Annual. Sunflower remains have been found in the Tabasco region of Mexico dating back more than 6000 years. Prized for their seeds by humans and birds, and for cutflowers by market growers, sunflowers also add a lighthearted touch to gardens. Sales soared in the spring of 2020. As our facilitator Ann says, “In hard times sunflowers make people happy.”
Culture: Easy to grow. Start indoors 3–4 weeks before last frost at temperatures of 65–75° or direct sow after frost, 3 to a pocket. Thin to best plant, 1' or more apart. Rich friable soil yields tallest plants; drought stunts growth. Will readily self-sow; for some fun leave a few volunteers in strategic locations.
Pollen or pollen-free? Although flower arrangers often eschew sunnies with pollen, Eliza Lindsay of Portland, Ore., speaks for our pollinators: “Sunflowers that produce pollen are my favorite. They feed the bees first and later the birds.” She says to grow sunflowers for cutting and to feed your pollinators, too, you must allow some of the flowers to remain uncut to complete their life cycle. Branching varieties are tops for this purpose since taking cuts encourages branching.
She offers tips for handling harvest and post-harvest for varieties with pollen. “The trick to sell them is to harvest prior to pollination. Once pollinated, flowers begin to senesce. Harvest when the petals are fully colored, clearly visible, but unexpanded and wrapped around the flower head. Harvest with long stems set in clean water in a cool dark place. Change water daily and recut stems as necessary. They will fully open in a few days, produce pollen in the vase, but have a long vase life.”
All varieties have pollen unless noted otherwise.
See also Hopi Dye Sunflower.
All flowers are open-pollinated except where noted.
Days in parentheses after a variety indicate days to first bloom.
For the latest results of our germination tests, please see the germination page.