helianthus Mammoth is an excellent choice because it will grow up to a foot a week in the right conditions and end up as high as 12 feet, with a trunk like jack and the beanstalk! Once bloomed, the giant plate like flowers will provide fantastic fodder for finches and tits well into the autumn months.
- Try to plant them in front of a fence or wall so they’ll be sheltered from the wind and in a nice sunny spot, because they love to sunbathe. Despite their strong main stalks, sunflowers always need a firm stake, which can start off as an ordinary bamboo cane, but will probably need upgrading to a sturdier chestnut pole for giant varieties. Secure the stems loosely to the poles with garden twine adding more ties as needed.
- As they grow, you can take advantage of the height and prolific growth by using them to support other plants. They look wonderful with bean plants and other climbing annuals like nasturtiums rambling through them and this also protects them from aphids like black-fly because they will be drawn to the nasturtiums first which are much easier to reach and treat (see my recipe for a Simple 3 Ingredient Anti-Aphid Spray)
- I sow the seeds in pots under protection, and a porch windowsill or cold frame is perfect. Very young sunflower seedlings are irresistible to slugs, snails and rabbits, so its worth allowing them to get established while they’re out of the reach of hungry predators.
- Plant them out once they out-grow their pot at about 1 foot tall. It’s important to protect them from the slugs and snails and there are so many creative ways to deal with these pesky visitors including beer, coffee, copper, cans, human hair, vinegar and citrus rinds. Check out How To Beat The Garden Pests for lots of tips.
- They like to be watered every day when it’s warm, but if you do have to miss a day or two, although they’ll droop quite quickly, they soon perk up again once watered.
- Encourage the friendly insects to help you care for your sunflowers by planting plenty of bright and fragrant annuals and flowering herbs like calendula, nasturtiums and cornflowers, or sage, rosemary and chives at the front of your borders. Bees will be the main pollinators and ladybirds will help to keep the aphids under control.
- If you have quite warm, damp conditions sunflowers can suffer from powdery mildew, if this occurs remove the affected lower leaves, this should also help the air to circulate and improve the ventilation. Keep a watchful eye, and treat it early, it is easier to get rid of when nipped in the bud! Try my Milk Anti-Mildew Spray and treat it at the first sign.
- As the sunflowers grow, sometimes it seems like they’ll never flower! But this only means it’s going to be a bigger, better bloom in the end. If an accident happens and the tip of the plant gets snapped before flowering, don’t give up hope, sometimes this means it’ll develop side shoots and you’ll end up with 2 or more smaller flower heads.
- As the summer advances, keep sunflowers well mulched to help the roots stay moist, and remove any lower browning leaves as they dry up, as this will help with ventilation.
- I always leave the sunflowers after thy have bloomed to dry up and feed the birds. They serve as a golden reminder of warm summer days right into the winter months.