How to grow sunflowers
What better way to welcome the spring than by planting some sunflower seeds? And what better way to celebrate Barbie’s brand new DVD Barbie Thumbelina than to ask TV presenter and ecology and wildlife expert Ellie Harrison the best way to grow them?
Sunflowers grow fast and tall, and are a great way to attract wildlife to your garden – kids of all ages will love this gardening activity, and they can help every step of the way!
Gardening tips for sunflowers
Choose a spot in the part of your garden which gets the most sun (6 – 8 hours a day is perfect), sheltered from strong winds and make sure there’s something nearby (like a fence) to tie the stem to. You don’t have to stick to one area of your garden: spread the colour!
Choose a variety of sunflower seed. Growing giants like American Giant, Russian Mammoth or Kong Hybrid (this one is multi-headed) will require special attention. Dwarf varieties like Music Box and Teddy Bear are ideal for patio pots or large window boxes.
Wait until a week or two after the last frost has thawed, and soak your seeds the night before planting in a little warm water.
Dig some holes. Check the back of your seed packet, but as a rule of thumb the holes should be 5cm deep and 15cm apart.
Plant, water and protect the sunflower plants. After about 2 weeks you should start to see some shoots coming through. If there’s someone munching on these, a plastic cup with the bottom cut off or a milk carton chopped in half are some quick and easy ways to make little protective tents around the baby plants. Make the kids responsible for watering them regularly in the evenings. If the sunflowers begin to bend over, get the kids to help tie them up – one of their old t-shirts or a ripped up plastic bag are perfect for this job.
Watch and learn about sunflowers. Make a little book or chart of the sunflowers, help the kids notice:
- Which plants grow tallest – take their picture next to the sunflowers so they can relate to the growth.
- Which head grows biggest – great practise at using a ruler and adding on centimetres!
- How a flowering heads track the sun - a good way to discover more about sunrise and sunset.
- What wildlife is attracted to the flowers and to the seeds, help them see which birds like them. If it looks like the heads are going to be very popular with your garden friends, cover a couple of them up with thin muslin, so the children have some seeds left over to plant the following year.
Harvesting sunflower seeds
Growing sunflowers really is the perfect family project, as the fun doesn’t end when the summer does. Wait until the sunflower heads have gone completely brown on the plant, then chop them off with enough stem to hang them up to dry out for a couple of weeks. Once they’re dry, rub the heads together to loosen the seeds. Put 50 or so seeds aside in a marked envelope to use next year. Then split the rest in half. With the first half, make a tasty snack for the wildlife in your garden, like a lard seedcake, or just sprinkle them out to be eaten. Soak the second half in salty water overnight then roast them in a hot oven on some greaseproof paper for a tasty kiddie snack!
Thanks to your children, your garden has looked great and been a good source of food to all sorts of birds and animals which live around them. So, you see, even the smallest person really can make a big difference!