Winter garden ideas
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are typically yellow, although you can also grow red, orange and striped ones as well. They range in size from dwarfs that grow less than a metre high, to giants that can grow over 3.5m tall and produce flowers up to 50cm wide.
One thing that gardeners love is that young sunflowers turn their face towards the sun. This is so parts of the flower head receive the levels of sunlight they need.
Sunflowers are annuals that grow well in fertile, well-drained soil. Their ideal soil conditions lie between a pH level of 6.0 and 7.5, however, they're pretty hardy so will grow in most soils with some care. Most importantly, they love being planted in a spot that has 6–8 hours of sunlight each day. You could even grow sunflowers indoors in containers if you place them near a north facing window.
Spring or early summer, when the soil is starting to warm up, is the best time to sow sunflower seeds. A typical flowering time is about 8–10 weeks. If you're sowing seeds in a garden bed, you should aim to place them about 60cm apart and 2cm deep. Before you plant, enrich the soil with some compost and give the soil a turn with a pitchfork so it is loose.
Good companions to plant alongside sunflowers include cucumbers, melons, sweetcorn and squash. You should avoid planting them next to potatoes and beans because sunflowers release toxins that can inhibit their growth.
As your sunflowers grow, they will become top heavy and need staking. This will also protect them in high winds or in the rain.
You can spread a 10cm layer of mulch around them, which will help you keep the soil moist and will also prevent weeds from growing nearby. Snails and slugs love to eat young sunflower seedlings so it's a good idea to spread some snail and slug pellets in the early growing weeks.
If you're looking to save the seeds to re-plant, you can prune 10cm below the flower heads. You should then be able to remove the seeds with a fork. To protect the seeds from birds, you may need to cover the flowers with bird netting before they are ready.
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