The sunflower has a tall, thick stem crowned by what seems like a single giant flower. Interestingly, this flower is no flower at all but a constellation made up of hundreds of small flowers called the sunflower head.
Although the sunflower head resembles a huge flower with yellow petals and a brown center, it is actually the brown that is the constellation of flowers, with the yellow leaves acting more as a protectant to the sunflowers during the flowering and seed development phases.
The sunflower’s cheery facade plus its sheer height make it a wonderful plant that everybody will enjoy, either in the vegetable garden or at the back of a flower bed.
A sunflower can grow to become well over 10 feet (3 meters) tall and the head can become quite wide. Once open, the sunflower head will start to follow the sun while it is moving across the sky.
The flowers in the center of the sunflower will then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and after a while these seeds will loosen and scatter across the ground.
Once that is done, the life cycle is complete and it will eventually wilt and die so that the new seeds can grow to become sunflowers in the next growing season.
When growing sunflowers it is important to plan where you want to plant them because they will need full sun to mature successfully. Many people grow sunflowers close to walls since the sunflower can be quite sensitive to the wind. But planting close to a wall will unfortunately come at a loss.
Sunflowers are sensitive to the amount of sunlight they obtain, and how much water required to optimize their growth.
Too much water may result in the soil loosening and becoming far too unstable to support the weight of the sunflower head as it sways in the wind. Planting a larger grouping of sunflowers has the benefit of helping to stabilize the immediate area of soil and helps to create some barrier to wind damage. I put stakes into the ground close to the sunflower stem making sure it stands strong and stable on its own. Next, you can tie small pieces of thick string, florist ties or velcro around the stake and the sunflower, thus helping them to support each other.
This year I had a few sunflowers growing in large pots. Sunflowers do not do well if they sit in water so it is important that your pot or garden container drains well. You can use a layer of sand or rocks in your container. The garden soil you choose needs to be full of nutrients.
When placing your sunflower seeds in a pot, do not put them close together. Depending on the size of your container, space them at the minimum of 3 inches apart.
Typically, sunflowers require absolutely no pruning at all.
To enjoy the seeds of your sunflowers here are simple harvesting tips. When the backside of the sunflower head turns yellow be sure to protect them from birds, squirrels and other animals that eat sunflower seeds. Once the back of the sunflower head is brown it means time to harvest! Cut the head off about 12 inches down the stem – then all you have to do is rub the head using your hand and the sunflower seeds will fall off.
If pressed, sunflower seeds will give you sunflower oil. This oil can be used for many purposes and ongoing research is mapping new and improved uses every day. First of all, sunflower oil is great in cooking and will give food a very mild but distinct taste, similar to mild olive oils. Sunflower oil can also be transformed into lubricants for engine parts and can even work as a fuel for engines.