How to grow sunflowers from seed in the garden, in pots and indoors

Brighten up your day.
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Sunflowers are often considered the happiest of flowers and it’s easy to see why, they’re bright, bold and exude a feeling of warmth. And with the sun really starting to shine, now is the time to get planting. For inspiration, Melissa visits a pick-your-own farm to find out all she can direct from a Sunflower farmer. Whether you’re wanting to brighten up your garden or maybe give away some potted sunflowers as gifts, Melissa has all the tips and tricks to bring these little buds of sunshine to life.

WATCH: Melissa Kings’ guide to growing sunflowers

It’s time to put a smile on your dial, because sunflower season is here. Like roses, sunflowers Helianthus are one of the most recognisable blooms and growing them is a sure way to add joy and colour to your garden.

You’ll usually find potted sunflower plants in stores from January to March and while these plants will add instant colour to your garden, many find it more satisfying to grow the golden blooms from seed.

Growing sunflowers from seed is highly rewarding as they grow quickly and, in the right conditions, will usually flower within 6-10 days of planting. 

Sunflower varieties to grow in Australia

Before you begin planting sunflower seeds, however, it’s important to choose the right variety for your needs. In Australia, the most common sunflower is the annual variety known as the ‘Russian Giant’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Given the right conditions, these flowers can grow up to 4 metres in height! 

Russian Giant sunflowers growing in a field in the Hunter Valley NSW
Russian Giant sunflowers growing in the Hunter Valley region of NSW (Credit: Getty)

Smaller varieties that grow up to 2 metres in height, such as Eden Seeds Select Organic Sunflower Sunbird are a great option for gardeners with a small to medium-sized yard.

There are so many sunflower varieties to choose from. There are dwarf varieties such as Sunflower Dwarf Sensation (perfect for growing in pots), perennial varieties that flower year after year (Helianthus angustifolious, for example), pollen-free varieties developed by Copsley Ornamentals that won’t trigger your hayfever and varieties with fluffy blooms that closely resemble chrysanthemums (and are known as Sunflower ‘Teddy Bear’). 

Teddy bear sunflowers
Teddy Bear sunflowers resemble chrysanthemums. (Credit: Getty)

If you’re still unsure about the right variety for your garden, speak to a horticulturist at your local nursery.

Ideal growing conditions

As the name suggests, sunflowers love the sun. They love it so much that their blooms are famous for turning to follow the sun wherever it happens to be in the sky. Eight hours of full sun is ideal for most varieties. In addition to a full-sun position, sunflowers require moist, well-draining soil. 

Sunflowers tend to be tolerant of light frosts but they will not survive in regions that regularly experience freezing temperatures. Sunflowers are best sown in spring or early summer, but can be grown at any time of the year if you live in a frost-free zone. 

Cottage garden with sunflowers
Sunflowers need about eight hours of full sunlight a day. (Credit: Getty)

When do sunflowers flower in Australia?

Sunflowers usually flower in Australia during summer and autumn, from January to March. 

Growing sunflowers from seed

  • In a garden bed with well-draining soil, sow sunflower seeds 2cm deep and about 60cm apart.
  • Gently cover seeds with soil and water in well.
  • If you live in a hot climate, consider placing a light layer of lucerne mulch over the seedlings to help keep the soil moist and protect seeds from hungry birds. 
  • Sunflowers should begin to bloom within 6-10 days. 
Young girl watering potted sunflower seedling
Be sure to water sunflower plants regularly (Credit: Getty)

As sunflowers mature, their heads dry out and fill with seeds. Simply cut off the head and allow to dry out.

Once dry, use your fingers or a fork to pull out sunflower seeds. Then you can either plant them and continue your crop or bake them and toss them on top of your salads.

Growing sunflowers in pots

Dwarf sunflowers grow well in pots and containers. The amount of seeds you should sow in a single pot will depend on whether you can maintain a distance of 10-15cm between each seed.

  • Select a pot with adequate drainage holes and fill with good quality potting mix. 
  • Plant sunflower seeds 2cm deep. 
  • Gently cover the seeds with soil and water well. 
  • Place pot in a full-sun position and wait for golden blooms to arrive. 
Sunflowers growing in pots on a patio
Dwarf sunflower varieties such as Dwarf Sensation thrive in pots. (Credit: Getty)

Best sunflower varieties to grow in pots

Look for sunflower varieties with ‘Dwarf’, ‘Mini’ or ‘Compact’ on the label. Common dwarf varieties include: Dwarf Sensation, Sunflower Supernova and Lemon Bling. 

Growing sunflowers indoors

If you’d like to grow sunflowers indoors, you’ll need to ensure it is placed in a position that receives plenty of direct sunlight. Indoor sunflowers will require about eight hours of unfiltered sunlight each day and regular watering.

Open plan living room with indoor sunflower plant
It is possible to grow sunflowers indoors provided they receive enough natural light. (Credit: Getty)

Solutions to common sunflower problems

Staking – Sunflowers grow tall, so you may need to protect them from high winds and rain by staking them to a bamboo post.

Pests – Baby sunflower leaves and seedlings are a crowd-favourite for snails and slugs so spread some pellets or mulch early on to protect them.

Birds – As sunflowers mature, the heads start to dry out and will attract birds. Cover the flowers with netting sooner rather than later.

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