Who wouldn’t want a garden with beautiful sunflowers gently blowing in the breeze? There aren’t many plants out there that can grab attention like these amazing, golden, giants that’s for sure.
There are plenty of benefits for the gardener that come with growing sunflowers, and not just having a ready supply of sunflower seeds to chew on, so it is hardly surprising that so many people choose to add them to their gardens.
If you want to join said gardeners, and the fact that you are reading this is a good indication that you are, read on below as we explain the origins of sunflowers, their benefits, and how to plant sunflower seeds so that they grow into huge, healthy, plants.
Origins and history of sunflowers
Sunflowers have their origins in the South western United States, where they were cultivated by the Native Americans. Today, in the US, large crops of sunflowers are grown to produce oil on an industrial scale. The first sunflowers in Europe were sent or brought over from the new world by early settlers and were soon popular in British, German and Dutch gardens. In fact, in recent times, Germany has been one of the countries at the forefront of developing breeds of sunflowers.
Today, sunflowers are grown all over the world and are used in a wide range of products.
Benefits of sunflowers
- Sunflowers contain a lot of pollen and nectar and this attracts pollinators such as honey bees and bumblebees. We all know how important these creatures are to our food chain, so feeding them is always a good thing. Just be sure to only use organic, non-GMO seeds or you could actually end up harming bees instead of helping them.
- Birds love sunflower seeds and planting them will attract our little winged friends to your garden. Now, if you are growing berries, you might not want more birds around but if not, they can be great for managing pests in the most natural way.
- Sunflower seeds are a great, heathy, snack. They provide a good deal of vitamin E, as well as other nutrients, and can also be used in a wide range of recipes.
- Being ‘phytoremediators’, sunflowers can help to remove heavy metals from soil by absorbing them, therefore leaving your soil healthier.
When to plant sunflower seeds
The best time to plant sunflower seeds in the UK is between April and May, as long as the last frost has passed and the soil temperature is over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Planting them at this time will result in the plants flowering around August.
How to plant sunflower seeds
Choose an appropriate spot in the garden for your sunflower seeds to grow in. Sunflowers love sunlight so you should sow the seeds in an area that will get at least 6 hours per day, and where it is sheltered from strong winds.
Once you have your spot selected, you need to prepare the soil with well-rotted manure, make sure that it isn’t too compacted, and that has good drainage. Also, remove any weeds from the area.
Start by raking the soil if it isn’t loose enough and then digging a 1-2-inch-deep trench. Next, sow the seeds 6 inches apart from each other. If you are growing in rows, make sure they are 30 inches apart. Cover the seeds with soil and water them lightly.
After a week to ten days, you should see the seed starting to sprout. Your seedlings are vulnerable at this stage, especially to slugs, but you can protect them by cutting off the top of a plastic bottle and covering the seedlings.
As your sunflowers grow, they may start to become crowded so you should spread them out to about 45cm apart. At this point you can discard the smaller, weaker plants and keep the larger ones.
Once your plants are established, you should water them once a week, deeply, so the water gets to the roots. This watering pattern is for normal weather conditions, and you should water more or less frequently in time of drought or heavy rain.
About 3 weeks before they are due to flower, you should step up the watering frequency, and continue this for about 20 days afterwards.
Overfertilization isn’t a good thing for sunflowers, but adding a little to the water should be ok as long as you don’t over do it.
When your sunflowers get to a good size, they’re going to need some support and bamboo stakes are a good choice for this.
Pests and diseases with sunflowers
As far as problems go with disease and pests, sunflowers don’t suffer as badly as a lot of other pants and are actually quite resilient. Fungal diseases like rusts and downy mildew are sometimes an issue with sunflowers, and you can look for signs of this on the leaves. If there is a problem with downy mildew, the undersides will have fuzzy residue on them, and the topsides will have paler patches. With rust you can look for blisters on the undersides and yellow spots, that will turn darker, on top.
As for pests, the main one is the sunflower moth. These little critters leave their larvae on the plant, and the larvae feed on it. You can recognise sunflower moth larvae by their appearance. They are usually a greenish shade of yellow and have dark stripes.
Getting rid of these larvae isn’t too difficult: you can either pick them off by hand and throw them away in a plastic bag, or spray them with products that contain bacillus thuringiensis, which is a type of bacteria that the larvae will eat and then die.
That’s all for this article folks. We hope we have clarified a few things when it comes to sunflowers and that you now know how to plant sunflower seeds in your garden, and take care of them until they flower.
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