The sun in my yard, is how I describe a blooming sunflower. The brilliance of its yellow color flanked by the orange center can add life to the most dullest corner of your garden. Native to American soil, a sunflower is the most recognized and cultivated flower in the world. Not just for its ornamental value, but for its edible and nutritious seeds and oil. To ensure a good flower show, follow the tips given below.
Traditionally sunflowers are large and yellow, with one or two flowers per stem on large plants that grow up to 8 to 10 feet tall, but many new varieties have been introduced where the flowers are smaller, plants more compact, bushier too, and in colors of red and orange. The sunflowers outer petals are sterile and known as 'ray flowers', while the real flowers are the hundred tiny 'disc florets' that make up the circular head. When the disc flowers mature, they become the edible sunflower seeds hidden in the inedible husk. Sunflowers are the best examples of heliotropism. Heliotropism is the motion of plant parts such as flowers or leaves in response to the direction of the sun. The sunflower follows the sun from east to west, and at sunset returns eastward, awaiting the sunrise again. But its wild cousin does not follow the sun, though the leaves do it!
Tips for Growing Sunflowers Using Seeds
Sunflowers are annuals, they need to be planted every year by starting them through seeds. The quality of your seed will determine the quality of your plant and subsequently the flower. Popular spring flowers, the sunflower will only flower well in full sun. Partial shade does not really do any good for these sun worshipers. They can be grown in large pots or in flower beds, and as screens, they make very bright screens, especially the tall variety. Choose the variety you want.
Sunflower seeds are large, hence can be sowed directly in the intended location. But birds and ants quite fancy them, so you can be sure when the seedlings sprout, gaps will be there. So sow two to three seeds at a time. Some prefer to start them indoors. Sow seeds in rich and well drained soil early spring. Keep the soil moist, once the seedlings sprout, acclimatize them to full sun gradually. Transplant at a four leaf stage.
Prepare a sunny spot by digging deep and adding lots of organic compost or a slow releasing fertilizer. Sunflowers have large appetites and long taproots, and as they grow the soil needs to be constantly replenished to realize the sunflower plant's full potential. Thin the sunflower seedling as per the variety, giant sized plants should be spaced two to three feet apart, while miniatures can be a feet apart. As the plant begins to grow, build a berm around it and feed with liquid fertilizer once a week. Never directly apply fertilizer closer to the stems or roots, always around the berm. Sunflower roots can penetrate the soil at nearly 4-5 feet depth, pouring fertilizer directly on the stems will cause them to rot. Water them well and in about two months time, your sunflower buds will begin to appear.
Watch the flowers bloom, and harvest the nutritious sunflower seeds. Let all the petals wilt and fall off naturally. Simply cut off the flower head and hang it by the stalk to dry in a well ventilated area. In a weeks time, extract the seeds by brushing the flower head against your hand. Blow away the chaff and store the seeds in clean jar. Planting this sun plant will not only give solace to the eyes of the beholder, but nutrition packed seeds too!