Complete Guide to Sunflowers: How to Plant & Care for Sunflowers

Read our complete guide to Sunflowers for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting, caring for & harvesting sunflower seeds
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Are you looking to add some cheer to your landscape? If so, plant some sunflowers!

They’re large blooms and bright yellow color that sit on top of tall, hardy stalks accented by large, vibrant green leaves look beautiful in a garden. They make wonderful cut flowers, too.

Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, as they can easily adjust to pretty much any type of soil. However, like all plants, they do have certain requirements that must be met in order to ensure they’re success.

If you’re interested in growing sunflowers, you’re in the right place! In this guide, we provide all of the tips you need to grow some of the most cheerful flowers that Mother Nature ever created.

The History of Sunflowers

Before we jump in, we want to take a moment to share the history of sunflowers, as we feel that getting to know your plants helps you gain a better appreciation for them.

The history of modern sunflowers actually dates back to thousands of years ago. Historians have actually found evidence of the sunflowers that grow today at archeological sites that date back to 3,000 BC! That’s quite an impressive history.

Sunflowers naturally grew in abundance on America’s Great Plains. Evidence reveals that these bright, cheery flowers were first cultivated by Native American tribes in the Mississippi River Valley or the Southwest of the United States. They were grown for the fiber, oil, and seeds that they produced, as well as their medicinal properties.

A beautiful field of sunflowers
A beautiful field of sunflowers

When settlers from Europe arrived in the country, they instantly realize the value of the sunflowers, as they collected their seeds and sent them to Europe, where they were planted and grown, which is how they became a popular flower in the cottage gardens of England.

Sunflowers were so beloved in Europe that they became a popular subject of the paintings of one of the world’s most famous artists, Van Gogh.

Russians turned sunflowers into a significant crop, as the plants served as a source of oil that could be consumed without disobeying the dietary laws of their religion. In the early 1900s, Russian farmers led the proliferation and assortment of sunflowers that produced large amounts of oil and were resistant to diseases.

In the 1960s, sunflowers started to be grown commercially in the United States and used their seeds to create vegetable oil.

Despite their long history and natural growth in the United States, it wasn’t until pretty recently that gardeners started to realize the beauty of sunflowers.

Due to the increased interest as an ornamental plant, American, German, and Japanese growers started to develop sunflowers that were appropriate and would grow well in residential gardens.

How to Grow Sunflowers

There are dozens of varieties of sunflowers, including annual and perennials that return each year.

Home gardeners usually plant annual sunflowers, including dwarf and tall varieties that feature several branches and grow multiple blooms, which are ideal for cutting.

Sunflowers that are grown specifically for their seeds are annuals and there are a range of colors available, including light lemon yellow, bright yellow, pink, burgundy, and even bi-color and multi-color blooms.

Regardless of which type of sunflower you decide to grow, read on to learn some important tips so you can successfully grow sunflowers.

Sunflower Grow Kit – Grow 5 Different Sunflowers, From Amazon

When to Plant Sunflowers

  • While you can plant sunflower seeds in doors in pots filled with peat, the easiest way to grow them from seeds is by sowing them right in the soil in the spring.
  • It’s best to wait until the danger of frost has passed; however, in areas where that have a short growing season, sunflowers seeds can be planted two weeks before the last frost of the spring is expected, as the seeds are hardy and can usually withstand being exposed to cold temperatures for a short period of time.
  • In regions where the growing season is long, the ideal time to plant sunflower seeds is when the ground temperature is between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where Should Sunflowers be Planted?

  • Sunflowers do best when they are grown in direct sunlight and well-drained, yet evenly moist soil.
  • The amount of space that you’ll need to place between your flowers depends on the variety you’re growing.
  • Sunflowers that branch and feature several blooms on single stems will require more horizontal space and large varieties that grow single flowers.
  • When choosing a location, make sure that taller sunflowers are placed in a position where they won’t cast too much shade on shorter flowers, as all sunflowers love the sun.
  • The north edge of a flower border would make the ideal location for these showy, cheerful flowers.

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How to Prepare Soil for Sunflowers

Sunflowers will do their best when they are planted in soil that has been properly prepared. Mix about 3 inches of rich potting soil into your garden’s native soil.

Doing so will feed the seeds and ensure that the plants have strong roots so they can grow large, healthy blooms.

Watering Requirements

  • After the seeds have been planted, make sure to water the soil thoroughly.
  • While the seeds are sprouting, keep the soil damp, but not water-logged, as you don’t want to drown them.
  • Most sunflower varieties are pretty drought-tolerant once they’ve established themselves; however, they will bloom better if they are watered on a regular basis.
  • Water when the top two inches of the soil is dry.
Sunflower seeds germinating
Sunflower seeds germinating

Feeding Sunflowers

Though sunflowers don’t require much food, they’ll grow more and healthier blooms when they receive a steady amount of nutrition.

About a month after the seeds have been planted and are established in the soil, you can feed them with a all-purpose plant food.

Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food, Perfect for Sunflowers

Staking Sunflowers

Staking isn’t always necessary; however, if the stems aren’t very strong, the plant grows extremely tall, or there are several blooms, you may need to stake your sunflowers.

  • If you’re growing a large amount of sunflowers to cut, create rows of staggered sakes with about 3 feet of space between each one.
  • Wrap twine around the stakes to create a latticework. Alternatively, you can wait to stake the plants until they grow.
  • Situate a sturdy stake about 3 inches from the stem of any sunflowers that are drooping and loosely tie them to the stake with twine.
Sunflowers add rich color to your yard
Sunflowers add rich color to your yard

Keeping Pests at Bay

Sunflowers are pretty carefree; however, certain pests can pose problems. Vermin, such as chipmunks and squirrels, can be problematic when sunflower seeds are first planted and before they are established, as these critters love to eat the seeds.

To keep them at bay, mix ground cayenne pepper into the ground around the seeds to deter them. If chipmunks and squirrels are a problem in your area, instead of sowing outdoors, you may want to start them indoors and then transfer them into the soil once they have sprouted.

Sunflower moths can also be problematic. They can lay their eggs on the growing blooms and the larvae feed on the flowers, destroy the seeds, and create webbing and leave debris on the plants.

If you notice this problem, remove the worms from the plants by hand and be sore to exterminate them.

If a lot of plants have become infested with sunflower moths, you can dust or spray the flowers with something that contains Bacillus thuringiensis as soon as the larvae appear. As they larvae eat the bacterium, they will die.

Disease Prevention

Again, disease usually isn’t a problem for sunflowers; however, they can be prone to certain types of fungal infections, such as rusts and mildews.

Downy mildew can mottle the plants and cause pale splotches on the upper surface of the leaves and mold on the underside. Eventually, the leaves will die. This problem is most likely to occur when the weather is warm and humid or when the evenings are cool and damp. Though Downy mold doesn’t kill sunflowers, it does impact their appearance.

Rusts can also grow on the surfaces of the leaves. First, it grows as yellow or white spots and become black or brown. Eventually, puffy-like blisters will develop on the undersides of the leaves. The disease can spread to the stems and flowers and impact the growth.

Keep an eye on your sunflowers. If you detect fungal disease, spray them with a standard fungicide. If plants are severally infected, remove them to prevent disease from spreading to healthy plants.

Keep the garden weeded, as fungal infections are usually spread by weeds, such as pigweed, wild mustard, and lamb’s quarters.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

In the fall, cut the flower heads when the back of the flowers have become black and the seed heads are dry. Leave the flower in a cool, dry location until it is completely dried out.

Using your thumbs, gently rub the flower head to loosen seeds. Collect the seeds and place them in a breathable paper or cloth bag. Store in a cool, dry location.

Make sure to harvest the sunflower seeds
Make sure to harvest the sunflower seeds


Sunflowers make a great addition to a garden. Their blooms add plenty of color and can be cut, and their seeds can be harvested and eaten as a healthy snack. If you’re considering planting sunflowers, make sure to follow the tips mentioned in this guide to ensure success.

Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at or follow on twitter

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