Did you know that you control the size of the flower heads on the sunflowers you grow? Interested in growing a gigantic sunflower for the birds to feast on or the perfect smaller head for a bouquet? You can and it is easy to boot.
First, a quick lesson on the sunflower. There is no shortage of bloom color variations and petal shapes in sunflowers. Each year brings a new sunflower– some worthy, others not so much.
For our discussion there two different types of sunflower growth habits. The first is the most common and widely recognized single stem sunflower. A one-stem plant that produces one sunflower bloom and that’s it, done. The second type is the branching sunflower, it will grow into a plant with many branches. Each branch sporting a bloom with less stem strength as a cut flower and takes more growing space in the garden. However, these are the favorites of birds.
Both types are equally as easy to grow and beautiful, but it’s the single stem that the bloom size can be manipulated and produces the best cut flowers. Planting a few every couple of weeks in your garden will supply blooms all season.
Within the single-stemmed varieties I will take it one step further and call out another division. There are a few single-stemmed sunflowers that are known as garden “giants”, grown not for cut flowers but for ornamental and seed production reasons. The steps listed below for making blooms bigger or smaller are also true for this group–however they do not make suitable cut flowers. And they grow over 12 feet tall and with heads that are huge. Really fun to grow.
So, after all this drilling down–we are still left with a boatload of sunflowers to choose from. All sunflowers enjoy the same growing conditions:
- Full sun (at least 8 hours)
- Organic rich soil (add compost generously at planting)
- Plant 2 week old seedlings in garden or plant seeds in the garden
- Add dry organic fertilizer at planting
- Use liquid organic fertilizer weekly while watering
- Water generously in dry conditions
The Determining Factor for Bloom Size: its how close or far apart you plant them. It’s all about the spacing once you give them the sun and food they need. Remembering that sunflowers are like teenage boys; thinking about their next meal always and they’d like a little water to wash it down. They can’t help but grow big, strong and beautiful when you give them what they want.
- If you are growing for the biggest sunflower you can possibly get, space plants 24” apart in all directions. Whopper blooms will be forthcoming.
- If you want the perfect size bouquet sunflowers for the vase (3-5” blooms) than plant 6” apart in all directions.
- Spacing plants in between these two extreme examples produces medium size blooms.
It’s really that simple. For the best cut flowers another note is to select a variety that is pollenless. This will greatly increase vase life and prevent the dropping of yellow pollen onto tabletops. As a bonus, these flowers still produce nectar for pollinators.
Our 3′ x 10′ Sunflower Seed Collection perfect for cutting or birds, bees and butterflies.
Here’s to a sunnier garden!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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