Sunflowers are a classic garden favorite for many people. Their big beautiful blooms turning towards the sun can put a smile on anyone’s face. There are so many different types of sunflowers available, from dainty 6″ dwarves to towering 12′ giants. They come in many forms and all shades of yellow, orange, and red. You’re sure to find a variety that brings you joy.
Sunflowers are fairly simple to grow, but they do have a few needs to consider for South Florida.
What Do Sunflowers Need to Grow?
Sunflowers are usually pretty easy to grow, but they do require quite a lot of nutrients, so they’ll need soil that is rich in organic matter. When it comes to location, full sun is best whether they’re in the ground or in pots. They do love the sun and heat, but our summers here can be a bit too much for them. Sunflowers will do better during the shoulder seasons in Fort Lauderdale, so you’ll want to plant outdoors in late January for spring blooms, and late September for fall blooms.
Where to Start Growing Sunflowers
The first thing is to choose what sort of sunflower you want to grow. If you’re planting Mammoth sunflowers, you’ll need to make sure you have a good sunny spot, along with tall stakes to support them. Because they grow so tall, and their flower heads are so big, Mammoths are very top-heavy and liable to fall or break their stems if not supported with stakes. They’re also likely to get knocked over in heavy winds, so make sure the stake you choose is good and sturdy.
If you prefer shorter varieties that are excellent for cut flower bouquets, consider the Florida-native Beach Sunflower. This groundcover beauty is popular with pollinators and is perfect for hot, dry sites.
Swamp Sunflower is another Florida native. It’s a fall-blooming perennial that gets 4′-6′ tall, and it’s a great option for the back of garden borders. If you give it a good pruning in June, it will be much busier when it blooms in the fall.
You can also plant sunflowers in containers. You’ll want to stick to some of the shorter varieties, designed for cut flowers, as the tall ones may topple over and break your pots.
It’s a good idea to start sunflowers indoors, as birds and other critters are likely to steal the seeds from wherever you plant them. Only plant one seed per starter pot, keep the soil moist and keep them in a sunny window. Once they’re about 6″ tall, you can transplant them out to their spots in the garden or pots.
Because they grow so fast and tall, sunflowers need plenty of nutrients. They also develop long taproots, so they need soil they can move through. To prepare the hole, dig down a minimum of 8-10″ and fill the hole with rich potting soil and composted manure. You can even mix in a granular slow-release fertilizer for a little extra boost.
Sunflowers also require quite a bit of water, so keep an eye on them as they grow. The leaves tend to get droopy when they’re thirsty, so give them a drink as soon as you notice your sunflower looking a bit lackluster. In pots, they’ll likely dry out faster than in the ground.
If you’re growing a tall variety, it’s a good idea to add stakes when they’re about 4′ tall, though they’ll probably need additional support once they reach heights above 6′.
Harvesting sunflowers, so you can eat the seeds or save some for next year, is a bit of a different story. Birds and other critters love sunflower seeds. So if you want to harvest the heads, you’ll need to employ some methods to protect them from hungry animals.
If you’re only after some seed for next years growing, you can probably pick out a handful or two of seeds once they’ve matured and store them. If you want to harvest the whole head for eating, you’ll probably need to cover it with netting to keep the birds off.
Harvesting itself is quite simple: When the seed head is full, and the seeds have reached nearly full size, cut off the head and hang it upside down to dry. Do this indoors, so you don’t lose more seeds to the birds.
For cut flower varieties, you’ll want to harvest them super early in the mornings before it starts to get hot. Take a pail of fresh, cool water out with you. Cut the stems close to the ground with a sharp knife or clipper, and stick them straight into the water. Choose blooms that are just starting to open for the longest-lasting bouquets. Strip the bottom leaves off the stems before placing them in a vase to avoid the leaves rotting.
Are you ready to give sunflowers a try? Stop by our garden center today in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve got several varieties to choose from, and we can help you pick the right ones for your garden design. We also carry stakes, so you can keep those giant ones from toppling over! You’ll be thrilled you gave it a shot when you get to watch their bright, cheery faces follow the path of the sun all through the day.