How To Grow Giant Sunflowers
How To Grow Towering Sunflowers With Massive And Bright Flowers While Introducing Your Kids To Gardening
Want to impress the kids with your supernatural gardening powers this summer?
Few plants can delight a child the way a two meter tall sunflower can and the best time plant them is right around the corner.
Sunflowers are easy to grow, drought and heat tolerant, and don’t require much maintenance so they’re a good choice if you don’t want to spend full afternoons looking after your plants. Here are a few tips to help you make sure your first attempt at growing sunflowers with the kids is a successful one.
Get giant sunflowers with proper spacing
If you want the strongest stalks with the biggest flowers space your seeds about fifty centimeters apart. If you place them too close the flowers won’t grow as large but the stalks will grow taller.
If you spread them out too much the flowers will grow larger but they may become too heavy for the stalk to safely support. Finding a snapped stalk after a rainstorm is one of the most disappointing things I have ever experienced as a gardener.
Germinate the seeds quickly with a little soil prep
The first time I ever grew sunflowers I simply dug a few holes and tossed a seed into the bottom of each one. I had some success but my laziness caused more than half of my seeds to never even sprout.
The next season I tilled the soil about fifteen centimetres deep and mixed in some compost that I bought at the gardening centre. I pressed a hole into the soil with my finger and dropped in seeds every fifty centimetres or so. I planted ten seeds that spring and all ten seeds sprouted very fast.
If you have very compact soil this step is a must and you’re probably going to want to till even deeper, as deep as sixty centimetres. Sunflowers send a long root deep into the soil to anchor their tall stalks and help keep them upright.
If they encounter compact soil that stops their roots from driving deep into the earth their growth will be limited. Even if this does happen you’ll still get wonderfully tall talks with bright and colourful flowers, they just won’t reach their full potential.
Grow taller sunflowers by watering and feeding regularly
Now that your seeds have sprouted and are reaching towards the sun you’ll want to give them every advantage you can.
My first year growing sunflowers I watered and fertilized them very infrequently but they still managed to grow about two meters tall anyway. I was cheating myself and them however because now I consistently grow them two and a half meters tall with the occasional one reaching up to three.
When they’re young water them 3 to 4 times a week using a water-soluble fertilizer once a week. Water the root zone about 5 to 10 cm away from the plant.
As the plant matures and reaches about a half meter in height you can cut your watering back to a couple times a week and cut the fertilizing back to every other week. If possible try not to pour water directly on the stalk, instead feed the root zone that has now spread out to 20 to 30cm away from the plant. If the stalk is consistently wet it may cause it to rot and your plant to fall over.
Attract song birds with harvested seeds
There are a few good uses for sunflower seeds. My favourite is to save a few to plant next year so that I don’t have to buy them again. But I have ended up with so many seeds at the end of the season that I couldn’t possibly grow that many plants so I add them to my bird seed and feed the birds all winter long with them.
The birds don’t want to wait until winter to eat your sunflower seeds, however. They’ll start pulling them off the plant as soon as they are ready. To stop the birds from eating your sunflowers cover the heads with a burlap sack or even a paper bag when the leaves start to dry up and fall off.
When the seeds have developed a dry hard shell cut the plant down at the base. Now you can easily use your hands to rub the seeds off and mix them in with your regular bird food.
My kids are teenagers now and it’s not as easy to impress them as it once was. At this stage in their lives the only thing that I could grow that would wow them would be TimTam’s or iPhones.
But I believe I have instilled a love for gardening in them. They both have memories of watching the sunflowers turn to face the sun on hot summer days and one day I hope to watch the sunflowers turn to face the sun with their kids in a garden of their own.
The article was written for Brisbane Kids by Scott Jenkins. Scott is the editor for architypes.net and at this page on architypes he shares more ideas about getting kids outside and raising enthusiastic gardeners.