Well, congratulations to those of you who guessed that the photo we posted last week was of a sunflower seedling.... ....this week's blog post is about sunflowers.
It is easy to see why sunflowers are so popular with gardeners. The gorgeous sunflower is so charming, bright, cheerful, and easy to grow. Sunflowers come in a variety of sizes - it is possible to grow tiny sunflowers in pots, sunflowers with single stems for cutting, branching sunflowers with multiple blooms per stem, tall sunflowers for the garden, or giant sunflowers for competition growing! There is certainly plenty of choice.
These are the sunflowers we have in our garden, photographed this morning. This is the first year we have grown sunflowers - we have chosen one of the new Kings Seeds sunflowers - Golden Toasted. We liked the idea of being able to harvest the sunflower seeds - after soaking them in salty water for a few hours, the seeds just need to be patted dry and roasted in the oven for delicious sunflower seeds. These sunflowers grow to about 1.5m high and are single stemmed with large heads.
We are also growing the multistemmed Moulin Rouge sunflowers. They are the most unbelievable beautiful deep red colour - I'm really looking forward to seeing these grow.
Our Moulin Rouge seedlings were sown a little later than the Golden Toasted sunflowers and they are still very small - you can just see one in the foreground of the photo to the right.
The Moulin Rouge sunflower is multistemmed and grows to a height of 2m.
Tip: By the way, if you are growing a single stemmed type sunflower, you can turn it into a multistemmed plant with more than one flower head by taking off the growing tip (after the plant has grown to about a metre tall and has at least three leaf nodes).
The Sunflower is a native of North America. From there, it made its way to South America and on to Europe. Sunflowers are heliotropic which means that the plant follows the sun's path across the sun from east to west. It's worth keeping this in mind when deciding where to sow your sunflowers - we've put ours on the western side of our garden, so we will see the sunflowers' faces as they face the sun.
Sunflowers can be sown directly where they are to grow (if you are doing this, protect the seedlings from slug, snails and birds), or you can sow into punnet for transplanting later. In New Zealand, sunflowers can be sown from August through to January. They are best sown when soil temperatures are between 10°C and 30°C. Position your sunflowers in full sun and space plants 20-30 cm apart. Keep them watered but do not over-water - sunflowers are somewhat drought tolerant .
If you are growing dwarf sunflowers you can grow them in pots - this is a great project for children - they love to see their sunflowers growing. Sunflower Big Smile is a great sunflower for growing in pots - the sunflowers will grow to the size of the pot - small pot, small flower.....
If you are growing tall sunflowers, you will need to protect them from the wind - you may need to stake them or plant them in a sheltered position. If you are growing giant sunflowers for competition, you will certainly need to consider how you will support them - these sunflowers can grow to immense heights. In 2009 Hans-Pieter Schiffer, in Germany, grew a sunflower that was 8.03m tall (pictured to the left). Serious giant-sunflower-growers have built the most unbelievable scaffolding systems in their efforts to grow the world's tallest sunflower!
If you are growing giant sunflowers, sow a small clump directly where they are to grow and progressive thin to the strongest seedlings as the grow. Don't forget to protect them from snails, slugs and birds - use snail bait and netting. Feed often, water regularly and watch them reach for the sky!
If you are intending to harvest your sunflower seeds you will have to protect the seed heads from birds as they are ripening. Harvesting the seeds takes place after the blossom has died back and the petals have almost all fallen off. Cut off the heads and hang them up if possible so that they can dry.
We're looking foward to seeing our sunflowers grow as the season progresses. They are so cheerful - have you ever seen a photo of someone holding a sunflower without a smile on their face? They make wonderful cut flowers too and are such a happy flower to have in the house. A single sunflower stem makes a wonderful gift!
I am looking forward to seeing Barb and Gerard's sunflower display in their garden this year - they are growing quite a few different sunflowers and I am sure the display will be stunning. If you are having trouble choosing which sunflower to grow, you could check out our sunflower selection. It makes a great gift for the gardener (or potential gardener) in your family, and it's a great choice if you are indecisive like me and want to grow every sort of sunflower possible.