About Sunflowers-Grow Sunflower Plant

Updated on April 6, 2016
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is a full-time freelance writer.

Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.

About Sunflowers (Helianthus annus)

Sunflowers (Helianthus annus) are one of the world's most popular flowers, with sunflowers growing throughout North America, Europe and Russia. Helianthus annus or sunflower plants (sometimes spelled sun flowers) are native to North America. The Native Americans cultivated sunflowers for food and oil, eating the seeds raw, cooked, and pounded into a flour from which the oils and powder were mixed to create a cake or bread. When the Europeans arrived in the New World, the Spaniards recognized the value of the flowers and brought them back to Europe, where they grew readily. Most Europeans grew them as an ornamental flower until around 1700, when the English recognized the oils from sunflower seeds as a valuable cooking oil and a patent was issued for the extraction of sunflower oil. Sunflowers made their way throughout Europe and into Russia, where the Russians loved the easy to cultivate flower that provided both sustenance and oil. Soon, sunflowers became both a beloved and beautiful garden flower as well as a source of food for people and animals alike. Today, the National Sunflower Association represents the huge global market of buyers and farmers growing sunflowers for seeds, oils, commercial and other uses.


Growing Sunflowers

Most North American gardeners enjoy growing sunflowers purely for their ornamental value and beauty. They also make great additions to children's gardens, and children love their towering, beautiful and sunny faces. Sunflowers must be planted in full sun. They prefer fertile, well drained soil but will tolerate clay soil. Use only seeds sold in garden centers for garden use; sunflower seeds sold as snacks are heated, baked and salted, and will not germinate. Plant sunflower seeds after the last danger of frost is past. You might need to place a cloche or a clear, bell-shaped cover over the area until the sunflower plant has at least two sets of leaves. This isn't so much to keep the plant warm as to keep hungry creatures such as chipmunks and squirrels from snacking on the sunflower seed itself. You can easily make a cloche from an old soda pop bottle. Wash, rinse, and remove the label. Cut it in half and use the half with the bottle top as a vent at the top to cover the plant until it is large enough to discourage hungry visitors.

Sunflowers can be plagued by various garden pests including grasshoppers and Japanese beetles. Although tattered leaves on sunflowers plants aren't attractive, they usually don't do the plant any harm.

Most gardeners choose a location next to a wall, fence or another support. As sunflowers grow taller and taller, they can get top heavy from the large, heavy sunflower head that makes them so beautiful and desirable. A wall, stake or support may be necessary to keep sunflowers from pulling over from the weight of the flower head.

Sunflowers offer many excellent properties, but one often overlooked is their ability to remove heavy metals and harmful toxins from the soil. They actually remove lead, arsenic, uranium and cessium from the soil, and were planted near Chernobyl and now near Fukushima to reduce pollution from the nuclear disaster sites.

And no, it's not your imagination; sunflowers really DO follow the course of the sun! The buds sense the sun and will gently turn to follow its track throughout the day. After the flowers fully mature and open, they remain facing East as if greeting the sun; truly, no other flower has ever been so aptly named as the sunflower or sunflower!

Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.

Enjoying Sunflowers and Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers offer many uses, both practical and aesthetic:

  • As a cut flower, grow many varieties including traditional yellow, golden, bronze and orange types
  • Grow sunflowers to harvest and enjoy the seeds as a snack
  • Cut flower heads, let them dry, then hang them from trees for natural bird feeders

If you do plan to enjoy sunflower seeds, you should remove the shells before eating the nutritious kernel inside. While not harmful to eat, the sharp edges can injure the intestines, and the National Sunflower Association reports that eating too many shells can cause intestinal impaction. So be sure to shell your sunflower seeds before enjoying them.

Sunflowers are not only gorgeous, they're good for the environment. Sunflowers remain a worldwide non GMO crop as of this writing, so even if you're concerned with organic gardening you can safely enjoy sunflowers. They are great for attracting birds to the garden, and for bird feeding. Grow them for beauty, to feed the birds or to simply enjoy them. Sunflowers offer nearly limitless possiblities!

Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2011 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.

© 2011 Jeanne Grunert


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub. I love sunflowers and this was so interesting to know more about my favorite flowers. Voted up for useful!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I tried growing sunflowers but didn't succeed in my attempt thanks for the insightful Hub I like sunflowers they are so beautiful in color.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Beautifully awesome hub! Sunflowers are a subject near and dear to my heart because I feed lots of birds. I have tried many times to grow them myself for the seeds, but the turkeys get there before I do! They love to chomp off the seedlings. Voted way Up and shared.

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Gorgeous pictures, and facts about sunflowers I never knew. Thank you!

    • Little Light profile image

      Lilly May Rose 6 years ago from Australia

      I adore sunflowers. They always make me feel so happy. It's nice to know they attract birds too as I love having birds around. Fantastic Hub. I really enjoyed it.

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 6 years ago from New York City

      Such beautiful displays of sun flower imagery in this hub is. I love how you explain in detail about sun flower seeds here, because I enjoy eating them from time to time, & I never read anything about them for some odd reason. Voted Up.

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 6 years ago from Virginia

      As far as I know, birds (goldfinches) don't eat the leaves. They only eat the seeds. I have seen grasshoppers and Japanese beetles eat the leaves and they often appear at the same time as the goldfinches. Do you actually see the birds pecking the leaves? Or just landing there? Check for grasshoppers. Not only do those critters eat my sunflower leaves, they have eaten holes through the window screens on the house!

    • FionaBaron profile image

      FionaBaron 6 years ago

      I had planted some sunflower plants, but am having problems with yellow finches (small birds) eating all of the leaves. We've since had to net the sunflower plants but was curious if you've had any problems with the birds eating the leaves.Thanks!

    • profile image

      Doctor Scott 6 years ago

      Nice to see how nature combats such things as lead pollution with something as simple and bright as a sunflower.

    • BizGenGirl profile image

      Bema Self 6 years ago from Seattle

      Wow, I just had a chance to read your hub. I'll have to come back to it in planting season. My family used to grow them every year and I miss the tall golden beauties. =)

    • profile image

      twodawgs 6 years ago

      Great hub - I come from the "Sunflower State", and we are immersed in sunflowers throughout the latter part of summer, so I appreciate the authoritative factoid about them. Great images, too.

    • Humera Sharif profile image

      Humera Sharif 6 years ago from Faisal Abad

      Great Hub, I like the Sunflower pictures.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Super interesting hub, and now I'm in love with that pendant! :) And, of course, it takes you to loads of other lovely sunflower jewelry.

      Congrats on hub of the day!

    • brsmom68 profile image

      Diane Ziomek 6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I have not had much luck with sunflowers on this particular property until this year. I planted them in a raised bed and they are a few feet tall now. You mentioned they don't like clay soil; that's what I had been trying to grow them in. They are my natural trellis for my Scarlet Runner beans too. :D Great hub; voted up!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Congratulations on being the Hub of the Day!

      I always loved sunflowers. They are huge, brilliant, beautiful, and even produce delicious seeds. I grew some with my parents when I was a kid. My daughter recently tried to plant some but hasn't had much luck. I will use this article for future reference. Great Job. Voting Up and sharing!


    • profile image

      marellen 6 years ago

      I love sunflowers....they are so beautiful and fun to display. I have never tried to grow any because I have no sun on my patio but maybe someday. Thanks for your informative hub...

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      i once ate sunflower seeds in their shells and bled a little from my gut, just enough to have to get the colonoscopy that turned out normal. glad you warned everyone.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 6 years ago from Germany

      Congratulations! I love sunflowers. They are beautiful and the dried seeds are tasty. Thanks for sharing.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Good job on hub of the day. This is a beautiful hub and the timing is perfect as sunflowers are growing like crazy.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      Congratulations on being chosen hub of the day. We have lots of sunflowers here in Chilliwack, British Columbia. And sunflower oil is always in my kitchen.

    • profile image

      David Coultre 6 years ago

      Very nice hub. I've been seeing a lot of natural red (not dyed) sunflowers lately in pictures, but have trouble finding the seeds locally.

    • Bud Gallant profile image

      Bud Gallant 6 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      Beautiful hub. I really love sunflowers. I tried to sprout some indoors, in front of the window, but they wouldn't grow. I'll have to try again one day, and this is a great guide on how to do it.

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Enjoyed this article. We grow our sunflowers near the bird feeders. You have to protect the newly planted seeds (netting usually) but once they grown the birds leave them alone UNTIL there are those lovely seeds in the fall. Think I will plant some out near our old fence. nice!

    • applecsmith profile image

      Carrie Smith 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Congrats on the Hub of the day! I enjoyed reading your hub, it's well laid out and easy to understand. I especially liked the part about, sunflowers following the sun during the day. Fabulous hub, and thanks for sharing. Voted up and awesome!

    • profile image

      Liola Lee 6 years ago

      I love Sunflowers!! I have three beautiful paintings of Sunflowers in oil painted by a British Artist called Maureen Greenwood. They brighten up the room and always make me smile. A lovely hub!!

    • lejonkung profile image

      lejonkung 6 years ago

      congrats to hub of the day!

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Congratulations on having the hub of the day. What a fascinating article. I love sunflowers, and my daughter is growing some at the moment. Well done on this very informative hub. Voted up and awesome.

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      excellent hub.. i love sunflowers..they make a good choice for arranging in a pot for home décor as well.. they are bigger usually and so very attractive that only a few flowers and you are done..

    • danielleantosz profile image

      danielleantosz 6 years ago from Florida

      Great hub! I grow mine in five gallon buckets, they do not grow as large, but they are still very pretty!

    • profile image

      rafat 6 years ago

      you have really done a good job.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I have always adored sunflowers, and have recently developed a dreadful addiction to sunflower seeds! I remember growing them in a community garden when I was a kid- I hope I might get to grow some of my own someday!

      I'm with The Dirt Farmer on loving your tip about turning dried sunflowers into bird feeders. That's great! Fabulous Hub.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Love the idea of hanging up the flower heads for the birds. Will have to cut them early. Our sunflowers are usually ravaged by squirrels! Nice hub. I particularly enjoyed your pictures.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the information and the lovely photos. I've never grown sunflowers before but I think I'll try this year. They certainly are bright and beautiful flowers, and I do like eating sunflower seeds.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 6 years ago from Orange County, California

      I love sunflowers. They are so cheerful!

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      What a lovely and informative hub. I often let the sunflowers that come up from bird seed grow. They are so bright and cheery.

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