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 sunflowers too.
This step-by-step guide shows you how to grow sunflowers in pots and get the best results. It covers which seeds to choose, tips on planting sunflower seeds, and advice on caring for sunflowers. I’ve also included some fun sunflower themed activities for kids to try.
Growing sunflowers in pots from seed
As well as producing seriously impressive blooms, growing sunflowers from seed is a perfect gardening project for kids.
Sunflower seeds are a decent size, so they’re easy for little hands to deal with, and sunflower plants are pretty low maintenance to grow. And if you’re looking for drought tolerant plants, sunflowers are a good option.
Can you plant sunflowers in the garden?
Planting sunflowers in the garden is also brilliant for local wildlife; the flowers are great for bees and other beneficial insects, and birds love to eat the seeds.
Can you grow sunflowers in a pot?
People often ask “Do sunflowers grow well in pots?”. The answer to this question is yes, sunflowers make great container plants.
Sunflowers (also known by their Latin name Helianthus Annuus) 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 taller varieties of sunflower grow much bigger than others, so check the height information on your packet of seeds.
To give you a rough idea on size of the pot, 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 annual sunflowers into a larger pot 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 a sunflower seed is early 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, and bloom right up until the first frost. 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 outdoors, 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 different types of sunflowers 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 of sunflowers 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 of sunflower 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 with drainage holes – if you’re buying new, try to avoid plastic pots. There are *biodegradable alternatives widely available now.
- General purpose *compost. Our guide to the best compost for pots has more product suggestions.
- 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?
Wondering how to take care of sunflowers in pots? There are only a couple of things you need to pay attention to.
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 spot on a windowsill is perfect; you can also put them in a greenhouse or cold frame.
Move your container-grown sunflowers outdoors after the last frost, when the risk of cold damage 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 plenty of water is a key element to supporting this (along with enough sunlight and good quality, well draining soil).
How often to water sunflowers in pots
If you’re not sure how often to water sunflowers, the best approach is to check the compost in your sunflower pots regularly. If the surface of the soil feels dry, it’s time to water your plants – and kids love this job! You’re aiming to keep the compost moist, not really soggy; sunflowers enjoy good drainage.
It’s also a good idea to water your sunflower plants more in the early stages of growth, to help them produce strong stems.
Try to water your sunflower plants in the early morning. This will limit the amount of water lost to evaporation, and also help to avoid diseases such as powdery mildew and root rot.
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; you might have heard them referred to as heavy feeders. 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 of rich soil as they grow is the best way to provide them with the nutrients they need.
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 sunflowers (often called mammoth sunflowers) 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, you will probably need to support these tall plants with canes or bamboo stakes. Strong winds can damage or even snap the stems.
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 main stem will get thicker as the plant grows.
As I mentioned earlier, you can transfer your young plants to bigger pots as they grow. Here’s how to do it:
- Choose a suitably sized pot and add some compost to the bottom.
- Take your plant out of it’s old pot and pop it into the new one. Fill up any gaps around the sides and top with more potting mix.
- 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 the summer months and early autumn.
You can extend the blooming time of your beautiful 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.
How to plant sunflowers in pots with other plants
If you’re growing dwarf sunflowers, you can also use a plant alongside other bedding plants or evergreen 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.
- A sunflower is an annual plant. This means the plant grows, flowers, and dies in one growing season.
- 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 edible 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 sunflower heads start to turn brown, you can cut them off and let them dry out, then put the seed heads 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 from seeds is just one of the fun nature projects in my new book, *A Year of Nature Craft and Play.
There’s a nature play 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.
You can also find lots more brilliant nature activities in the sister book *A Year of Nature Walks & Games.
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.
More gardening inspiration
For lots of ideas on garden projects and plants to grow, check out these posts:
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