Sunflowers are a good choice for almost any gardening region. Drought-tolerant and early to mature, they thrive in a wide range of conditions. The simplicity of planting and caring for sunflowers makes this a perfect project for children. With just a little guidance, they can enjoy the excitement of watching their tiny seedlings transform into tall plants with dramatic blooms.
Preparing the Ground
Among the most important considerations for preparing a sunflower-friendly planting environment are moisture and lack of competition. Before planting, weed the area thoroughly, then water the soil to a moist but not drenched consistency.
When to Plant
Sunflowers are tolerant of wide variation in planting dates. Most will mature early enough that the length of the growing season won't be a factor. If you're lucky enough to live where winters are mild to non-existent, you can plant any time you like. Otherwise, simply ensure outdoor planting takes place after the last chance of frost has passed.
Where to Plant
Plant sunflowers where they will receive full sun, such as out in the middle of the garden or along the south-facing side of a wall. Because they grow so tall and fast, take care not to plant them where they'll shade other plants.
Plant sunflower seeds 6 inches apart, then thin them to a separation of 18 inches after seedlings are established. Dwarf varieties only need about a foot of separation. Dwarf sunflowers in containers can make do with even less; Brenda Hyde reports good results with 8 sunflower plants in a container 3 feet long.
Plant to a depth of between 1 and 3 1/2 inches. At this depth, your sunflowers can reach more moisture and will receive sufficient support. Pay attention to any planting instructions your seeds came with; different varieties have different recommendations. If your soil has a tendency to crust or pack, as with silt loam or clay, plant 1/2 inch shallower than you would otherwise.
Not all the seeds you plant will actually sprout, and among those that do, some will be weaker than others. To identify the strongest, place your seeds between two paper towel that have been folded into quarters and sprayed (but not soaked) with water. Over the next two weeks, check daily and spray some more to ensure they remain damp. Plant only those seeds that begin sprouting within two weeks of laying them between the damp paper towels.