Sunflowers are annuals that can be sown in modules from March to June at a depth of 2 cm. Alternatively, you can sow outdoors in rows 40 cm apart from May to June, protecting earlier sown seeds with fleece if there is a risk of frost.
Ensure your seedbed is free from weeds. Sheltered sunny sites are best, as sunflowers do not like strong winds or shade. They prefer moist but free-draining soils, so incorporating organic matter is beneficial. Large varieties will need more space than smaller ones, so bear that in mind when spacing in your rows. Young plants need hardening off before planting.
Keep the area weed-free and watered during hot spells. You can mulch around the plants to keep in moisture and prevent weeds.
Generally pest and disease-free, young seedlings will need protection from slugs. If they are hardened off well, they are less susceptible to attack. Sunflowers do not like cold weather, so if you are in a colder area, sow later for best results. If you want to harvest the seeds, cover with a net to stop the birds from eating them (maybe leave a few uncovered for the birds too).
Pick the flower heads for cut flowers when the blooms are half open. When they start to droop, they are forming seeds. If you’re growing for wildlife benefits, just enjoy them where they are and let them set seed for the finches; the stems are good overwintering spots for beneficial insects.
Culinary Ideas And Uses
Sunflower seeds for eating are generally grown in large quantities and shelled by machine, as doing it by hand is very time-consuming. Choose a variety with large flowers and large seeds to make it worth the effort. You can roast them in the shell and crack and nibble your way through them.
Once the seed heads have drooped and turned brown, you can collect the whole heads to dry indoors for a few days. Rub the seeds away from the flower head; the central ones are usually the largest and best quality. You can separate seeds from chaff before storing them in a cool, dry place for sowing the following year.