How to plant and care for sunflowers

Sunflowers are a great way to add colour to your garden, and they’re easy to grow and care for. Bunnings Greenlife buyer Katie explains the basics of how to grow sunflowers and shares some tips on how to care for them.

Appearance

Sunflowers are typically yellow, although you can also grow red, orange and striped ones as well. They range in size from dwarfs that grow less than a metre high, to giants that can grow over 3.5m tall and produce flowers up to 50cm wide. 

Why do sunflowers face the sun?

One thing that gardeners love is that young sunflowers turn their face towards the sun. This is so parts of the flower head receive the levels of sunshine they need, while parts of the stalk are shielded from the sun’s rays, which they are sensitive to.

How to grow sunflowers

Best soil for growing
Sunflowers are annuals that grow well in fertile, well-drained soil. Their ideal soil conditions lie between a pH level of 6.0 and 7.5, however, they’re pretty hardy so will grow in most soils with some care. Most importantly, they love being planted in a spot that has 6–8 hours of sunlight each day. You could even grow sunflowers indoors in containers if you place them near a north facing window.

When and how to plant
Spring or early summer, when the soil is starting to warm up, is the best time to sow sunflower seeds. A typical harvest time is about 10–11 weeks. If you’re sowing seeds in a garden bed, you should aim to place them about 60cm apart and 2cm deep. Before you plant, enrich the soil with some compost and give the soil a turn with a pitchfork so it is loose.

Companion planting
Good companions to plant alongside sunflowers include cucumbers, melons, sweetcorn and squash. You should avoid planting them next to potatoes and beans because of the toxins that they can give off.

How to care for sunflowers

Staking sunflowers
As your sunflowers grow, they will become top heavy and need staking. This will also protect them in high winds or in the rain.
 
Sunflowers need a deep, regular watering. This will encourage good root growth and a large, heathy bloom. The ideal time to water is in the morning, as root rot can set in over cold nights. Sunflowers can also benefit from a liquid fertiliser every two to three weeks, which will boost their height.

Pests

You can spread a 10cm layer of mulch around them, which will help you keep the soil moist and will also prevent weeds from growing nearby. Snails and slugs love to eat young sunflower seedlings so it’s a good idea to spread some snail and slug pellets in the early growing weeks.

Pruning
If you’re looking to save the seeds to re-plant, you can prune 10cm below the flower heads. You should then be able to remove the seeds with a fork. To protect the seeds from birds, you may need to cover the flowers with bird netting before they are ready.

Start planting today

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Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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