Originating in the southern states of North America and CentralAmerica, sunflowers belong to the daisy family (Aristaceae). Their large flowerheads are nothing short of spectacular and wherever you have them in the garden or on the veg plot, they are something big, bright and colourful to feast your eyes on. Bees love them and the dried-out flowerheads at the end of the summer provide welcome food for finches and other birds.
Although there are some perennial varieties, the sunflower we usually grow in our gardens is an annual (Helianthus annus). It’s a popular one with children as the seeds are easy to sow and the plants grow quite quickly and, of course, the end result is always striking. It’s always fun to see who can grow the tallest plant, but there is so much more to sunflowers. With different heights, colours and growth habits, there is a variety to suit everyone, bringing vibrant splashes of orange, red or yellow to garden borders and allotments. Dwarf varieties, I find, look particularly good on a veg patch, bringing something bright and cheerful to the plot.
You can sow sunflower seeds directly outside in May but it’s really better to start them off in 7.5cm (3in) pots or similar indoors in March-early May so they get off to a good start. You can then move the plants to your outside space in late May/early June (depending on which part of the UK you live in) when all risk of frost has passed. Sow 2cm (½in) deep into multi-purpose compost and water in. They will do fine on a warm windowsill till it’s time to plant out.
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