Photo © David K. Northington

The Lemon Queen Sunflower, a dwarf variety of the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), is a good option for container planting. The sunflower is hardy, resisting drought easily once it becomes established (needs plenty of water beforehand). Not only can it survive a variety of environmental conditions, but it also produces an abundance of seeds, which is good for birds, other pollinators, and even humans! In addition, sunflowers have beautiful, large flowers which make a great addition to your home.

Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun, blooming during summer or early fall. They prefer long, hot summers to flower well, but can also grow well in locations with shorter summers. The mature height of the Lemon Queen Sunflower is approximately 5 feet ( 1.5 meters) which is smaller than the common variety of sunflower.


  • Sow seeds 4-5 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep directly into pots filled with well moistened, good quality potting mix. It takes approximately 8-10 days to germinate.
  • When seedlings are several inches tall, transplant them to larger pots that are at least 12-18 inches deep while making sure that they are spread out. In other words, no more than 1 plant per 8 inch pot (diameter), or 3 plants per 15 inch pot. In large planters, you can keep the seedlings 6 inches apart.
  • Keep soil moist and well weeded. Protect seedlings from hungry or nesting birds with netting or plastic berry baskets.
  • Place container in an area with plenty of direct sunlight.

Click here to learn more about sunflowers!

Steps For Planting Sunflowers

No garden flower brings a smile to the face as easily as the sunflower. Whether it’s a single stalk growing in the corner of the yard, a line along the fence, or a whole field planting, sunflowers always attract attention. Each spring, you can find sunflower seeds for planting on the racks at the grocery checkout or anywhere a garden department exists or perhaps a friend has shared some of theirs.

If you have no experience with planting sunflowers, you may have some questions about how to plant sunflower seeds and when to plant sunflower seeds.

When to Plant Sunflower Seeds

Knowing when to plant sunflower seeds is important. Most package directions for how to plant sunflower seeds suggest sowing directly into the ground after all danger of frost is past and that’s fine if you live in an area where your growing season is long enough, but if your season is short, you may not have enough time for an outdoor planting.

Sunflowers take from 70 to 90 days to mature with the larger flowered varieties taking the longest, so you’ll probably

want to get a jump on the season by planting sunflowers indoors about three weeks before the last frost date.

How to Plant Sunflower Seeds

Once you’ve chosen your sunflower seeds for planting, you need to choose a sheltered place out of the wind or a spot along a fence where the tall stalks can be tied. Sunflower roots grow deep and wide, so turn the soil well before planting. Add plenty of compost. Large flowers need good nutrition.

How deep to plant sunflower seeds isn’t nearly as important as how far apart. After all, seeds dropped from last year’s flowers often sprout where they fall. Most package directions for how deep to plant sunflower seeds recommend about an inch, but if the kids are helping you plant, don’t be too fussy.

If you’re starting indoors, don’t worry about how deep. To plant sunflower seeds in peat pots or paper cups, put two seeds per pot and just cover them with soil. You’ll thin out the weaker seedling before transplanting. Water well and keep the soil moist. In a week or two, your seedlings will push through and grow rapidly thereafter.

The size of your sunflower varieties will dictate how far apart to plant your sunflower seeds. For planting the giants, you’ll need 2 ½ to 3 feet between each plant for optimum growth. The regular size will need 1 ½ to 2 feet and the miniatures only 6 inches to a foot.

Planting sunflowers is an easy and fun way to add a burst of color to your garden, but be forewarned. Sunflowers are a favorite treat for birds, squirrels and chipmunks. They can dig them up as fast as you can plant them. If you find yourself at war with these backyard thieves or simply want to avoid the conflict, cover your sown seeds with pieces of fence or clear plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off until your sunflowers sprout, then sit back and watch them grow until those big beautiful blossoms are following the sun.

Sunflowers are popular amongst gardeners who enjoy seeing birds in their garden, as birds (and other animals) are drawn to their big seeds.

Other gardeners prefer to keep the seeds for themselves, as a healthy snack. Or one’s primary enjoyment of sunflowers may be aesthetic, as the big happy blossoms make a lovely adornment to any garden.

Some species of sunflowers, like Russian Giants and Kong, are among the biggest varieties of flowers. At fall festival competitions, it’s not unusual to see these behemoths topping twenty feet.

Midsize varieties, such as Autumn Mix, grow six to ten feet high. Some people prefer the midsize for their disproportionately large blossoms; the really big sunflower plants have smaller flowers because so long a stem could not support anything heavier.

Smaller varieties that grow to only two to three feet or less, such as Music Box and Teddy Bear, are popular as well, especially for people who grow theirs in containers.


Sunflowers are one of the heartier, easier to grow flowers for a garden.

They can be grown in a container and then transplanted, but most people find it easier to grow them directly in their garden.

It’s best to plant them in the spring after the last frost. The hardy plants can thrive in just about any soil, but a well-drained, average to rich soil is better than a sandy soil.

Plant them where their roots have room to grow deep and wide, as the taller varieties will definitely need that support. They should be planted where they will get plenty of direct sun.

When you are factoring in your planting area requirements, you’ll also want to take into account that if you’re not careful, their big flowers – which will lean toward the east into the sun as they develop – can block other plants from getting the sunlight they need.

You can plant sunflowers individually, in rows, or in groups. Plant the seeds one inch deep in the ground, and six inches apart from each other.

Within a week or two they should emerge from the ground, and then develop slowly at first. Thin them out such that the larger varieties are three to four feet apart, the intermediate varieties are two to three feet apart, and the miniature varieties are one foot apart.

If you have problems with deer or rabbits eating the immature plants, you can start them indoors, or you can cover the seedlings with chicken wire or something similar to protect them.

If wind is a problem, which is a distinct possibility with the larger varieties, you can stake them. A good trick is to plant sunflowers close to a fence, which can be used for support.

Water them well when you first plant them and keep the ground moist until they sprout.

After they sprout, the flowers are quite hearty and can tolerate a certain amount of drought although a little watering here and there will still give them their best chance to thrive.

They also don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but a little can help. Phosphorus and potassium can facilitate bigger blooms.

Pests and Diseases

Ants occasionally are drawn to the nectar of the flower, but don’t disturb the seeds. Other than that, insects are rarely a problem for sunflowers. Nor are they prone to plant diseases. And once they get a foot or two high, weeds aren’t an issue.

The main “pests” to which sunflowers are vulnerable are birds and squirrels and other animals who love to eat the seeds.

Some gardeners welcome this and grow these bright yellow blooms as a living bird feeder. If you do want to keep them from eating all the seeds, though, you can cover the heads with a piece of cheesecloth or screen.

Don’t use plastic for a covering, as this can hold in moisture and cause mold on the seeds.


Most varieties mature in 70 to 90 days. Harvest the seeds after most of the flower petals have died and dropped off.

Cut off the seed heads and about two inches of stem.

Hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area. Once they are dry, rub the flower heads together to loosen them, and the seeds should be easy to extract.

One way to prepare the seeds for eating is to soak them in salty water overnight, drain them, and spread them on a baking sheet to roast for three hours at 200 degrees.


Sunflower seeds are a popular snack all over the world. They are high in protein.

Their oil can also be used as cooking oil although the average gardener won’t have an oil press to take advantage of this.

Native Americans ground sunflower seeds and used them in breads and cakes.

They also used the petals, leaves, and seeds in folk remedies, including as a treatment for snakebite.

Sunflowers can be a lovely addition to a bouquet. They are also great to use in various craft projects in both fresh and dried versions.

If you have a pet gerbil or other rodent, or a pet bird, they too will enjoy the seeds as a snack.

How about you? Do you grow these beauties at home? Tell us and other readers about your favorite variety in the comments below!

How Well Do Potted Sunflowers Grow: How To Grow Sunflowers In Planters

If you love sunflowers but lack the gardening space to grow the mammoth blooms, you might be wondering if you can grow sunflowers in containers. Potted sunflowers may seem an unlikely endeavor; however, some of the smaller dwarf varieties do very well as container grown sunflowers, and even the giant cultivars can be grown as container plants. Growing sunflowers in a pot or planter does require some special care, however. This article aims to help with that.

Can You Grow Sunflowers in Containers?

As mentioned, dwarf varieties, those under 4 feet (1 m.) in height, lend themselves very well as container grown sunflowers. If you want to grow the really impressive 10 footers, which is still doable, a larger container will be required.

About Potted Sunflowers

The size of the sunflower will dictate the size of the pot. Smaller varieties will do well grown as sunflowers in planters. Cultivars that grow to 2 feet (½ meter) or less should be planted in a 10- to 12-inch (25-30 cm.) diameter planter while those that grow 4 feet (1 m.) or taller require a larger 3- to 5-gallon (11-19 liter) or even larger pot.

How to Grow Sunflowers in a Pot

Regardless of the variety, all sunflowers grown in containers should have drainage holes and be situated in an area that receives full sun.

Sunflowers need well-draining soil that retains moisture. A good quality general purpose potting soil will work well. For larger pots, mix the potting medium with some vermiculite to lighten the weight of the pots.

Add a layer of drainage material such as gravel, terracotta pot pieces, or polystyrene foam to the bottom of the pot and then add the potting medium, filling the container to about halfway. Plant the sunflower and fill in around the roots with additional soil, then water well.

Be sure to keep an eye on the watering needs of sunflowers grown in containers. They will dry out more rapidly than those grown in the garden. A general rule of thumb is to provide an inch (2.5 cm) of water per week depending upon weather conditions. Water the plants when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.

Fertilize the flowers with a high-nitrogen liquid plant fertilizer and then when a bloom begins to form, switch to a liquid fertilizer high in phosphorous.

All About Sunflowers

Can I Grow Sunflowers Where I Am?

Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun. They are remarkably tough and will grow in any kind of soil as long as it is not waterlogged. They do fine in soils that are slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5). Once sunflowers get started, they can tolerate drought as befits plants whose ancestors grew happily in dry prairie regions. They are so easy to grow that they often plant themselves, springing up unbidden beneath a bird feeder.

Sunflower seeds, leaves and stems emit substances that inhibit the growth of certain other plants. They should be separated from potatoes and pole beans. Where sunflower seeds are regularly used as bird feed, toxins from the accumulated seed hulls eventually kill the grass below. Harmless to animals or people, the toxins eventually biodegrade in the soil.

What Is The History Of Sunflower’s?

Contemporary sunflowers trace their ancestry to plants found at archeological sites dating from 3,000 BC. While they grew abundantly on the Great Plains, sunflowers were first purposely cultivated by Native Americans in the Southwest or Mississippi River valley area as a source of medicine, fiber, seeds, and oil.

When the European settlers arrived, they immediately recognized the value of sunflowers and sent seeds back to Europe. There they found a place in English cottage gardens and even Van Gogh’s paintings. However, it was in Russia that the sunflower became a major agricultural crop. They provided a source of oil that could be eaten without breaking church dietary laws. Early in the 20th Century, Russian growers spearheaded the breeding and selection for disease resistance and high oil content. In the 1960s, the U.S. began sustained commercial production of oil seed cultivars to produce vegetable oil.

Should I Grow Sunflower Seeds or Plants?-Shop all Sunflowers

How Do I Cultivate Sunflowers?

To plant sunflowers:

  • Space seeds about 6 inches apart in a shallow trench between 1 and 2 inches deep. In sandy soil, 2 inches deep is better.
  • Cover and keep watered until seeds sprout in 7 to 10 days.
  • When first true leaves appear (the second set of leaves); thin plants to about 2 feet apart.
  • Depending on the variety, sunflowers will mature and develop seeds in 80 to 120 days.
  • Sow a new row every 2 to 3 weeks to enjoy continuous blooms until the first frost.

For maximum seed production space rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Use traditional, tall, seed-producing varieties such as ‘Mammoth’ or ‘Paul Bunyan Hybrid’, ‘Aztec Gold Hybrid’, or ‘Super Snack Hybrid’.

Growing Tips For Sunflowers

Sunflower roots spread widely and can withstand some drought. However, it is best to water them regularly during their most important growth period which is about 20 days before and after flowering. Deep, regular watering helps encourage root growth, which is especially helpful with taller sunflower varieties bearing top-heavy blooms.

Sunflowers do not require fertilizing. However, because they grow vigorously (they can easily grow 6 feet in just 3 months), it’s a good idea to add some slow-acting granular fertilizer to especially poor, thin soil. The better their diet, the larger the flowers. Do not overdo the nitrogen because that will delay flowering. Spreading a 2- or 3-inch mulch layer of some kind of organic material on the soil will reduce moisture loss through evaporation and discourage weeds.

While a few sunflower varieties do not need any staking, it is a good idea to support plants that grow over 3 feet tall or are multi-branched. Their branches are fairly brittle, especially at the points where they join the stems. Shallow rooted and weighed down with many large flower heads, plants are vulnerable to summer winds and rain. Tie the plants loosely to stakes with lengths of cloth or other soft material as needed.

Birds and squirrels can be a problem when seeds ripen and harvest time approaches. If you do not plan to use the seeds, it is fun to watch wildlife enjoy the bounty. You may want to cut the flower heads off and lay them out in the sun to dry and provide easier access to wildlife. Conversely, to deter birds and squirrels, barrier devices are most effective. As seed heads mature and flowers droop, cover each one with white polyspun garden fleece. It will let light and air in and keep critters out. Also try cutting away the few leaves that are closest to the heads to make it harder for birds to perch and feed.
Deer will readily eliminate a sunflower patch. As they favor the new, tender leaves at the top of the plants, a 36-inch chicken wire barrier supported by 6-foot bamboo stakes should keep them at bay. Simply raise the wire as the plants grow.

What Are Some Sunflower Insects & Diseases?

Sunflowers are virtually as care free as their smiling faces suggest. However, they are sometimes infected with fungal diseases such as mildews and rusts. Downy Mildew causes mottling and pale areas on upper leaf surfaces and a fuzzy mold growth on their undersides. Eventually the leaves wither and die. The oldest leaves are usually infected first. Downy mildew is most likely to occur on cool damp nights and warm humid days. It spreads by means of tiny spores carried to plants and soil by wind and rain or transmitted by garden tools. It will not kill a mature plant; it just mars its appearance.

Rust appears on upper leaf surfaces first as yellow or white spots that turn brown or black. Puffy blisters then appear on the undersides. The disease may spread to stems and flowers causing distorted growth. Rust sometimes spreads to the cultivated sunflowers from weeds such as wild mustard, shepherd’s-purse, pigweed, and lamb’s-quarters.

If fungal diseases are spotted early, spraying with a general garden fungicide as directed on the product label can protect healthy foliage. Remove and destroy seriously infected plants. Keep the area weeded and clean up plant debris from the garden in the fall. Disinfect tools by dipping them in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 4 parts water. Keep your hands clean, and do not handle plants when they are wet.

Harvesting Tips For Sunflowers

In the early fall, check flower heads for signs of maturity. The reverse side turns from green to a yellow-brown. Large heads will nod downward. A close look will reveal the tiny petals covering the developing seeds have dried and now fall out easily exposing the tightly packed mature seeds.

Sunflower Recipes & Storage

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins, proteins, and minerals, as well as linoleic acid which helps the body metabolize fats properly. They contain about 24 to 27 percent protein, only slightly less than an equal weight of ground beef. Furthermore, sunflower seeds contain about twice the iron and potassium and about 4 times the phosphorus of beef. Raw sunflower seeds also contain vitamins B and E, and a dash of vitamin A. Sprouted, they also contain vitamin C.

Use the seeds for snacks, alone or mixed with raisins, dried fruit chips, and nuts. Add hulled sunflower seeds to salads and use them in fruit or vegetable recipes. Substitute sunflower seeds for nuts in baking.

See all our sunflowers

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Sunflowers

Nothing says summer like bright rows of brilliant Helianthus flowers, commonly known of as sunflowers. Easy to grow, this North American native is a fun plant to add to your vegetable or flower garden. Most people think of sunflowers as the towering varieties filling fields in the prairie states. However, many garden cultivars are designed to be compact and grown in a wide range of hardiness zones. You can choose sunflowers in many different colors featuring heights between 4 to 12 feet.

Often seen as a border plant to give height to the back of a flower bed, sunflowers are multipurpose. They provide beauty to your garden and are a food source for birds and squirrels. Cutting them brings their sunny faces inside for floral arrangements. Many sunflowers feature big, beautiful blooms and can be harvested for their tasty seeds or a rich sunflower oil. If you’re wondering how to plant sunflowers and how to take care of sunflowers in your garden, look no further. All you need is a few simple tips to get the most out of your garden sunflowers.

  • How to Plant Sunflower Seeds
  • Growing & Caring for Sunflowers
  • Harvesting Sunflower Seeds
  • Types of Sunflowers
  • Common Questions About Growing Sunflowers

Planting sunflower seeds is a quick and easy task. By taking the time to choose the right location and prepare the soil, you give these plants the strongest possible start.

  1. Choose a Sunny Spot
  2. It almost goes without saying that sunflowers love the sun. Look for a spot with plenty of sun for these fast-growing annuals. Think about what you’ll plant around or near your sunflowers. Most sunflowers grow quite tall and may cast shade on other plants. The short growing season of between 70 to 100 days allows for planting throughout most gardening zones.

  3. Prepare the Soil
  4. Well-draining soil is essential. If your soil is heavy, mix in up to 4 inches of compost. Add nutrients to soil with a complete fertilizer prior to planting. Mix your compost and fertilizer into the top 6 inches of your garden bed. Slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5 is ideal. A home soil test can help you determine what your garden soil needs.

  5. Time It Right
  6. Choosing when to plant sunflower seeds requires a bit of waiting. Plant sunflowers in late spring, once the ground is nice and warm. Most sunflowers germinate when soil has reached 70 to 85 degrees F. The best time to plant sunflowers is just before the soil reaches this temperature. Look for a ground temp of between 60 to 70 degrees. For most areas, this will be approximately three weeks after the last frost. Planting sunflowers indoors gives you a head start on the growing season. Simply tuck the seeds into peat pots around the time of your last spring frost. They should be the right size for transplant once the soil is the appropriate temperature.

  7. Plant the Seeds
  8. Different sunflowers require different planting depths and spacing. How to grow sunflowers from seed and how deep to plant sunflower seeds depends on your specific sunflower cultivar. In general, plant sunflower seeds at least 1/2 inch deep. Space seeds 6 inches apart. If planting in rows, you’ll want 2 to 3 feet between each row. Plants should be thinned out in a few weeks to the proper spacing. If soil temperatures are just right, sunflower seedlings will sprout up in 10 to 14 days.

    Growing sunflower seeds requires space. To start sunflowers indoors, plant three seeds per each 3- to 4-inch peat pot. A soilless planting media will give you the best drainage. Indoor germination usually happens in 6 to 10 days. You can enjoy continuous blooms through summer by planting seeds every couple of weeks. With consecutive plantings, you’ll have beautiful sunflower blooms right up until the first frost of fall.

  9. Give Plenty of Moisture
  10. Because sunflower seeds contain large amounts of natural oil, they require a lot of water for germination. After planting, water the ground thoroughly. Keep the soil moist with frequent, light watering until germination occurs. If starting indoors, cover your pots with clear plastic wrap to keep in moisture. Remove the plastic as soon as the seeds sprout.

  11. Thin the Seedlings
  12. Once the sunflower seedlings have their first set of true leaves, thin the seedlings to the recommended row spacing for your variety. Small sunflowers may require only 6 inches between each plant, while large varieties might need up to 3 feet. Closer spacings are possible for garden aesthetics, but crowded plants will produce smaller flowers.

    Indoor sunflower seedlings should be reduced to one seedling per cup. Simply choose the strongest sunflower and pinch back the others.

Growing & Caring for Sunflowers

Learning how to grow sunflowers isn’t difficult – they almost grow themselves. And once sunflowers begin to grow, they grow quickly. Sunflower care only requires a few basic growing tips.

  • Water
  • Although sunflowers require a lot of water to germinate, they only require an inch of water per week during the growing season. Use a watering nozzle to easily water once a week until the top 6 inches of soil is moist.

  • Fertilize
  • If you prepared your soil with compost and/or manure, you shouldn’t need extra fertilization during the growing season. If you feel your plants require better nutrition, you can work a balanced, slow-acting granular fertilizer into the soil surrounding your sunflowers. Sunflower fertilizers are available in a few garden centers, but a basic fertilizer is really all you need.

  • Control Weeds
  • One of the greatest sunflower challenges is weed control. Weeds compete with sunflowers for moisture and nutrition. Unless you want to till, hoe or pull weeds by hand, you’ll want to put down a generous layer of mulch to fight weeds. Add up to a 4-inch layer of organic mulch to your sunflower garden. Leave an area of bare soil around each sunflower stalk to help deter pests and disease.

  • Manage Pests and Disease
  • Although many pests love sunflower plants, the damage is usually minimal. In most cases, insecticides are not necessary unless damage is severe. Most sunflowers rely heavily on insect pollinators, so care should be taken to limit any use of insecticides during pollination. Some pests you may encounter are sunflower moths, cutworms, weevils, caterpillars, grasshoppers, wireworms and the sunflower maggot.

    Disease is a big risk, but it mostly affects farm crops. New varieties of sunflowers have resistance to many diseases. Once disease occurs, the only option is to remove and destroy the affected plants. Verticillium wilt, sclerotinia rot, rust and downy mildew may occur. Your best prevention is proper plant spacing in well-draining soil.

    When growing seeds for harvest, birds can become an issue. Scarecrows, owl decoys and shiny metal pie plates can help deter birds. You can also plant certain oil-rich cultivars, such as Black Peredovik, to keep birds away from your seed sunflowers.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Harvesting sunflower seeds is the perfect way to enjoy both the beauty of the flowers in your garden and their delicate seeds. Sunflowers produce a bounty of seeds that can be added to breads, eaten on salads or even turned into a creamy nut-free sunflower butter. Growing a seed production variety will increase your harvest of edible sunflower seeds. Expect to harvest seeds approximately 30 days after pollination.

  1. Beat the Birds
  2. You’ve spent all this time learning how to grow sunflower seeds – don’t let the birds eat your harvest! Begin checking for seed maturity in early fall. The seeds will begin to face towards the ground as the flower petals dry and fall out. Once ready, simply cut off seed heads with a generous amount of stem attached. Hang in a warm, dry place away from rodents and insects.

  3. Don’t Rush Things
  4. Wait until the back of the sunflower head turns brown before harvesting the seeds. Although you can pick out mature seeds earlier, the browning of the head allows for the easiest and quickest removal.

  5. Cover the Sunflower Heads
  6. Seeds naturally fall out of the flower heads as they dry. To catch all the seeds you can, place netting or a paper sack with air holes over each head.

  7. Remove the Seeds
  8. Once thoroughly dry, seeds are easy to remove. You can grab a sunflower head in each hand and rub their faces together to dislodge the seeds. Or, you may be able to simply brush seeds out with your hands or a stiff brush.

  9. Store for Flavor
  10. To keep sunflower seeds as fresh as possible, store in airtight glass jars in the refrigerator. This keeps moisture levels low. If storing outside of the refrigerator, consider adding desiccant packages to absorb excess moisture. Many people store raw seeds in cloth bags in dark, dry areas to encourage air circulation.

Types of Sunflowers

Sunflowers come in a wide range of sizes and colors. Some of the most popular garden sunflowers include:

  • Mammoth – the giant of garden sunflowers. This heirloom plant grows up to 12-feet tall and features huge 12-inch wide blooms with abundant seeds. Quick growth makes for a perfect hedge, screen or sunforest for children. Plant seeds 1-inch deep and space 2-feet apart for the best results.
  • Autumn Beauty – a vibrant choice for flower gardens. The bold flowers feature 8-inch wide blooms in bright yellow, bronze and purple combinations. Growing up to 4-feet tall and featuring multiple branches, Autumn Beauty makes an excellent cut flower for floral arrangements. Also known as the common sunflower, the plant has edible flower buds which are delicious when battered and fried. Seeds should be planted 2-inches deep and spaced 18-inches apart.
  • Moulin Rouge – not your typical sunflower. The dark red petals only have a slight hint of yellow at their base, which is highlighted by an ebony center. It’s a reliable bloomer and easy to grow. Reaching only 4-feet tall, the dark blooms are just 4-inches wide. Moulin Rouge is an excellent cut flower because it is pollenless.
  • Teddy Bear – features fully double, fluffy flowers reaching up to 6 inches in diameter. Without the flat center, the bright deep yellow flowers look like large powder puffs. This dwarf sunflower is ideal for borders and containers. Plant in groups of 3 to 4 seeds at a depth of ½ inch. Thin to one inch once seedlings are three weeks old.

Common Questions About Growing Sunflowers

How much sun do sunflowers need?

Sunflowers need full sun for the best growth. Although only six hours of sun is required, the more sun a sunflower gets, the better the growth. If you crowd plants too closely together, the leaves will be starved for sunlight. This causes the plant to grow too quickly and produce weak stems as plants reach up for more light.

How fast do sunflowers grow?

Sunflowers grow quickly. Many can achieve up to 12 feet of growth in only 3 months. With the proper growing conditions, sunflowers should reach maturity in 70 to 100 days after planting.

How long do sunflowers live?

Most sunflowers are annuals. They germinate in late spring, bloom during the summer and die back at the first frost of fall. When considering how to grow a sunflower that lasts all summer, the best plan is to plant your sunflowers every few weeks to extend bloom time.

Are sunflowers annuals or perennials?

While most varieties of this bright beauty are annual sunflowers, meaning they will not come back the following growing season, they may self-germinate from dropped seeds if you leave the heads on the plants throughout the winter. The perennial Maximillian sunflower features small blooms in late summer and early fall. It can be grown as a perennial up to hardiness Zone 3.

Can you grow sunflowers in a pot?

You can grow many small varieties of sunflowers in pots and containers. Dwarf sunflowers are perfect for growing in pots. Instead of featuring one sunflower on a single stalk, dwarf varieties are bushy and may feature more than one bloom per plant. The sunflowers grow up to five inches in diameter on stalks up to three feet tall. No need to wonder about how to care for sunflowers in pots, this annual plant has the same needs for water, fertilization and sunlight in either gardens or containers.

Why do my sunflowers begin to face the ground?

When sunflowers are young they exhibit heliotropism. This means their flowering heads track the sun as it moves across the sky. As the stem matures and becomes woody, the tracking usually becomes less noticeable. The leaves may still follow the sun, but the flower will not. In many varieties, maturity causes the sunflower to face the ground, which reduces the risk of bird damage.

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There’s a big difference between growing sunflowers, and growing edible sunflower seeds. Most sunflowers you plant in the garden these days have been developed to produce stunning, long lasting flowers…but not much in the way of seeds.

Gardeners that want to harvest sunflower seeds need to be careful when selecting varieties, and you’ll need to beat the birds to your harvest.

A sunflower seedling just breaking through the soil. It’s easy enough to identify the seedlings, even without a label…

Growing Sunflowers from Seed

Generally, sunflower seeds are started directly in the garden. Sunflower seedlings can take a bit of frost, and it’s safe to plant them outdoors about 2 weeks before the last expected frost date. This can be handy if you have a short growing season like we do in here in Vermont. To germinate, sunflower seeds need soil temperatures of at least 55 degrees F, which is much colder than tender plants like tomatoes.

Sunflower seeds can also be started indoors, which is helpful for long season varieties. Some varieties of sunflower take 120 days to mature, which just won’t work in our 100-day growing season. To extend the season, start sunflowers indoors about 3-4 weeks early, and be sure to harden them off by taking them outside for during the day in a week or two before planting.

Sunflowers grow tap roots, and they can become stunted if they’re started indoors too early. Be very careful in handling the seedling if you start them indoors. Damaging the tap root means that your sunflower may never thrive. For best results, start them directly in the garden.

Growing Sunflower Plants

After successful germination, thin sunflower plants to at least a foot apart to give them room to thrive. Giant sunflower varieties, like you’ll find competing at your local fair, can reach 16 feet tall with the right conditions. At the Tunbridge Worlds Fair, I’ve seen 14-foot sunflower plants grown by kids here in Vermont, so you can grow them big even with a short growing season.

Sunflowers are relatively forgiving, and they are heat and drought tolerant. The one thing they cant take is waterlogged soils, so be sure you have good drainage. Ideally, they want 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day, and they love heat.

The soil for growing sunflowers isn’t too particular, but it needs to be deep. They send down long tap roots, so the soil should be loose at least 2 feet down. We have shallow soils, only about a foot deep in places, so we grow them in raised beds to give them a bit more growing space.

Sunflowers are also a bit sensitive to wind. With a tall growing stalk, high winds can break them and destroy their seed head. The stalk is resilient, but it can only take so much. If you live in a windy area, try growing them against a south-facing wall or fence for protection.

As far as pests go, birds, squirrels and deer are the biggest problems. Be sure they’re in a fenced area if you want to keep the animals away from them, or plant plenty, and feed the animals and yourself. Sunflowers are resistant to most diseases, but they’ll occasionally get worms in the blossoms. If you see any, just pick them out by hand.

Sunflower Varieties with Edible Seeds

These days, most sunflower varieties have been hybridized to produce showy flowers rather than seeds. There are even some pollen free sunflower varieties that are hybridized for use in wedding cut flowers so no one has an allergy attack.

That’s nice and all, but I think the seed producing varieties of sunflowers are beautiful and they also produce tasty seeds.

What kinds of sunflowers are best for eating?

  • Mammoth Grey Stripe – (Heirloom) Grows about 12 feet tall and produces seed heads up to 20 inches across. This is the most common backyard variety. (Seeds Here)
  • Mammoth Russian – (Heirloom) 12 to 15 feet tall with thin-shelled seeds. (Seeds Here)
  • Titan – (heirloom) I cant find any reference to exactly how tall this one gets, but it’s famous for particularly large flowers that grow up to 2 feet across. (Seeds Here)
  • Hopi Black Dye – (heirloom) an old heirloom. It has edible seeds, and the seed shells were used as a black dye by the Hopi Indians. The center of these sunflowers is particularly striking due to the very dark seeds. (Seeds Here)
  • Paul Bunyan – (Hybrid) Known for very tall plants. (Seeds Here)
  • Sunzilla – (Hybrid) This hybrid is one of the tallest varieties available, growing 16 feet tall and producing seed heads up to 2 feet across. (Seeds Here)

Short Sunflowers with Edible Seeds

Most of the traditional varieties are tall. Really tall. For more practical backyard sunflower seed growing, new short hybrids have been developed.

  • Royal – (Hybrid) 7 feet tall with impressive 8-inch flowers and high seed production. (Seeds Here)
  • Super Snack – (Hybrid) This plant produces one large 10-inch flower on a 5-foot tall plant. The seeds are especially easy to crack. (Seeds Here)

Determining when sunflower seeds are ready for harvest can be tricky. Once the flower opens, it’ll be a long time before everything has been pollinated and seeds fully develop. The seeds are usually ready for harvest 30 to 45 days after the flower opens, but that depends a lot on the weather.

Sunflower seeds are ripe when the flower head turns from green to yellow and the seed head begins to brown. To test for ripeness, gently pry out a seed or two and give them a taste. If the sunflower seeds are ready for harvest, cut the flower stem a few inches below the seed head.

At this point, the seeds need to dry in a place where they’re protected from birds. Try wrapping the whole flower in a loose layer of cheesecloth and hanging it in a sheltered space with good air flow. Alternately, you can just hang them indoors. Once the seed heads are dry after a few weeks, gently pry the seeds out with your fingers or a fork.

Growing Sunflower Sprouts

Beyond just seeds, sunflower sprouts are a tasty sandwich topper. Organic markets sell small bags of them, with about a cup of sprouts, for around $4. They grow best in the soil, so start a handful of seeds in a small pot and then cut them off about 2 to 3 weeks later.

Blank Seed Paper Sheets

We offer 4 different types of blank seed paper sheets ready for whatever project you have, large or small. They are available with different seed mixes and come in 21 different colors. Below you will find them broken down by type to make it easier to find the right seed paper sheet for your particular project. Sizes range from 8.5″x11 to large 23″x35″ parent sheet sizes.

Original Seed Paper: This perennial favorite is rich in color and texture and come in 21 different colors and features our wildflower seed mix. It has a high >75% germination rate.

Premium Seed Paper: This white seed paper is thick and textured, but smooth enough for consistent printing and handwriting. Ideal for wedding stationery or announcements and is our highest germinating seed paper. It comes in a variety of sizes to fit most situations.

Signature Seed Paper: A smooth natural white seed paper embedded with wildflower seeds that works well with a variety of printers. It has a high 50%-70% germination rate and is available in several sizes.

Offset-Printable, Economy Seed Paper: This paper is manufactured specifically for offset printing and comes in both 8.5″x11″ and a large 23″x35″ parent sheet size. Although these sheets are packed with visible wildflower seeds and convey an eco-friendly and natural message, this paper will not grow like our other handmade seed paper sheets, as most of the seeds will be crushed in the printing process.

Vegetable and Herb Seed Paper: We also offer a variety of stock seed papers containing vegetable and herb seed in a variety of colors.

The Versatile Sunflower Seed

by Sidonie Maroon,

Sunflowers dig deep, stand tall, turn towards the sun, and aren’t afraid to be big and bold. The best thing about sunflowers is that they share their bounty with all. Spring time is seed time, and sunflower seeds are my new darlings. They’re nutrient dense, full of fiber, rich in minerals and so many other health benefits.

Sunflower Seeds as Culinary Ingredient

As a chef I appreciate the diverse ways I can use them: they’re easily made into flour for grain free bread; they make a great seed butter. I can ferment them into a vegan cheese. They’re an excellent base for dips, sprout well and are addictive roasted. Sunflower seeds are versatile, and won’t break my budget like higher-priced nuts can.

Sunflower Seeds and Balancing Essential Fatty Acids

Sunflower seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. We want to balance our intake of essential fatty acids, and Americans are usually deficient in omega-3’s. This isn’t a problem if you’re eating a 4:1 ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s over the week. A salmon salad sandwich on sunflower bread, or sunflower spread with flax crackers would both do the trick. I wouldn’t exclude sunflower seeds from my diet because of this issue, but I also wouldn’t use much or any sunflower seed oil. Sunflower seed oil will increase your omega-6’s without the fiber and protein of the whole seed. In my opinion, whole is often better.

Sunflower Seed Flour is an alternative to Almond Flour

I became curious about sunflower seeds when the almond flour craze began. It amazed me how overused almonds were becoming in gluten-free, Paleo and Keto baking recipes. Almond flour is expensive, and I was concerned about how an increasing demand was affecting U.S. honey bees.

Demonizing healthy whole foods, like almonds, doesn’t work for me, but to rely on a single food as a dietary savior doesn’t either. Common sense and diversity in what we eat are what I advocate for.

Listening to our bodies

Sprout, roast or soak overnight in salt water, is there a best way to prepare sunflower seeds? I used to think soaking overnight eliminated, so called, anti-nutrients from seeds, and that this was important. But, the more I researched and experimented, the more I questioned the judgemental term ‘anti-nutrient’. It’s used to describe phytic acid; which is naturally present in seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. It turns out, like everything else, phytic acid is both beneficial and limiting to our health. The best solution I’ve come up, with to live peacefully with this bewildering topic, is to use a variety of recipes that use a diversity of methods. Heretical as it sounds, I now, sometimes, use my soaking water from beans and seeds in recipes. What works is to listening to my body, study traditional cuisines, and following the lead of the sunflower itself. The consistent wisdom of cooking and eating what feels right is a better guide than buying into yet another oft repeated but overemphasised food fear.

This is a complex subject and hard to find unbiased information about. If you’re interested, I recommend that you start by understanding what phytic acid and phytase are, and their role in the life cycle of seeds, and then move to human nutrition.

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