Seeds for Beginners: Sunflowers

Jill Staake

Since confessing my somewhat sketchy seed-starting skills, I’ve shared my love for zinnias and marigolds for even the most newbie seed growers. But those lovely little blooms are dwarfed by my next no-fail seeds: sunflowers!

A Little About Sunflowers:
While sunflowers belong the the genus Helianthus, which contains more than 50 species, the common garden sunflowers we all know and love are all derived from Helianthus annus, native to the U.S. and domesticated for food purposes over 5000 years ago. The dozens (if not hundreds) of cultivars now available provide gardeners with a variety of colors, heights, and even petal arrangements. Sunflower seeds are edible, but many hobby gardeners grow them for birds instead, leaving the flowers on the stalks well into fall to let the birds enjoy them right where they stand. For the classic garden sunflower, grow Mammoth, an heirloom variety that’s been a garden staple for hundreds of years.

Why I Love Sunflowers from Seed:

  • I hate tiny seeds – they’re so hard to deal with – and no one could ever accuse sunflowers of having small seeds! They’re easy to see, count, and handle.
  • Sunflowers are generally best when sown directly in the ground, because they grow long, strong taproots very quickly. Direct sow is easy and, since sunflowers aren’t that picky about soil as long as you put them in a sunny spot, you can pretty much plant and forget.
  • Some varieties may need staking when they get tall, but newer varieties are shorter and sturdier.
  • Once you find a variety of sunflower you like, you can save the seeds and plant them from year to year – very economical!
  • For sunflower growing tips, see this article from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Five Sunflowers to Try:

Seed Starting Resources:

What’s your favorite sunflower to grow? Share with us in the comments!

  1. says

    Love them… But last summer, the ones outside the any fencing, were chomped down before growing much at all. I assume by either a rabbit or a woodchuck.
    The ones I grew INSIDE the vegetable garden fence, grew up nicely. Until a deer came through (I live in the city!!), and chomped his way through various parts of my unfenced flower beds & potteds that were in his path he cut through our yard, and because the sunflowers were 4ft (said 2ft on the seed package!), and my garden fence was only 3ft.. Deer took big bites out of several sunflowers…1 bite each for all he could reach!

    Point being, apparently ALL animals think sunflowers are very tasty indeed! ha ha

    I did leave what was left of them, and even with bites taken out they did produce seeds, and the birds ate them.

  2. Joyce C. says

    I tried three times to plant and grow sunflowers and each and every time the seeds were found and dug up by a squirrel or chipmunk. Sigh!!!!!!

  3. Suanne Jefferies says

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE sunflowers….but! I’ve tried for four years to grow them…planted directly into the soil, started plants inside and then transferred them to the garden, tried puting them in pots…and EVERY time those rascally little chipmunks made a tasty lunch of them. Any suggestions on how to protect the seeds and seedlings from the critters? Oh…netting doesn’t work either, they just chew right through it.

    • Audrey Soforic says

      I have the same exact problem and I also have planted several years to no avail. I love sunflowers and would love any advice on what the problem could be.

  4. Carol Miller says

    I too tried sunflowers last year. I sowed them 4 times and nothing came up. Was it slugs? I would love to grow them for the birds.

  5. Beverly says

    It’s impossible for me to grow sunflowers! I have birdfeeders around my house so I guess when I plant sunflower seeds, the birds just think it’s part of their diet. So do the squirrels and chipmunks. I haven’t had a decent lettuce plan either. The rabbits eat those.

  6. Kristie says

    Same attempts and predicaments as Suanne & Joyce. I gave up last year & didn’t even try. I thought I might buy them at the nursery this year when they are a couple of feet tall…

  7. Barbara says

    I don’t plant them but DO use the black oil seeds for bird feeding. I always get volunteers under the feeders and let a few of them grow. The birds eat the seed heads in late summer.

  8. Sue V. says

    My experience growing sunflowers has been wonderful, and the birds (and my chickens) love the seeds. To eliminate the problems with squirrels and chipmunks try this: Pull apart a steel wool pad. Use a small piece and place the seed in the center. Then plant the steel wool with the seed inside the same as you would just the seed. You have to pull the steel wool to make it less dense, but it works great! The pesky critters don’t like eating steel wool. This also works great for planting bulbs that we all know squirrels and chipmunks also love to eat.

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