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How to Care for Sunflowers

By Catherine Armstrong ; Updated September 21, 2017

The Incas considered the sunflower a symbol of their sun god. Lewis and Clark mentioned the plant in their journals. As long ago as 1000 B.C., Native Americans used the sunflower for food, oil, dye and even thread. Plant sunflowers in your yard and you will find that, in addition to providing you with delicious seeds for snacks, many species of wildlife will show up in your yard for a snack of their own.

Begin preparing your garden in mid-spring when the temperature of the soil reaches a steady 45 degrees. Dig soil to a depth of about five inches to aerate, then rake over and tamp down to firm.

Scatter sunflower seeds in a thin, even manner. Rake soil over the seeds lightly and water thoroughly but gently, so as to not disturb the seeds.

Mark drill holes if you prefer to plant your sunflowers in a more organized fashion. Dig shallow holes three to six inches apart, placing them in rows. Place three or four seeds in each hole, rake soil lightly over the top and water thoroughly with a fine mist.

Thin seedlings. Once seedlings begin to appear, thin them out to allow the best possible growth. Use care to avoid disturbing the seedlings you plan to keep; press the soil around those seedlings as you go.

Water your sunflowers frequently, especially while they are young. Until roots have developed and are firm, the sunflowers need extra water.

Stake the seedlings once they reach a height of eight inches or so. Sunflowers require stakes to grow properly. Stakes will also deter birds and small rodents from eating the young stems.

Make a scarecrow. Birds will gather around your sunflower patch as soon as the seedlings sprout. Place a scarecrow in the garden or protect the young plants with netting as necessary.

Harvest seeds. Once the sunflowers are mature and full of seeds, remove the heads of the flowers and place them face down in a sunny spot for a few days. Once the heads are completely dried, tap lightly with a stick to release the seeds. Five pounds of planted sunflower seeds will yield between 800 and 1,200 pounds of new seeds.

Allow the plot to lay fallow for two years for best results in the future. Sunflowers are annual plants, so you will need to plant them again the following spring. Plant in a new spot and rotate to give the soil time to rest and renew the nutrients needed for healthy plants.


Things You Will Need

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Area for planting
  • Small trowel
  • Hoe
  • Hose or watering can


  • Plant special areas of sunflowers for wildlife if you wish. For best results, plant groupings of sunflowers in between areas that are left wild. The grass and bushes that grow in between will act as a habitat for the many birds and small mammals that will snack on the seeds.

About the Author


Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.