Grow Great cutting sunflowers
On this page
Sunflowers (Helianthus annua)
Cutting sunflowers make big, dramatic bouquets for your home. Some grow well in rows or beds, while some grow well in big, glorious hedges for a large summer garden. I love the way they greet the morning sun with their faces and follow it until it sets.
Cutting sunflowers are easy to grow. Start them early in cells or pots and/or a little later directly into your garden bed. There are so many different beautiful varieties to choose from, just be sure you select a cutting variety.
Starting Your Sunflowers
Whether you plant seeds directly in the garden or start them early in cells, or pots, will depend on the number of days to maturity. Some varieties take up to 3 months while others are only 50 days. Check the catalog or the seed packet for that information.
Start the longer maturing varieties in your cells, or pots, to get your flowers earlier in the summer. You can start the shorter maturing varieties in cells, but also in the ground to get a longer supply of flowers. Use the days to maturity to plan when your supply will be ready.
Sunflowers require full sun! At the very least six hours a day. But their very name indicates they want all the sun they can get!
Start with a prepared garden bed with compost added. They are fine with soil a little on the lean side, which means not overly amended and fertilized. And water deeply and infrequently. This means not every day. Get the water deep into the soil to encourage deep root growth and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
For spacing, I give my sunflowers 2 sq. ft. each.
Many good cutting sunflowers are pollenless. This means they are bred to not produce pollen.
The reason for this is that when you bring in your sunflower bouquets, the flowers will not drop pollen all over your table. Sunflowers are good at producing and dropping pollen, and they’re big. So breeders have come up with varieties that don’t produce pollen or at least very little.
Now, you may think that’s ridiculous, that it deprives the bees of a much needed resource. But when you harvest your sunflowers, you pick them before the pollen is produced. So when the pollen does show up your flowers are inside, on your table, unavailable to the bees.
If you want to supply the bees, choose a non-pollenless variety, pick some for bouquets, and leave the rest for the pollinators. There is a downside to this, though, which I’ll describe in Harvesting, below. The pollenless sunflowers do produce nectar, and I see plenty of bees on mine.
I have tried many varieties and have settled on two to keep things simple. This is especially needed for a home garden where space needs to be maximized
One of my favorite sunflowers is ‘Soraya’. It is a classic-looking sunflower with a dark disk and golden petals. It’s days to maturity are 85-95, so good to start this one early in cells. It is nearly pollenless, and it can produce many flowers.
The other top choice for me is ‘Moulin Rouge’, a pollenless sunflower that is a deep, dark burgundy color that’s a delightful addition to bouquets. Days to maturity are 55-65, letting you start them early and sow a second time directly in the garden for a very long harvest.
Some varieties are good for multi-branching, giving many smaller but long-stemmed flowers. ‘Autumn Beauty’ is a nice variety for that and each flower has a variety of fall colors on it. Good if you have enough space.
I get these varieties from Johnny’s Seeds. Look up their catalog and see all the fantastic options. But there are plenty of varieties available at your local nurseries, too.
Pruning Cutting Sunflowers
Yes, your sunflowers can be pruned to give you more flowers.
When the plant is about 2 ft. tall, cut the growing tip down to the nearest leaf node, one where you can see tiny buds in the leaf axil. This is where two new stems will grow out. Instead of one. This gives more stems to produce flowers. The flowers will ultimately be a little smaller, but you will still have long, strong stems. And it will give you a longer supply of flowers. This can be too much work for tending lot of branching sunflowers like the Autumn Beauty, though. But you can try, or just leave many for the bees!
There are two important rules to go by when harvesting your sunflowers.
- Cut your flowers before the pollen shows. All of them. Even if you don’t need them. Because if the flower gets pollinated it sends a signal to the rest of the plant that success has been achieved, that procreation has occurred. This tells the plant that it can slow down flower production. If the flowers are cut, the plant is constantly trying to get pollinated flowers to start seed production. Yes, we turn these plants into workhorses for us. For pollenless flowers just pick flowers as soon as they are open. For either of them I aim to harvest a little before the petals are full opened.
- Next, when you cut your flowers, like the pruning process above, cut down the stem enough to a leaf node that has growing buds, not flower buds, on each side. This will produce more flower stems and prolong your harvest. You may need to develop a feel for where to cut.
Put your cuts into a clean bucket with lukewarm water. Then bring them into a cool, darkish place to sit for 8 hrs. or so. This conditions them and gives them a longer vase life.
Since this is a new website for me I will add photos when my flowers are growing.