A sunflower plant that is actually blooming in the garden is a typical sign of summer. However there is more to this sunny ornamental flower than meets the eye. The sunflower plant is native to North America and the plants have been cultivated for thousands of years not just only for their beauty, but also as a source of food, oil, medicine and dye. Currently is only few plants that can match the variety of ways we use sunflowers. The roasted and salted sunflower seeds are a popular snack food. The kernels are actually a delicious addition to cooked dishes and salads. Sunflower oils are extracted from the sunflower seeds, and the substance left over from the process, called the “cake,” can actually be used as livestock feed. Most people actually fill their birdfeeders with sunflower seed. If you grind up the kernels you will get sunflower butter, which can be used as substitute to peanut butter. The Sunflower seeds can even be sprouted and added to salads.
 And again, the flowers of the plant themselves are a cheery addition to any garden, and also a staple in the floral design industry.

Fascinating Facts about Sunflowers

The Sunflower plants are heliotropic; that is, the plant directs their growth in response to sunlight. The buds and the young flowers face toward the sun throughout the day: The Sunflower plants start the morning facing east and end the day facing west, and then reorient to the east at night. Once the Sunflower plants mature, however, the flowers remain facing east.

Actually the current world record for the tallest sunflower was set in 2014. The Sunflower plant topped out at thirty feet, one inch tall.

Some of the Hopi people traditionally used the seeds of a particular type of sunflower plant to create a dark purple dye to color their baskets. This particular heirloom variety is now sold under the name Hopi Black Dye Sunflower or Hopi Dye Sunflower.

The sunflower plant seeds are nutrient powerhouses. The sunflower seeds actually contain unsaturated fats, fiber, protein, vitamin E, and minerals such as iron, selenium and zinc.

The outer shell of the sunflower plant seed is actually called the hull. The edible interior is called the sunflower kernel or heart.

The sunflower plants are also used to extract toxins, such as uranium and lead, from contaminated soil, in a process called phytoremediation. After the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster the sunflower plants were used to remove radioactive elements from nearby soils and ponds.

Although the name sunflower can be refer to a lot of different types of plants, which include some perennials, it is most commonly refers to the well-known annual flower Helianthus annuus. 

Sunflower varieties

There are different varieties of sunflower. The following are some of the varieties of sunflowers.

The Mammoth Sunflower variety: The Mammoth Sunflower varieties are named for their large size, growing up to twelve feet tall with flowers that are ten inches wide. This particular variety of sunflower is one of the most iconic of the bunch due to its show-stopping size and effortless ability to grow.

The Ring of Fire Sunflower variety: This particular variety of sunflower is aptly named for the ring of fire red around the chocolate brown center of the flower, the variety is one of the most unique and head-turning flowers. The Ring of Fire Sunflower can reach four to five feet tall and, thanks to its long flower stems, is perfect for cut flowers. The Ring of Fire Sunflower was a former All-America Selection winner for its fiery blooms.

The Teddy Bear Sunflower variety: The Teddy Bear Sunflower has fluffy petals and the plush golden blooms grow up to 2 feet tall and they are ideal for planting at the front of borders or in pots.

The Soraya Sunflower variety: The Soraya Sunflower is eye-catching sunflower that is renowned for its large golden-orange blossoms with chocolate-brown centers. This particular variety were the very first to receive the prestigious All-America Selections award, recognized for their exceptional performance in home gardens. The Soraya Sunflower is a great choice for the back of borders but is also one of the best for cutting due to its multiple branches with up to twenty-five stems per plant.

The Tithonia Fiesta del Sol sunflower variety: The Tithonia Fiesta del Sol is a bright orange Mexican sunflower that loves heat and humidity. Its small two to three inch wide blooms make excellent cut flowers.

The Starburst Greenburst sunflower variety: The Starburst Greenburst is a handsome sunflower that grows from twelve to twenty-four inches tall and it has pretty yellow petals with green centers. The Starburst Greenburst is a great cutting flower.

The Procut Red sunflower variety: The Procut Red is one of the prettiest red sunflowers you can grow. The Procut Red blooms a bit earlier than other sunflowers, at around fifty to sixty days.

The Bambino sunflower variety: The Bambino sunflower is about sixteen inches tall. You can actually enjoy the Bambino sunflower even if you have a more compact garden.

The Del Sol Sunflower variety: The Del Sol Sunflower has a classic golden petals and chocolate brown center, but it is actually a hybrid type, so it won't shed on tabletops. Best of all? The Del Sol sunflower is a fast grower, which means you can cut and enjoy in vases just fifty days after planting.

The Buttercream Sunflower variety: This particular variety of sunflowers has Buttery yellow petals with a gorgeous dark brown center making it a lovely addition to any garden. The Buttercream Sunflower typically grows to about four feet tall with tons of side branches that make it a great cut flower.

The Crimson Blaze Sunflower variety: The Crimson Blaze Sunflower is a stunning sunflower that has incredible, deeply saturated two-tone petals with a dark center. The Crimson blaze sunflower reaches five to six feet tall and it has plenty of branches for fresh-cut flowers all season. The Crimson blaze sunflowers are also loved by pollinators.

How to grow Sunflowers

The Sunflower plants are an easy, fast growing flower that can actually add much fun to your garden. Sunflower plants can be grown for flowers or for seed.

Site preparation for planting

Establish the sunflower seed planting dates. The planting should be after the last expected frost.

You need to select a location that is with more than six hours of sun and a well drained soil.

Remove weeds from the ground; just turn over the soil or you can till the soil with hand cultivator and trowel.

You need to add a handful of compost or potting mix to the soil; mix into the soil.

Planting the sunflower seed

Plant the sunflower seed in rows; Make a trench one inch deep.

-The sunflower varieties that are two to five feet tall, you can plant them six inches apart.

-The sunflower varieties that are over five feet, you can plant them twelve inches apart.

-The giant sunflower varieties, you can plant them twenty-four inches apart.

Plant the sunflower seed and then cover with one inch of soil.

Water the sunflower seeds.

The sunflower seeds will germinate in about seven to ten days.

If too many sunflowers seeds are planted, thinning the plant may be required.

Sunflower plant care

The sunflower plants can withstand dry weather, however regular watering of the plant will create strong roots that will prevent toppling windy conditions.

Fertilize the plant every two to three weeks with compost or fertilizer; keep the sunflower plants healthy.

Control weed by hoeing or mulching.

Control insects and diseases on the plant.

Growing sunflower in pots

The following are the steps on how to grow sunflowers in pot;

Get a pot and then fill the pot with soil.

Make a hole of about 1.5cm deep in the pot.

Put one sunflower seed in your pot.

Cover the sunflower seed with a sprinkling of soil.

Water very well to make the soil really wet. Make sure you water it every day.

When the sunflower plant grows to twenty centimeter, take the plant out of the pot and then put it into a bigger pot.

Getting Sunflowers to bloom

Actually Sunflowers bloom with vibrant yellow petals and a sweet, woody scent in the summer. The perennial sunflowers bloom for eight to twelve weeks, from early summer through late autumn. You can actually encourage bloom by giving your sunflower plant ample full sun and watering regularly. Make sure you handle the flowers very gently while they bloom. It may also be helpful to deadhead your sunflower plants until the end of the season.

Harvesting sunflower seeds

Actually once the flowers have gone by, the sunflower seed heads will begin to droop and the seeds will start to fill out and plump up. That actually means it is time to protect each of the seed head by covering it with row cover fabric or cheesecloth, tying it securely in place.

It is time to harvest the sunflower when the backs of the sunflower seed heads turn yellow and the seeds fall out easily from the head. Cut the sunflower seed heads with about a foot of stem attached and then hang them in a well-ventilated location to finish drying. Make sure the sunflower seed heads is protected from rodents and insects.

To harvest the sunflower seed, just rub two seed heads together to loosen the seeds, or you can easily use a stiff brush to dislodge them. Allow the sunflower seeds to dry thoroughly, and then store the sunflower seed in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Pest and disease control

There are a lot of pests and diseases that can actually affect sunflower plants. Rodents and birds are very fond of the sunflower seeds. So if you'd like to save the sunflower seeds for planting, you need to cover the flower heads with netting to protect them from pests. In addition, the sunflower moth actually lays its eggs on the plant, and the larvae also feed on the flower heads, tunneling and leaving holes in the sunflower seeds. Pesticides can actually be use to control the moths.

Also, you might have issues with caterpillars or beetles eating foliage. The sunflower plants can also be prone to fungal diseases, including rust and powdery mildew. To avoid such conditions, try and provide adequate air circulation around your sunflower plants, and also apply a garden fungicide as soon as you spot the first signs of infection on the sunflower plant.

Common problems with Sunflower plants

While sunflower plants are a generally easygoing plant, the plants are still susceptible to some common issues.

Discoloration: The sunflower plants can actually develop brown and black sores on their stems and leaves, often in humid months. This discoloration, called stem canker can easily kill the sunflower plant quickly if unaddressed. You can begin by applying a heavy-duty fungicide, however if the problem doesn't resolve, you should destroy the sunflower plants by burning the plant or removing the plant from the root. 

Leaf Spot: The Sunflower plant leaves will sometimes display black or brown spots, called leaf spot. The affected plant leaves will develop spots and then drop from the plant. You can treat this disease with garlic spray or you can use diluted apple cider vinegar, but if the treatments are not successful, you can remove the leaves or the plant altogether.

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