If you’re looking for easy seeds to grow with children, it’s hard to beat growing sunflowers in pots. If you’re not gardening with children sunflowers are still fantastic plants to grow, and they make wonderful cut flowers too.
This step-by-step guide shows you how to grow sunflowers in pots, covering which seeds to choose, planting and care instructions, and fun sunflower activities for kids.
Growing sunflowers in pots
As well as producing seriously impressive blooms, sunflower seeds are easy for little hands to deal with, and pretty low maintenance to grow. They’re also brilliant for local wildlife; the flowers are great for bees and other pollinating insects, and birds love to eat the seeds.
Do sunflowers grow well in pots?
Sunflowers (also known by their Latin name Helianthus) will be perfectly happy growing in a pot. You do need to provide them with a container that’s the right size for the plant. Some varieties of sunflower grow much bigger than others, so check the height information on your packet of seeds.
To give you a rough idea of pot size, we use pots with approximately 15-20cm diameter to grow our biggest sunflowers, and pots with approximately 10-15cm diameter to grow our smaller varieties.
You can always re-pot your sunflowers into a larger container if they look like they’ve grown too big for the original pot, so don’t worry too much about getting it right.
When to plant sunflower seeds
The best time to plant sunflower seeds is spring. In the UK this is April and May. At this time of year the risk of frost is lower, and there’s still plenty of time for the plants to grow and flower before temperatures drop again in autumn.
If you’re growing sunflowers in pots, you can plant the seeds earlier than April, and give the pots some protection from the cold. A greenhouse, cold frame, or simply a windowsill indoors are all ideal.
When is the latest you can plant sunflowers?
If you’ve left it a bit late to plant your sunflower seeds, don’t panic. Sunflowers will still grow if you plant the seeds in early summer. You will just need to wait a bit longer for those amazing flowers.
When do sunflowers bloom?
Sunflowers usually bloom in summer and early autumn. The peak flowering time is around midsummer. These timings are dependent upon when you plant your sunflower seeds, and the weather conditions where you live.
How to grow sunflowers in pots
If you’re new to growing sunflowers in pots, here’s what you need to know to make it a success.
The best sunflower seeds for planting
First of all, you need your seeds. There are so many varieties of sunflower to choose from, and a real range of colours, heights, flower size and texture. All this choice means it’s easy to find one that suits your space, colour scheme and garden style.
When it comes to colour, you’re not limited to yellow. *Velvet Queen, Red Giant and Prado Red are all exotic red shades.
There are also some lovely white varieties with chocolate brown centres – try *Italian White, Moonlight or Moonwalker.
A simpler approach, which works well with kids, is to head down to the garden centre or go online, and let them have fun choosing whichever packet of seeds they like best.
My kids always want to grow a giant sunflower variety, so we usually end up choosing one of those. We also love growing a dwarf variety called *Teddy Bear (pictured above), which is very compact and has wonderfully soft, fluffy flower heads which are low enough for children to touch.
The best garden tools for growing sunflowers in pots
Once you’ve got your sunflower seeds, you’ll need some basic equipment to plant them. Here’s a handy list.
- Small plant pots – if you’re buying new pots, try to avoid plastic. There are *biodegradable alternatives widely available now.
- General purpose *compost.
- A trowel – *child-size tools are great for this job.
- *Plant labels and a marker pen.
- You might also like to use *children’s gardening gloves.
How to plant sunflower seeds in a pot
Planting sunflower seeds in pots is really quick and easy.
Start off by filling your plant pots with compost, until they’re about two thirds full.
Use your finger to poke a little hole into the middle of the compost.
Next, pop a few seeds into your palm, and drop one into each hole.
It really doesn’t matter if you end up putting more than one seed in each pot; in fact, you can show kids the difference this has on the size of the plant later.
Top up each pot with compost, and label it. My kids always want to know which seed they planted, so we put their names on the back of the labels as well.
Now it’s time to give your pots a good drink.
How long does it take for sunflowers to grow?
Your sunflower seeds should germinate and start to grow within 1-2 weeks.
The amount of time it takes for your sunflowers to grow will depend on the time of year, the weather, and the variety you choose. Warmer temperatures and longer days will make them grow faster.
The back of the seed packet will show you how soon after planting you can expect your sunflowers to bloom. If you’re in a rush, choose a fast-growing variety.
We planted these seeds in mid-April, and kept the pots indoors for the first couple of weeks. Here’s how our sunflowers looked about four weeks after planting:
Can you see how the plants in the pots that had more than one seed are smaller? This is a lovely visual way to explain to children how the amount of soil and nutrients affects the way plants grow.
You can of course split up the crowded plants and pot them into individual pots if they’re struggling.
How do you care for sunflowers in pots?
If there’s still a chance of overnight frost outdoors, you need to give your sunflower pots some protection, so that the seeds germinate and grow well. A sunny windowsill is perfect, you can also put them in a greenhouse or cold frame. Move your pots outdoors when the risk of frost has gone.
If you’re growing sunflowers in a pot in late spring, it’s usually fine to leave them outside.
If you’ve got your sunflower seedlings on a windowsill, you may need to turn the pots around every now and then, to stop the seedlings leaning towards the light.
How much water do sunflowers need?
Sunflowers need regular watering to keep them healthy. They put on lots of growth in a short time, and water is a key element to supporting this (along with sunlight and good soil).
Check the compost in your sunflower pots regularly, and water them if it feels dry. Kids love this job! You’re aiming to keep the compost moist, not really soggy.
It’s also a good idea to water your sunflower plants more in the early stages of growth, to help them produce strong stems.
How much sun do sunflowers need?
Sunflowers love full sun. Your plants will thrive in a sheltered spot that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
All that sunlight means your pots can dry out pretty quickly, so you may need to water your sunflower plants pretty regularly.
What to feed sunflowers in pots
Sunflowers are hungry plants, and if you’re growing them in pots they can quickly exhaust the nutrients in the soil. Using good quality compost and re-potting your plants into bigger pots as they grow is the best way to provide them with the nutrients they need. General purpose compost is fine, but if you’d like to garden more sustainably you can easily make your own using a compost tumbler or bin.
You can also feed your sunflower plants with a *general purpose plant food or tomato feed to encourage strong growth. The bottle or packet will have instructions on how often to do this.
How tall do sunflowers grow?
The height of your sunflowers is determined by the variety you grow. You can expect standard sunflower varieties to grow 6-10 feet tall, while giant varieties can reach up to 20 feet tall. Dwarf varieties will be much smaller at around 2-3 feet tall. Check the seed packet for height details before making your choice.
Providing support for sunflowers in pots
As your sunflowers grow taller, you will probably need to support the stems with canes. Push the cane into the compost, and use a small length of string to tie the stem to the cane. Don’t tie your string too tight, because the stem will get thicker as the plant grows.
As I mentioned earlier, you can transfer your sunflower plants to bigger pots as they grow. Choose a suitably sized pot and add some compost to the bottom. Then take your plant out of it’s old pot, pop it into the new one, and fill up any gaps around the sides and top with more compost. Finish off by watering your plant.
How long do sunflowers bloom?
Most varieties of sunflower bloom for a period of 8-12 weeks. This makes them a great plant choice for adding colour and impact to your garden throughout summer and early autumn.
You can extend the blooming time of your sunflowers by planting a few seeds every couple of weeks. This will result in plants that are at their flowering peak for a longer period.
Should you deadhead sunflowers?
As a general rule, sunflowers don’t produce more flowers as a result of deadheading. Having said that, it’s fine to remove the dead flowers if you’d like to tidy up the plant. The flower heads will be full of seeds, so you can harvest these for planting next year, or leave them out for local wildlife to enjoy.
How to plant sunflowers in pots with other plants
If you’re growing a dwarf sunflower variety, you can also use a plant alongside other bedding plants to create a lovely mixed display. Sunflowers make a perfect star of the show here.
Fun activities to do with your sunflowers
So you’ve grown a bumper crop of sunflowers with the kids, now it’s time for some cool activities!
You can start off with some fun sunflower facts:
- Most sunflowers originate from the Americas.
- Sunflowers get their name from their behaviour. The flowers actually track the daily movement of the sun.
- Sunflowers aren’t just garden plants. They are also grown as a valuable crop plant, with the seeds used to produce sunflower oil, or harvested for the food and wild bird industry.
- Not all sunflowers are big and tall. Many varieties are compact and ideal for smaller gardens and containers.
- Sunflowers come in more colours than yellow. You can grow them in shades of orange, pink, red and even white.
Once your sunflowers bloom, you can have fun observing all the pollinating insects that pay a visit. You could keep an insect diary, draw pictures of your sunflower visitors, or make a bar chart from your observations.
When the flower heads start to turn brown, you can cut them off and let them dry out, then put them out in the garden for the birds to eat. Birds adore sunflower seeds, so you’re bound to get lots of interest.
We’ve also got a great little book called *I Can Grow A Sunflower which takes younger children through the process of growing a sunflower from seed in a lovely visual way.
This video also covers the life cycle of a sunflower nicely for kids:
And of course, you can’t grow sunflowers without having a height competition. My kids love doing this every year, and it’s perfect for sneaking a bit of maths into the project. We always make a chart which takes pride of place on the fridge and is eagerly updated. The prospect of winning tends to make them look after their plants very diligently!
More nature fun for kids
Growing sunflowers is just one of the fun nature projects in my new book, ‘A Year of Nature Craft and Play’. There’s an activity for every week of the year and it includes fun crafts, gardening, games, art and science experiments – perfect for inspiring kids to get creative with nature and explore the amazing natural world.
More fun kids gardening ideas
If you’d like some more inspiration for fun things to do in the garden with the kids, you might like to take a look at these other posts.
And if you’d like some inspiration on fun outdoor activities for kids, download my free printable bucket list.
More gardening inspiration
For lots of ideas on garden projects and plants to grow, check out these posts:
Will you be growing sunflowers in pots this year?
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