what I'm growing: Sunflowers

I am by no means a 'master gardener' but I do have a passion for growing fruits, vegetables and flowers here on our farm. Every Spring, the excitement builds as I begin planting seeds on my potting bench and watch them turn into seedlings, then plants to pot out in the garden for a late summer harvest that will feed our family and beautify our home.

A favourite annual of many gardeners is of course non other than the simple yet beautiful sunflower. It is a classic annual in the garden..it's big, it's bold and it truly is so easy to grow!

Last year I grew a sunflower patch in my garden that yielded 9' tall plants. I loved walking through there in the morning light as it made me feel so humbled and small. It always amazes me what can grow from a tiny little seed! Did you know the tallest sunflower on record is currently at 27'?! I would have LOVED to have seen that! 

What is great about sunflowers is that they come in every size, perfect for every kind of garden whether that be a small plot, a container garden or a large field. There are dwarf sunflowers, doubles and they even come in a wide range of colours (Velvet Queen might be my favourite coloured sunflower - a dark, velvet-like shade of red)

During the summer months, sunflowers not only bring beauty to your garden, they also attract beneficial "friends" such as butterflies and bees. Of course attracting bees to your vegetable plot is a must to help pollination and as a gardener, you can't help but attract as many pollinators as possible! As a child I used to be afraid of buzzing bees in the garden but now I realize how beneficial they are and love hearing them work tirelessly collecting nectar. Wasps on the other hand...don't get me started!

Helianthus Annuus is native to North America and has been grown as a crop for some 5,000 years. At first, the plant only caught on in a modest way but so much has changed. Canada alone is a huge producer of sunflower oil and in many regions of our country you can see fields of golden sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see from July thru to September. 

Did you know that sunflowers are called as such not because they're shaped much like a sunburst but because the flower buds actually follow the sun? Turning East in the morning, to the South by noon and to the West by late afternoon. Once the flower starts to open, however, this "daily spin", stops and at maturity, most sunflowers will face Southeast.

When it comes to sowing these beauties, there are many different approaches (go with whatever works best for you!). Most often I recommend sowing the seeds 1" apart and 1" deep in well drained soil. Once the seeds begin sprouting, thin them down to about 2' for small/medium plants or 3' for tall, single-stemmed varieties. Full sun is best (obviously) and adding a bit of compost at planting time and watering in droughts is generally the only care you need to give them while they grow. If however you are looking for a prize winning bloom, feed them constantly and never let their roots dry out completely. 

While I have grown sunflowers indoors for fun, I don't recommend doing this as sunflowers do not like any root disturbance while growing. The plants themselves grow rapidly but the flowers will not begin to bloom til mid-summer. If you are looking to have some for cut flowers, I recommend harvesting when the first few "petals" appear. Otherwise just leave them to do their thing in the garden.

I often will leave a few seed heads over the winter to help feed the birds that stay in our yard (we had quite a few this winter!!) but then chop them down in early Spring and resow them. However, oftentimes the seed heads will drop their seeds on their own and new flowers will start popping up in late May to early June!

Something I just learned last summer myself and I feel it's worth sharing is that sunflowers are allelopathic: their roots give off toxic properties that either prevent nearby plants from germinating or stunt their growth. This was proven to me when I planted a few varieties in my new zinnia bed. Every seed planted within 18" of the sunflowers never came up!! Lesson learned..

There are so many varieties of sunflowers out there for you to try and grow. Many hybrids offered are pollen free for cut flower use (florists) and their most attractive feature is that pollen won't fall (and stain your table setting, clothing etc) However the major disadvantage of this is that they produce far less seeds (some don't produce any!) therefore I like to plant a vast variety in my yard. 

This year I will be growing at least 10 different varieties of sunflowers. My favourites at the moment are:

- Teddy Bear: a dwarf sunflower that produces fully double golden yellow plants
- Ring of Fire: this is a nod to my husband and his admiration of the "man in black", Mr Johnny Cash. It is a very different sunflower, a 5" pollen-less flower with bi-coloured petals
- Lemon Eclair: I am so excited for this new flower to begin producing in my garden this year! It is a delicious lemon coloured sunflower with a chocolate brown centre. Long, cactus like outer petals are grounded by a fluffy centre..very excited!!
- finally, I am also planting Vanilla Ice this Summer in my front flower beds to add height and also to use in flower arrangements for our farmhouse

So there you have it. My first edition of "what I am growing" in 2015. I hope you learned something new about these garden classics and I hope I have inspired you to throw a few of these seeds in your own gardens in 2015!! Happy planting everyone!


  1. Dawn, I loved reading about sunflowers, as you know we are fans of them too. Thanks so much for the info, I passed it along to Rich. We are growing them again this year too, he already got the seeds. Can't wait for spring weather and planting time friend. The last week has been cold and windy here and no sun. Hoping the warm temps will come soon.

  2. I loved reading your blog about sun flowers it was very interesting and you have some great photos on there as well. I like the overall look of your blog as its very colourful and eye catching and has a nice country theme. Sun flowers are my favourite flower as they are so big and bold. I will definitely try and grow some this year.

    Norberto @ Thorburn Landscapes


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