Grow your own sunflowers
American natives, sunflowers are grow for beauty as well as harvested for seed. An annual plant, sunflowers have big, daisy like flower faces of bright yellow petals (and occasionally red) and brown centres that ripen into heavy heads filled with seeds. Tall and course, the plants have creeping or tuberous roots and large, bristly leaves. Some sunflowers grow to over 16 feet in height though there are also varieties today that have been developed for small spaces and containers. Most sunflowers are remarkably tough and easy to grow as long as the soil is not waterlogged. Most are heat and drought-tolerant.
How to grow
- Sunflowers can be sown straight in to the ground where they are going to flower, so make sure the space you are going to sow is weed free, by using a trowel to remove the weeds.
- Rake the soil to a fine tilth (a fine crumbly texture) and make some holes 12mm deep. Leave a 10cm space between each seed. Place the seed in carefully and cover them up with soil. Don’t forget to water the seeds gently. As they grown, if the plants are crowded, then thin them.
- As your sunflower begins to grow taller than you, you will need to help support the stem, by placing a cane near the stem and loosely tying the cane to the plant with string.
- Watch your sunflower grow and grow and grow.
- While the plant is small, water around the root zone, about 3 to 4 inches from the plant. To protect the plant, it may help to put snail or slug bait around the stem.
- Once the plant is established, water deeply though infrequently to encourage deep rooting. Unless the weather is exceptionally wet or dry, water once a week with several litres of water.
- Feed plants sparingly, over fertilisation can cause stems to break. You can add diluted fertiliser into the water, though avoid getting the fertiliser near the plant's base; it may help to build a moat in a circle around the plant about 18 inches out.
- Tall species and cultivars require support. Bamboo canes are a good choice for any plant that has a strong, single stem and needs support for a short period of time.
- The sunflower is the national flower of Russia.
- The head of the sunflower follows the path of the sun as it moves throughout the day. It has a chemical inside the plant called auxin that makes the flower do this.
- Sunflower seeds have oil inside, which they use for energy.
- In the past, some parts of sunflowers were used as a medicine to cure snake bites.
- The flowers with white seeds are often added to breads and snacks.
- The black seeds are made into birdseed.