Growing Sunflowers – How to Grow and Care for Sunflower Plants

Growing Sunflowers is one of the really fun parts of summer time gardening.  These big annuals are very easy to grow, which makes them a very popular plant to introduce children to gardening.  Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a member of the Aster family.Growing sunflowers is a fun way to introduce children to gardening. The seeds are large and grow easily. See tips for growing these garden beauties on The Gardening Cook.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas.  It is native to Central North America and has been cultivated for centuries.  The common name “sunflower” refers to the annual variety of the plant. There are also perennials, but they are not often grown, because they spread easily and are quite invasive.Sunflowers an take over a field

Tips for Growing Sunflowers


There are over 70 species of the sunflower plant. They range in size from dwarf varieties that are only 1 1/2 feet tall to Mammoths that can be over 8 feet tall. The heads of the largest sunflowers can be a foot or more in diameter!Some sunflower heads can be a foot wide.


Sunflowers are not too fussy about the type of soil, so they can be sown in most areas of the garden and in large pots on deck gardens. However, they are heavy feeders, so adding compost or other organic matter to the soil will result in better plants.  You can water early in the spring when the new growth starts with a slow release fertilizer.


These plants are called sunflowers for a reason – they love the sun!  Plant them in full sun and try to situate the plants on the northern side of the garden, so that they won’t shade other plants or vegetables when they are grown. Growing sunflowers in the shade will result in stunted flowers that reach for any available sunlight.Mammoth sunflower


Even though sunflowers are drought resistant, they will grow much better if you give them water regularly, especially after the flowers develop.


The flowers of the sunflowers are amazing when they open.  They can take time to develop but are worth the wait!Center of a sunflower ready to open.

The flowers themselves vary dramatically.  We all know the bright yellow sunflower with a black or brown center but there are so many other varieties, too – from multi colored plants to huge fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers that are so popular right now. They make fabulous cut flowers for bringing indoors.Sunflowers are not just yellow. They come in a wide variety of colors.

Bloom Time

There is nothing quite like the look of a sunflower in your garden! #♥sunflowers #gardenfaces #hello summer Click To Tweet

Mid summer is the peak bloom time for sunflowers. They grow all spring to get their height and then flower during the summer and early part of the fall.

Attracting Wildlife

The seeds and nectar of sunflowers are attractive to many forms of wildlife. Bees, wasps, and butterflies are drawn their nectar. All animals that save seeds for the winter, such as chipmunks and squirrels, love them, and even raccoons and garden mice will enjoy a sunflower treat or two, as well.All sorts of wildlife is attracted to sunflower seeds

It’s a good idea to leave dead seed heads when the cold weather comes for any birds that may be around in the winter months.Leave sunflower heads for the birds in winter

When to Plant

Seeds should be sown after the last frost date when the soil is warmer.  While you can get a head start by starting seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost, they really prefer to be sown directly into the soil. (Sunflowers don’t seem to transplant very well.)

Plant seeds an inch deep and about 6 – 12 inches apart. (1 1/2 feet apart for the largest varieties.) Water well after planting.


Birds love the seeds of sunflowers, which can make collection them for personal use hard.  Some gardeners recommend covering flower heads with cheesecloth, pantyhose, or the perforated bags that vegetables come in if birds become a nuisance.  The time to harvest seeds is when the backs of the heads turn yellow and the seeds start to turn brown.  The heads will usually start to droop when they are ready for you to harvest the seeds. Sunflower seedsIt takes 80 -120 days for seeds to develop, depending on variety. To roast sunflower seeds, soak them over night and then bake for 200 º F for 3 hours. Add salt if desired. They make a great snack.


Growing sunflowers can attract wildlife and also brings beauty to the garden. Since sunflowers have such thick stems, you can use them as living supports for climbing vegetables.  Their size also makes them perfect for wind breaks and privacy screening.

A Note on Sunflowers and Grass

If birds feed on your sunflowers, it may be hard to grow grass near them. The hulls have a toxin that will kill the grass. Either harvest the seeds before they start to fall, or plant the sunflowers in a place where the grass does not grow nearby.

My daughter’s favorite flower is a sunflower.  We snapped this picture of her one day on the way to college. She just HAD to be in that field!My daughter in a field of sunflowers

If you have young children, try to get them interested in gardening by growing sunflowers. The seeds are large and easy for them to handle and they sprout and grow very quickly.  Once they stand at the foot of a fully grown sunflower and see how tall it is, they will be hooked!A sunflower plant can dwarf a child

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  7 comments for “Growing Sunflowers – How to Grow and Care for Sunflower Plants

  1. Joy
    10/28/2017 at 2:49 am

    How do you prep sunflowers for a flower arrangement so they don’t die?

    • Carol
      10/28/2017 at 12:28 pm

      Hi Joy. large flowers like sunflowers are hard to keep fresh. Some tips are to water before picking and pick them in the morning before the sun hits them. Cut the stems on an angle and put them in water right after doing this. Add a mixture that is meant to keep arrangements fresh if you have some and change the water daily. Carol

  2. Adena
    05/25/2018 at 7:37 am

    If you start you seeds indoors, how big should they be before transplanting them outside?

    • Carol
      05/25/2018 at 9:54 am

      Hi Adena. Sunflower seeds ideally like to be planted directly in the soil where they will grow. They don’t transplant well. If you have started seeds indoors there is no real size limit. Just be sure they are well rooted and plant the whole thing, soil and all into the ground. Not ideal but it should work. They won’t be as strong as seeds planted directly in soil outdoors. Carol

  3. Mary Pierce
    05/25/2018 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for all your helpful insight. I planted a “first garden” with my 4 year old grandson this year and sunflowers were, of course, my first choice of seeds to plant with him. The stalks are now around 4 feet tall and he is amazed at how big they are. Can’t wait until he sees them at 10 feet with blooms! Next year we’re planting a larger vegatable garden (mostly green beans, peppers and tomatoes this year), but sunflowers will remain a fixture in the new garden too.

    • Carol
      05/25/2018 at 1:45 pm

      My daughter loves sunflowers too! Be sure to take a photo of him later standing near the giants! Carol

  4. 05/22/2019 at 2:35 pm

    I love growing sunflowers just to fee the birds and such. Some day maybe I’ll dry them and eat them. For now I just plant them and let them go.

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