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Grow Sunflowers to Brighten Up Your Garden This Summer

Summer time is fast approaching in Manila and I can already feel the scorching heat as early as February.  What I always look forward to during summer is the chance to grow my favorite flowers,  and one of them is the sunflower. The sunflower is a very versatile plant,  as both the seeds and petals are actually edible.  In some countries, the buds are eaten like artichokes. For me, I prefer to grow sunflowers for ornamental purposes, as their flowers never fail to liven up my garden.  The best part is that there are dwarf varieties that can be grown in small pots,  perfect for small urban gardens, like mine.


Start Growing from Seeds

In Manila, the best time to start growing sunflowers is during the dry season from late November until around early April.  True to their name,  sunflowers love to bask in lots of sunlight.  During blooming stage, their flowers naturally orient themselves to face the sun.  Thus, they produce flowers more beautifully during summer when the daytime hours are longer than night time.

When starting from seeds, use a seed tray or a recycled plastic cup filled with potting mix. Distribute two seeds per compartment, and cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of soil or coco peat. Then, water the seeds lightly until well-moistened (but not too soggy). Place the seed tray in a well-lit area by the window,  away from direct sunlight and birds.  In a few days, the seeds will start to sprout. When the second set of leaves start to appear,  transfer the seedlings to the ground or into larger pots. Space the seeds at least 6 inches apart in an area where they can get at least 6 hours of sunlight, to enjoy continuous bloom.


Plant Maintenance

While these plants can withstand some amount of drought, it’s best to water them regularly (at least once every other day) during summer months. For taller varieties, watering deeply helps them develop a healthier root system.  Make sure the soil quality allows water to drain very well, because sunflowers do not want to get their roots soaked. Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer only once  before budding stage to encourage more vigorous buds.

Dwarf varieties are ideal for any medium -sized pots with a diameter of around 6-8 inches. Giant or  “mammoth” varieties on the other hand are best grown on the ground , although they can still be grown in large pots (at least 5 gal).


Harvesting the Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are very edible, as they are rich in minerals.  However, harvesting the seeds can be a little tricky.   Timing is crucial because if harvested too early, the seeds might be too small, but if too late, they might simply disintegrate.

When all the petals have fallen off,  do not cut off the flower but wait for the seeds to “ripen”.  In about 3 weeks (after all the petals have dried and fallen),  the entire core would have turned dark brown or black. To harvest the seeds, cut the entire flower head at the stem and gently remove the seeds with your fingers or with a fork.  The seeds can be stored in a sealed plastic bag, with a piece of charcoal to prevent moisture creeping in. To ensure a longer shelf life, store the seeds inside the refrigerator,   ready for the next growing season.

Happy summer gardening everyone!

Tags: Flowers

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