Growing Sunflower Plants


Sunflowers are very impressive annual flower. Since we have a short growing season here in Michigan, I have started growing sunflower plants by seed indoors. I like growing sunflower plants indoors, I just like watching things grow. The Mammoth sunflowers have started to sprout and I have a sunflower mix I started as well and has started sprouting.


I would like to have a sunflower patch here on our 20 acres, I just need to figure out where to put it to not give the deer a feast. I have a couple ideas, where my Sheltie’s’s might be able to guard the patch from rabbits and deer, for me and close to the house to enjoy.

History of the Sunflower

This flower dates back from 3,000 BC. The sunflowers grew abundantly on the Great Plains and first cultivated by Native Americans in the Southwest of Mississippi River Valley area for a source of fiber, medicine, oil and seed. In Russia the sunflower became a major agricultural crop. In early 20th century, Russian growers took the place of breeding and selection for disease resistant and high oil content plants.

Chianti Hybrid

When the European settlers arrived, they immediately saw the value of the sunflowers and sent seeds back to Europe, where sunflowers found a place in the English Cottage gardens.

In the 1960s the United States began sustaining commercial production of the sunflower for oil, seed cultivars to produce vegetable oil.

How to Plant Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers can be started indoors, using individual pots filled with peat moss. This is a good idea if you have a short growing season. If you are lucky to have a long growing season, sunflowers are easiest to sow seeds directly into the soil after all danger of frost has past. If you are going to direct sow in the ground, it’s best to wait until the temperature soil reaches 55 to 60 degrees F.

When planting with seeds, plant them about 1 inch in the ground or container.

Sunflower Seedling - Growing Sunflower PlantsFor maximum seed production, space rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Use the seed-producing varieties like the Mammoth Sunflower.

To grow the smaller flowers, you can space them much closer about 6 inches apart or as close as 2 inches apart.

Where to Plant Sunflowers

Sunflowers, the best location is full sun. They are a tough flower and can grow in any kind of soil as long as it’s not waterlogged. They like slightly acidic to neutral pH.

Sunflowers leaves, stems and seeds emit a substance that inhibit the growth of certain plants. They should not grow by potatoes or pole beans.

How to Care for Sunflowers

The roots of the sunflower spread widely and can withstand some drought. It is best to water them regularly during their most important growth period which is about 20 days before and after flowering. Giving deep, regular watering helps encourage root growth, which helps the taller sunflower varieties handle the top-heavy blooms.

Sunflowers require no fertilizer but you can use a slow-acting granular fertilizer where the soil is poor and thin. The better the soil the larger the blooms. Do not over give nitrogen because that will delay flowering. You can spread 2 or 3 inches of mulch and some organic matter on the soil to reduce moisture loss and discourage weed growth.

Mammoth SunflowerA few varieties of sunflowers don’t need to be supported but if you have sunflowers over 3 feet tall or have multiple branches, it’s a good idea to support them. The plants are vulnerable to summer winds and heavy rains, tie the stakes loosely using cloth or other soft material to not break branches as they are fairly brittle where they join the stems.

Deer will destroy a sunflower patch, they like the new, tender leaves at the top of the plants. You might want to use chicken wire for barrier to keep the deer away or plant them closer to the house.

Varieties of Sunflowers – Growing Sunflower Plants

Busy Bee – Great for Bee’s and Bee lovers! These flowers can be planted close together the pollinators are busy pollinating the flowers. The center of the flower is 5-7″ with a ring of golden petals orbit the dark center. Great for any flower garden and used for fall arrangements or a feast for the birds when left on the stalk.

Candy Mountain Hybrid – This plant grows 8 to 10 feet tall and 20 to 36 inches wide. The Candy Mountain has big blooms with burgundy to cherry flowers with yellow flames and brown centers that grow in all directions. Each leaf node on these plants develop branches producing single head junior plants.

Candy Mountain Variety

Chianti Hybrid – This is the deepest red sunflower, that is wine red velvet petals with a little gold. The flowers are 3 to 4 inches across and 4 to 5 feet tall, has multiple branches and purple stems. This variety is pollenless and good for cut flowers.

Fire Catcher – This is a bi color fiery flower with 5″ diameter flowers, grows 4 to 5 feet tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. The flower has yellow and deep orange-red blooms and perfect for cut flower arrangements.

Fun ‘N Sun Blend – This is a mix of different size sunflowers. The designer blend will grow singles and fluffy double blooms. Some blooms are big 8″ and some are only 3″. The colors are rich golds, wine reds, white chiffon, soft yellow and bi color too. You can use these as a cut flower and lasts up to 7 days in a vase. These blooms last over 2 months.

Mammoth – Tall and Giant flower. Likes full sun, grows up to 12 feet tall and spreads 36-40 inches. This variety is one of the oldest and most loved sunflower variety. The Mammoth grows sturdy trunks to hold the huge flower heads. Attracts pollinators and you can roast grey-striped seeds for snacking or feeding wildlife over the winter.

Fun N Sun Blend

Tiger Eye Hybrid – Dwarf Hybrid. This is a good variety for containers for a porch or balcony. This plant grows up to eight 5 inch blooms per plant. This plant likes full sun, grows approximately 24 to 36 inches high and spreads 24 inches wide.

Happy Planting!

The varieties listed and some pictures above are from Burpee Co. Some of these varieties are their exclusive seeds. I think the sunflower is one of the most spectacular annual flowers out there.

Do you grow sunflowers? Do you need to protect them from deer?

If you grow sunflowers, which variety do you grow?

If you are interested in any of these seed varieties click here



Chris - FounderGardening Tips for Beginners

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8 thoughts on “Growing Sunflower Plants”

  1. Wow! I never knew there was so much information to know about sunflowers. And btw I also live in Michigan and I know what you mean. I think its lovely what you’re doing. Sunflowers are so beautiful! Can you grow any species of sunflowers in Michigan? And I didn’t know deer were such pest when it came to sunflowers either!

    • Hi Megan!

      Another Michigander!  I am in the Sterling/Standish area in Arenac County.  Yes I read deer can devastate a sunflower patch.  Sunflowers are annuals so yes you can grow any of them.

  2. We all know sunflowers grow best in full sun, and bloom during the summer or early fall. They prefer long, hot summers, when they bear flowers full of seeds and beautiful petals. They also do well in places with low light or short summers. But  many may not know that sunflowers are grown once a year. It is sown in the spring, since this is the most suitable climate for its development and lasts 3 months to grow and is harvested at the beginning of summer.

  3. Good morning Chris, I am pleased to meet you. I live in South Africa, I have seen sunflower plants been planted and cultivated in abundance here. Yes, I agree with you much that the best location to grow these plants is full sun. I have never planted them myself. I have learned much about sunflower plants from this post, thanks for sharing.

    • Nice to meet you too!  I am in the USA and its about midnight here.  Thank you for contributing to the post.  

  4. Hi Chris, Thanks for such an informative article. We have large fields of sunflowers grown here in Manitoba. On a sunny day, I love to watch the heads of the sunflower follow direction of the sun. I was not aware of the different varieties and their names. If you have room to grow them they make a nice bird feeder in the fall when the seeds have ripened. The birds can just help themselves to the ripe seeds. We also have plenty of deer around. A friend of mine has difficulty keeping the deer from eating her plants that she has planted right under her living room window. The deer are not shy!
    I wish you good luck in planting your patch of sunflowers at your home in Michigan!

    • Thank you for your comments.  I do have to worry about deer eating them.  I might have to put up a temporary fence until the sunflowers are mature in the fall then the deer and birds can have them.


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