Sunflowers grow readily from seed sown directly in the garden, or you can start them in peat pots indoors for later transplanting. The seedlings can suffer some problems early in their lives if you don't provide them with the proper care. Wilting and drooping over are some of the first signs that something is wrong with the sunflower seedlings, or that their growing conditions require change.
Damping off disease commonly occurs in overly moist and cool soils. Planting in a sterile potting medium helps prevent the occurrence of the fungus that causes damping off. Sunflowers don't transplant well, so start them in plantable peat pots if you choose to use sterile soil. Sunflowers affected by the fungus droop over and die as the fungal bodies invade the young plant. Sunflowers grown directly in the garden bed have little protection from any fungus present in the soil. Avoid overwatering to prevent fungal growth on the young seedlings.
Sunflowers require consistent soil moisture throughout their life, but especially as seedlings. Too little water causes the seedlings to wilt and droop over. Though the plants grow well in a variety of soils, a soil that retains enough moisture to not dry out completely between watering prevents water stress. Amend outdoor beds with compost to improve the moisture capacity. Keep indoor started seedlings watered by irrigating them when the soil's surface feels dry. Avoid standing water, as that can cause the seedling roots to rot or lead to damping off fungal problems.
Soil crusting is rarely a problem for indoor started sunflowers but may affect those started directly in the garden bed. Though the soil remains moist, the surface dries and crusts over. The seedlings have difficulty pushing through the soil crust. Some seedlings may die before they emerge, while others have a distinctive bend in the stem from pushing through the soil, which makes the seedling droop. Sprinkling the soil surface with vermiculite or fine-milled peat moss prevents the soil surface from crusting.
Light and Temperature
Sunny conditions and warm weather help sunflower seedlings grow strong and healthy. Too little light weakens the seedlings so they may wilt or droop. Indoor seedlings suffer from lack of light more often than those grown outdoors. Using a fluorescent plant light during the day ensures the indoor seedlings receive enough light to grow well. Cool temperatures can affect indoor or outdoor plants. Keep seedlings away from cold drafts indoors and plant them outside only after temperatures have risen above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.