Humans began growing sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) more than 3,000 years ago. Today, you'll find this annual plant growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 11. The sunflower's brightly hued blossoms and tall height entrance kids of all ages. Build a respect for nature and appreciation for gardening in children by showing them how to sow sunflower seeds and turn those seeds into towering, colorful plants.
Choose a Plant Birthday
Ask children if they like to feel cold. When they say they don't like being cold, tell them sunflowers don't enjoy the cold either. Wait to plant the sunflower seeds until the last frost date in your region has passed to avoid having frost kill or stunt the sunflower plant's growth. The seeds germinate best when soil temperatures range between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put on Sunglasses
Sunflowers grow best in direct, full sun. The more sunlight, the healthier the sunflowers and the more vigorous their growth. Aim for a minimum of six to eight hours of sun daily. Explain this to children, then allow them to help you choose a sunny planting site. To enhance sun exposure, consider sowing the sunflowers on a west- or east-facing section of the yard.
Get Down and Dirty
Give each child a plastic toy shovel that doesn't have sharp edges and let them help you prepare the planting site. Because sunflower plants grow a deep network of roots, break up the soil to a depth of 2 feet or more.
Show children what compost looks like, and explain how compost improves soil drainage, which sunflowers need. Mix 4 inches of compost into the tilled garden bed.
While compost adds important nutrients and additional fertilization isn't strictly necessary, supplementary fertilization can enhance sunflower growth. Ask the kids to step back when you're handling fertilizer, as they may be tempted to eat it or may get it in their eyes. Explain that fertilizer is a special plant food that only adults can touch. Apply 1/2 pound of 12-4-6 or a similar fertilizer for every 25 square feet of flowerbed.
Sow the Seeds
Planting the actual sunflower seeds is likely the part that most of the children have been most excited about. Give a sunflower seed to each kid. Show them how to push the seed into the soil's surface, burying it approximately 1 inch deep. Using a ruler, tell them that each seed needs to be spaced 6 inches apart, then let them push their own seeds into the soil. This amount of space between seeds works for the majority of sunflower varieties, which grow to a height of approximately 2 to 5 feet. If the children are planting giant sunflowers that grow taller than 5 feet, each seed needs to be spaced 1 foot apart.
Water the sunflowers once a day or as needed to keep the flowerbed moist. Once sunflower seedlings break the soil surface and the sunflowers are established, limit watering to just once every seven days. Use enough water to moisten the dirt to a depth of 24 inches. Deep, infrequent watering encourages the sunflowers to grow their roots deeper, which makes the plants stronger and healthier. Give children their own miniature watering cans to help you water the plants. Always water the sunflowers at their base, since overhead watering can hurt the plant. To reduce soil moisture loss, spread 3 inches of mulch onto the flowerbed. Example mulching material includes shredded bark and wood chips.
- University of Missouri Extension: Sunflower - an American Native
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Helianthus Annuus
- University of California Cooperative Extension: Sunflowers in Your Garden
- Old Farmer's Almanac: Sunflowers
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Sunflowers Add Big Splash of Color Along Fencerows
- Kansas State University Extension: Sunflowers
- Organic Gardening: Sunflowers - A Growing Guide
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Sunflower Production Guide
- Government of Manitoba Agriculture: Sunflower Production and Management
- Photo Credit yaruta/iStock/Getty Images
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