Below, we have provided you with some useful sowing instructions to get the most out of your free seeds as advised by the RHS.
Sunflowers (Helianthus), with their familiar large yellow blooms, are easy and fun to grow, for children and adults alike. They are ideal for cheering up summer borders and containers, they’re great for attracting wildlife too.
Annual sunflowers are a popular choice for introducing children to growing plants from seed, as they germinate easily and quickly, and produce such spectacular results. In fact they’re fun for all ages to grow, including adults!
Sunflowers are also great for wildlife. The flowers attract bees and other pollinating insects, while the abundant seeds are a valuable high-energy food for seed-eating birds, such as finches, and small mammals.
Sunflowers make long-lasting cut flowers too. The smaller-flowered types, with their abundant blooms over many months, are particularly popular with flower arrangers.
As their name suggests, sunflowers love a sunny spot. To fuel their vigorous growth, they also like rich soil with plenty of added organic matter, such as garden compost. Dig this into the whole planting area, rather than just into the planting hole.
Annual sunflowers are usually grown from seed, sown indoors in spring. Keep them on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse until late spring or early summer, then plant outside once the soil is warming up and there is no risk of frost. Harden them off thoroughly first, to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions.
These are quick and easy to grow from seed, which can be sown either indoors in pots from late March onwards, or outdoors in the ground in mid-April and May. They are ideal for children to grow, as they shoot up so quickly and produce very impressive results.
Starting sunflowers off indoors gives the plants a head start, which is important if you want to grow really tall ones. However, you need space on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse for a month or more, until you can plant them out in early summer.
Indoor sowing generally gives more reliable results, as conditions are reliably warm and the seeds won’t get eaten by mice and squirrels before they can germinate. The seedlings are protected from slugs and snails until they are large and robust enough to be planted outside.
Don’t forget to collect some of the seeds from your plants at the end of the season, before the birds eat them all, so you can grow more plants for free the following spring.
1. THEY’RE NATIVE TO THE AMERICAS.
They were cultivated in North America as far back as 3000 BC, when they were developed for food, medicine, dye, and oil. Then, they were exported to the rest of the world by Spanish conquistadors around 1500.
2. THEY WERE BROUGHT TO RUSSIA BY ROYALTY.
Tsar Peter the Great was so fascinated by the sunny flowers he saw in the Netherlands that he took some back to Russia. They became popular when people discovered that sunflower seed oil was not banned during Lent, unlike the other oils the Russian Orthodox Church banned its patrons from consuming. By the 19th century, the country was planting two million acres of sunflowers every year.
3. THEIR POPULARITY STANDS THE TEST OF TIME.
Russian immigrants to the United States in the 19th century brought back highly developed sunflower seeds that grew bigger blooms, and sparked a renewed interest in the Native American plant. Later, American sunflower production exploded when Missouri farmers began producing sunflower oil in 1946.
5. THEY TRACK THE SUN.
Sunflowers plants display a behavior called heliotropism. The flower buds and young blossoms will face east in the morning and follow the sun as the earth moves during the day.
6. THE WORLD’S TALLEST SUNFLOWER REACHES 30 FEET AND 1 INCH.
In the summer of 2014, Veteran green-thumb Hans-Peter Schiffer toppled the Guinness World Record for a third year in a row.
7. THEY HAVE A HISTORY OF HEALING.
In Mexico, the flowers were thought to sooth chest pain. A number of Native American tribes agreed with the plant’s curing properties. The Cherokee utilised an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to sooth “chest pain and pulmanery troubles.”
8. THEY HAVE TRAVELLED TO SPACE.
In 2012, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit brought along a few companions to the International Space Station: sunflower seeds. Petit regularly blogged about his budding friendship and shared photos of the gardening process.
9. THEY ARE ACTUALLY THOUSANDS OF TINY FLOWERS.
Each sunflower’s head is made of smaller flowers. The petals we see around the outside are called ray florets, and they cannot reproduce. But the disc florets in the middle, where the seeds develop, have both male and female sex organs, and each produce a seed. They can self-pollinate or take pollen blown by the wind or transported by insects.
10. THEY CAN BE USED AS SCRUBBING PADS.
Once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converted into disposable scrubbing pads for jobs too tough for your cleaning tool.
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