Grow sunflowers

These amazing plants originate from South America and bring wonderful flowers to the garden. There are masses of great reasons to grow them, so go on, have a grow this season.


For dramatic cut flowers that will last around two weeks, grow fabulous sunflowers. Van Gogh knew what he was doing when he painted his vase of these glowing beauties. These days you can even choose to grow varieties free of pollen. Perfect for the flower arranger and hayfever sufferers and still rich in nectar for our friends the bees. Varieties with low or no pollen include ‘Prado Yellow’ and ‘Prado Red’ and ‘Sunrich Orange’.

Bees love sunflowers as much as us. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Insects and birds

Sunflowers need insects to pollinate their flamboyant flowers. That’s why their bright yellow petals resemble flags and are so prominent in the garden. It’s a visual message to butterflies and bees, inviting them to a rich banquet of pollen and nectar. In return the unsuspecting insects transfer pollen from flower to flower to facilitate pollination. It’s a marriage made in heaven and the result is a bountiful supply of sunflower seeds. In the garden, these seeds are vital and very nourishing food for wild birds, in agriculture they are revered for their nutritional content and transformed into foodstuffs. Even pollen free varieties will usually set seed.

Fun for kids

Children love the friendly faces of sunflowers. The plants are a great way to get them growing and to introduce them to nature. Plant a seed and watch it grow, or buy a plant and nurture it to flower and set seed. Host a giant sunflower competition or change the rules and award the prize for the most flowers on one plant. Look out for Sunflower ‘Teddy Bear’ with fluffy yellow flowers on dwarf plants.

Create a living boundary (cover your fence)

Take advantage of the tall and strong habit of sunflowers and use them as a natural boundary to separate part of your garden or to disguise a fence.

Sunflowers growing in a pot. Image: Sutton Seeds

Ideal for pots

Grow dwarf sunflower plants in containers. These branching varieties have several smaller, mini-sunflower flower heads on shorter stems, with just as much impact as the taller, giant alternatives.

Easy to grow

Easy to grow, sunflowers are often flagged as a great plant for children, but that really means beginners can grow them too. If you want lots of plants, grow from seed for the best value for money, or for just a few, buy the plants from your local garden centre or nursery.

Step by step

sunflower seedlings
Sunflower seedlings. Image: Martin Mulchinock

1 Fill a pot with compost and make two or three holes about 2-3 cm deep.

2 Drop two seeds into each hole.

3 Cover with compost and water gently.

Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed. Sow from March indoors protected from frost, or after the last frost sow outside. Sow dwarf varieties into large pots of multi-purpose compost. Keep slightly moist. Remove the weakest seedling from each hole to allow the stronger one to mature.

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