Just the name 'sunflower' is enough to bring a smile to a gardener's face. There's something so appealing and happy about these bright summer flowers. While known for their tall, yellow face with a lion's mane of petals, these annuals also come in shades ranging from the palest creamy white to deep wine-red tones.
Whichever variety you chose, it’s best to plant sunflower seeds between April and Mid-July, after the soils have warmed to 50°F and there is no threat of frost. Growing sunflowers isn't hard, although they are prone to certain infections, and some pests love them. Here are some EARTH’S ALLY tips for the organic gardener on how to grow sunflowers and sunflower care:
As their name and appearance suggest, sunflowers are sun-loving plants. They need to be placed in full sunlight to reach their potential. In Spanish, sunflowers are called 'girasols,' which means sun-spinners. This refers to how the head of a sunflower will slowly turn throughout the day so that it's always facing the direction of the sun. Although some variants are more tolerant of shade, sunflowers require 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
Sunflowers are durable and can grow in any kind of well-draining soil. It’s important that the seeds are planted about 1-1 ½ inches deep and 6 inches apart so the roots can grow. Sunflowers are heavy feeders and need soil that is well-fertilized with organic materials and home-made compost to thrive and bloom. If your soil is lacking in nutrients, watering it with comfrey tea (water in which comfrey plants have been steeped for several days) can help.
Mulching the soil around your sunflowers will have several benefits. First, it will help keep the soil moist and cool which is useful for protecting the roots of your plants. Second, mulching helps deter weeds naturally. If weeds crop up around your sunflowers, it's better to remove them by hand than to use toxic chemicals. Some weeds, such as bindweed or morning glories, tend to strangle plants when left unchecked and will need to be removed.
Slugs and snails can destroy sunflowers before they've even had a chance to bloom. You can protect against them by using natural slug traps (inverted grapefruit hulls, beer traps, and similar systems) or by sprinkling the soil around your plants with crushed eggshells. Insects like aphids and thrips can damage sunflowers, especially when the plants are young. Use a non-toxic, pollinator friendly product such as Earth's Ally Insect Control to repel and prevent infestations of soft-bodied insects.
If you're gathering sunflowers for decorative purposes, wait until they're fully opened before cutting them. Once the flowers are indoors and out of direct sunlight, they tend not to open much. You can ensure that the blossoms last a long time by placing the stems in slightly salty water.
As well as being beautiful, sunflowers are useful -- their seeds are healthy and can be used in many delicious recipes. If you're growing sunflowers for the seed, wait until the heads of the sunflowers have begun to droop, and the seeds have turned yellow. At this point, you can cut off the whole head.
It's especially important to use organic products if you're planning to bring the flowers into your house, and even more so if you want to consume the sunflower seeds. Non-toxic solutions that are free from harsh chemicals, like Earth's Ally Insect Control and Disease Control sprays, are OMRI Listed® for use in organic gardening and safe for use on consumables.