Sunflowers are my all-time favourite flower and always feature prominently in our summer garden. They are very easy to grow and are a great way to attract bees and butterflies to the garden.
I normally sow sunflower seeds from mid-October onwards, when the risk of frosts has well and truly passed but the ground is at the same time sufficiently moist to aid germination. In saying that, it does depend on where you live. New Zealand’s climate varies dramatically from region to region and I do have to remember that not all of my audience lives in Auckland or even New Zealand for that matter. My personal gardening experiences are limited to our urban homestead in the Auckland region, so please take this into account when considering my advice. On the same token, what grows well in my environment may not necessarily thrive in your own microclimate. So please don’t blame me if things go wrong and varieties I’ve recommended don’t grow well in your garden!
Sowing sunflowers from seed
It’s really easy to grow sunflowers from seed and it allows you to grow unusual varieties which aren’t found in garden centres. It takes about 90 days until maturity, usually around 60 or so days in the case of dwarf varieties.
For the best results, sow sunflower seeds directly where you want to grow them. Over the years, I have tried raising sunflowers in punnets for transplanting later, but I found that germination rates were very low. If you’ve left it too late or don’t want to start them from seed, look out for sunflower plants in garden centres from October onwards. You can try your local Palmers store.
If you’re planning to grow sunflowers from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Traditionally, sunflowers are bright yellow, but they also come in pale yellow, red, bronze and orange. Sunflowers are either dwarf, medium or tall in height. The sunflower seeds I’m sowing this year were saved from last year’s plants. However there are some fantastic varieties of sunflower seeds on the market. Popular dwarf varieties include Pacino Cola (Egmont Seeds) and Dwarf Ballad F1 Hybrid (Egmont Seeds). A lovely medium sized variety I have grown in the past is Musicbox Mix (Egmont Seeds), which contains a lovely variety of shades. For tall traditional yellow sunflowers, you can’t go past Russian Giant (Egmont Seeds). The best red variety I have grown is Moulin Rouge F1 Hybrid (Egmont Seeds), which produces tall red and bronze flowers on branching stems. The best sunflower for picking is by far Sunrich Irish Gold (Egmont Seeds). I have grown this variety in previous years and it produces excellent cut flowers on long stems.
To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for sunflower plants
Sunflowers need at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before sowing sunflower seeds, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed sunflowers weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers.
Sunflowers are an annual which means that they will grow, set seed and die after one growing season. If you are growing heirloom varieties, you can save seeds from your plants so you will be able to sow those varieties next season, as I have done.