• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing sunflowers in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 7 of the Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


Many people think that it is impossible to grow nice sunflowers here in Sitka, but it is possible. It just takes careful planning.

Sunflowers grow in just about any type of soil, but will do much better in soil that is rich with organic material and fertilizer. I start my sunflowers by seed indoors in mid-March. Once they have germinated it is important to reduce the temperature in the room to about 40-50 degrees to prevent the starts from getting leggy and spindly.  If they have to lean to reach the sun, be sure to rotate them 180 degrees at least once a day to get them to grow as straight as possible. It is also a good idea to have an oscillating fan gently blowing across them to encourage them to grow strong.

I transplant my starts outdoors between mid-April and mid-May.  Transplanting time is the most important step for ensuring success.  The weather should not be too cold or too hot.  (This year I transplanted at the beginning of a long stretch of rainy weather and I had a horrible success rate.)  The starts should not be transplanted near a lot of brush or in a crowded perennial bed because these settings encourage rot and slug damage.

The larger the starts are the better chance they have of surviving, but be sure they don’t get too tall and spindly or they may fall over or break in the wind.  Prepare supports of some sort before transplant time. Supports can really help. After the starts have been outdoors for awhile and have recovered from transplant shock they will start growing again and become stronger, but in the meantime the supports will help them.

You can attach the stems of the sunflowers to the supports but be sure to check them once in a while during the season to be sure they have not gotten too tight as the stems grow thicker.  Even a large mature sunflower will benefit from support.  I have had beautiful, huge plants uprooted or broken off by the wind. It was very sad.  If my starts get leggy and spindly I still transplant them outdoors and prop them up the best I can.

I’ve been amazed at how hardy they can be.  The ones that recover from the shock of transplanting take root, get stronger, grow taller, straighten out and develop thick, healthy stalks.  The key is to transplant at the right time, in the right place, with the right supports. Take some time to do it right.

Although you shouldn’t plan on it, it is possible to harvest sunflower seeds to eat if the weather cooperates.  A mature head will often tip down, thereby preventing damage from rain and allowing the seeds to mature.  If you want to try to harvest seeds do not prune spent flowers — let them die on the plant.

Amazingly enough, some of the best sunflowers I have ever grown have volunteered from sunflower seeds that were thrown outside the year before.  Of course this is a hit or miss procedure, but you might try it.

Throw some seeds out right now, mark the spot and see what happens.  You might scratch them in a bit or cover them with a thin layer or dirt to prevent birds from eating them. I have noticed that volunteer sunflowers are stronger and healthier than ones I have started indoors as long as the slugs didn’t get them.

I have grown many different varieties and colors of sunflowers, but I highly recommend the basic yellow and brown branching varieties that produce more than one blossom on a plant. The other colors don’t do as well here and don’t stand out like the traditional ones. And nothing says, “There’s a garden here!” like the sunny face of a brown and yellow sunflower.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241