Things you may need:
- Bamboo canes
- Velcro Ties
- Watering Can
- Slug Pellets
Sunflowers need very little attention but to get the most of your crop there are some very easy tips you can follow.
Sunflowers do like a lot of water and thrive when given a regular daily watering. However you want to be careful not to over water as it can lead to root rot and may loosen the soil too much causing the sunflower to fall. Sunflowers are very drought tolerant so will survive if you don’t water them for a short while. Even when they look completely dehydrated and half dead they can recover quickly with a good drink.
Due to the nature of a sunflower’s shape they are at risk of getting of getting blown over or snapping if you have some strong winds. While not all varieties require staking, if your plants are in an exposed location then it is a good idea to stake them to increase their stability and strength. Bamboo canes are very good for this purpose and are available relatively cheaply from your local garden centre. Use velcro ties to loosely fix your sunflower to the stake every couple of feet up the stem leaving a couple of inches for the plant to move. You don’t want it too tight as it can become too reliant on the stake and the stem will remain thin and weak. Also try not to use thin string or wire as this can rub and cut into the plant and damage it.
Sunflowers are very tasty and can attract a variety of animals and insects many of which can damage or kill your favourite plants.
Slugs & Snails: These can be the cause of the quickest way for a whole tray of young seedlings to die a very quick death. There are many suggested ways to deal with these pesky gastropods including beer, coffee, copper, human hair, vinegar, citrus rinds and ducks! Obviously slug pellets are a reliable control method but be careful if you have small children or animals and make sure you read the label.
Aphids: Greenflies & Blackflies love sunflowers although they don’t do a massive amount of damage they are a pest. Lightly spraying them with soapy water will work, although not too much and try and keep it off the leaves as it can damage them. Companion planting can also help, planting chives can deter aphids as they hate the smell or plant some nasturtiums near your sunflowers as the aphids will prefer these to your sunflowers. If you have a few Ladybirds in your garden they do enjoy munching on aphids, otherwise you can just pick them off with your fingers and give them a squeeze so they pop.
Squirrels: When your sunflowers are nearing ready to harvest they will become attractive to Squirrels who will be interested in the seeds for their winter stash. A squirrel can very easily snip off a sunflower head with its teeth so beware if your flower is near a wall, tree or other squirrel friendly perch.
Bees: Probably the most important insects for sunflowers are bees as they are the primary pollinators. Both Bumble Bees and Honey Bees are good pollinators and you can encourage your favourite stripy insects by either building or buying a bee house and placing it in your garden.
Ladybirds: As we mentioned earlier Ladybirds are good for sunflowers as they will patrol your plants searching for Aphids to have for their lunch. Small insect boxes can easily be constructed or bought to attract your favourite spotted insects.
Grey Mould: This is particular active in wet conditions appears as a soft whitish-grey mould which can rot any part of the plant and will spread to adjacent plants if you do not remove and destroy all affected material and spray with a fungicide.
Powdery Mildew: This is easy to recognise as a white powdery substance which will appear on the upper side of the leaves. If it does appear then remove and destroy all affected material and spray with a fungicide.
Sun: Sunflowers love sunlight, try to position your plants where they will receive plenty of direct sunlight, although they will still grow in shaded areas.
Wind: The most lethal danger to sunflowers from the weather is the wind. Try to position your tall varieties of sunflowers in areas which are more sheltered from the wind and try and keep them staked as mentioned above. You could even erect a wind break to aid protection if it is a particularly windy day.
Snow: As you might guess, sunflowers don’t really appreciate the snow as it can cause their heads to get a bit saggy and soggy.
Hail: Probably not the most obvious peril, but it can only take a brief hail shower to shred and destroy young sunflower seedlings.
Rain: Sunflowers love a good dose of rain and also means you don’t have to get your watering can out.
After your plants have developed mulching can reduce moisture loss from the soil through evaporation meaning you don’t have to water them quite so often. You can lay down some bark chipping, leaves or wood chips around the base of the plant for this purpose.
Typically sunflowers don’t require any pruning. As the plants grow taller the lower leaves get less sunlight and can dry up, these can be snipped off with some secateurs. If you have a multi-headed variety you might have one flower which has reached maturity while others are still developing so these can also be removed. If you have several plants in close proximity of each other you might want to chop down any of the weaker ones to ensure it does not fall and knock over your stronger ones, and it will also stop them absorbing any nourishment from the soil which could otherwise go to your stronger plants.