Grow Your Own Giant

In the office today we were reminiscing about the great plants we grew in school. How much we loved to watch something that starts at the size of a finger nail grow into something as tall as a giant and as bright as the sun. 

Sunflowers are an easy fun flower to grow, especially for kids. They can grow huge with the tallest sunflower on record achieving 8.23 m (27 feet). They can vary in colour, not only are they yellow they can be orange, red, copper and even brown. 

Did you know that sunflowers will follow the sun? This process is known as heliotropism. They will slowly turn as the sun moves throughout the day; however, sunflowers only do this when they are young. As they reach maturity, they will find a spot facing East and stay put. 

sunflower-field

Getting Started 

The best time to plant the seeds in temperate Australian regions, is anywhere between August to January (Winter through to Mid-Summer). Choose which variety of sunflower you would like to grow, there are tall ones, short ones, double blooms and different colours. Infact, there are over 70 different sunflower species! Sunflowers need 6 to 8 hours or sunshine a day so pick a sunny but well drained spot in your garden to plant the seeds. Dig the soil to a depth of 20 - 30 centimetres and till thoroughly. Mix in organic matter, then rake the area smooth. Remove any rocks and garden debris. 

  1. Plant the seeds approx. ½-inch deep.
  2. Space plants: 20 - 30 cm apart, read the instructions on the seed packets to confirm seed depth and spacing for the variety you are planting.
  3. Cover the seeds with soil, tap them down by hand, and water them thoroughly.
  4. Water every other day or daily in very dry areas.

Reaching for the Sky 

As your sunflowers grow you may need to support them, using stakes in the ground to keep them upright during wind and rain. The giant varieties will almost certainly need a stake for support when fully grown. 

TOP TIP: Recycle old clothes or tea towel by cutting strips of the fabric and using it to secure the sunflowers to a stake. 

sunflower-variety

Harvesting 

TOP TIP: If you want to use the flowers for flower arrangement, cut the main stem early in the morning, before the flower bud fully opens to encourage side blooms. 

When the seeds begin to dry and brown and the flower heads begin to droop, the sunflower seeds are ready for harvesting. Cut the flowers with a two-inch stem allowance and hang the heads upside-down until completely dry. Try to choose a dry, well-ventilated place, out of the reach of animals and birds, to hang the flowers. 

granola

Uses for the Seeds & Recipes

There are several benefits to eating sunflower seeds, not only will they decrease your risk of high blood pressure, but they are also excellent at supporting your immune system and energy levels. They are a very versatile seeds that can be added to sweet dishes, savoury meals or even in your snacks. 

  • Save the seeds for next year's crop of sunflowers or gift them to others. 
  • Bird Feeder: When I was a child, my mum would cut the whole flower off and dry it. Once it was dry, she would then hang it out in the garden as a bird feeder. 
  • Make a trail mix: Sunflower seeds are a great healthy addition to your trail mix. Simply grab a cereal container or jar and add dried fruit of your choosing, nuts, a selection of seeds and then finally your sunflower seeds. Enjoy as a snack when at home and feeling a bit peckish or pack into travel friendly containers and enjoy on a hike or a road trip for a little pick me up.  
  • Veggie Patties: Looking for an alternative to meat on your burger? There is a super simple recipe for it includes delicious sunflower seeds. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Take ½ a cup of cooked brown rice, ½ a cup of grated carrot, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of water. Followed by, a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of olive oil and 2 minced cloves of garlic. Combine all of your ingredients in a food processor or large blender and blitz/pulse until well combined. If your mixture looks a bit dry, add a little more olive oil. Use your hands to form the veggie patties (you should have roughly six patties) and lay on a baking tray. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with a bread bun of your choice, tomato, lettuce, and any of your other favourite burger fixings. Enjoy! 
  • Homemade Granola: Looking for an easy breakfast option? Granola is great on its own as a snack or mixed with milk or yoghurt! Add in your delicious sunflower seeds and you’ve got a great homemade granola mix. Here’s an easy recipe: Take ¾ of a cup of sunflower seeds, as well as a ½ cup of dried cranberries, almonds and coconut. Add 1 and a ½ cups of oats, along with a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of honey and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract/essence. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Spread evenly on a baking tray and bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes or until golden.  
  • Nibbles: For delicious roasted seeds, soak overnight in water and salt. Then drain and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a low-heat oven (between 200°F and 250°F) until slightly browned. Remove the hull (shell) before eating. 

sunflower-seeds

Recap 

  • Sow the seeds where you want the plants to grow half an inch deep. 
  • Space plants: 20 - 30 cm apart depending on type (check packet) 
  • They like to be a sunny position with well-drained soil. 
  • Water the seeds regularly 
  • Harvest and enjoy. 

Happy Growing! 

When to Plant*: 

Anytime from August to January 

Where to Plant: 

Sunny (6-8 hours), well-drained soil 

Soil PH: 

6.0-7.5 but they are pretty hardy so will cope with most types of soil 

Watering: 

Keep moist but not water logged 

Harvest: 

10-11 weeks 

Compatible: 

Cucumbers, Melons, Sweetcorn, Squash 

Incompatible: 

Potatoes 

*Based on Temperate Australian Climate 

Sunflower Facts 

  • Tallest sunflower ever record was 8.23 m (27 feet) in Germany. 
  • They come in different colours – Yellow, Orange, Red and even striped. 
  • The flowers within a sunflower head are clustered in a spiral pattern whereby each floret is oriented towards the next by the golden angle of 137.5°. 
  • Sunflowers can be used to extract toxin such as lead, arsenic and uranium from contaminated soil. For example, sunflowers were used to remove toxins from a pond after the Chernobyl disaster and similar projects took place after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. 
  • It is a common misconception that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun across the sky during the day. Young flower buds do display movement similar to this behaviour through a process called heliotropism. But a mature flower usually points in a fixed easterly direction. 

N.B. This article has been written for Australian gardens. If you're reading this from around the world, we do hope you've found it a useful stepping stone for your own further research. 

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