Sunflowers are bright, cheerful, and bring a splash of color to any garden. But they are large plants and need a lot of space so if you have a small garden or a balcony and want to grow sunflowers, growing them in a bonsai style might be the answer.
There are several ways to plant sunflower seeds, depending on the size of the garden and the amount of sunlight it receives. Let’s take a deeper look at how to plant sunflower seeds, how to manage their growth and development, and how to make them into small bonsai plants.
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is best known for its cheerful daisy-like flower face and bright yellow petals. Derived from the Greek words helios, meaning “sun” and Anthos, meaning “flower” this annual plant is a summer favorite in gardens around the world.
The sunflower’s flowers come in an array of bright colors, ranging from orange and red to maroon and brown, however, the most common color is sunny yellow petals with large brown centers that become heavy heads of seeds when ripe.
Sunflowers are heliotropic, meaning that they turn their heads to follow the path of the sun from east to west every day. At night, their heads return to face the east once again, ready to catch the morning sun.
This movement, known as heliotropism, only occurs during the earlier stages of the plant’s development before the flower grows heavy with seeds.
Varieties of Sunflowers
There are over 70 different varieties of sunflowers available in an array of colors and sizes that bring bursts of cheerful color to any garden from the traditional yellow Skyscraper Sunflowers with thick stalks and 14-inch flower petals to the deep red wine-colored Chianti Sunflowers that grow to six feet with multiple flowers per stem.
The best variety of sunflowers to plant for bonsai are Dwarf sunflowers, which only grow to a full height of 42 inches, depending upon the variety and growing conditions.
Other varieties of sunflowers that are good choices for bonsai include:
- Elf sunflowers (20 inches)
- Pacino sunflowers (24 inches)
- Elegance sunflowers (20 – 30 inches)
- Suntastic Yellow sunflowers (20 inches)
How Long Do Sunflowers Take to Bloom?
Sunflowers are a fast-growing flower, and most varieties mature in just 80 to 95 days from seed to bloom. The largest sunflower varieties can grow to heights of over 16 feet with 14-inch diameter heads, while the smaller varieties grow just a few inches high.
When to Plant Sunflowers
The best time to plant sunflower seeds in the northern hemisphere is between April and mid-July after the spring frosts and when the temperature of the soil is at least 50°F (10°C). In the southern hemisphere, it is best to plant sunflower seeds in mid-March or early April.
Sunflowers do not like to have their roots disturbed, so it is best to sow seeds directly into the place that you want them to grow instead of planting the seeds and then transplanting the flowers.
Where to Plant Sunflowers
As their name reflects, sunflowers love the sun, so plant the seeds in a sunny spot that will enjoy between six and eight hours of full sun every day. Sunflowers thrive in climates with long, hot summers.
Sunflowers need moist, loose, well-draining soil that doesn’t pool after rains. The plant has long tap roots that grow deep and wide so the seeds should be planted in a bed or an area that is at least three feet wide and two feet deep.
Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so be sure to plant the seeds in soil that is nutrient-rich with plenty of organic matter or composted manure, which should be worked into the soil at least eight inches deep. They tend to flourish in alkaline soil with a pH of between 6.0 to 7.5.
How to Plant Sunflower Seeds
Planting sunflowers seeds for bonsai flowers follows the same process as planting seeds for regular size sunflowers. There are two ways of planting sunflowers seeds – in containers and the ground.
Sowing Sunflowers in Pots
Fill the pot with rich, loamy soil mixed with multi-purpose compost to around one centimeter below the top. Add one seed per pot and cover with compost. Fill the pot with compost to about an inch from the top and then water well. Place the pot in a warm, bright spot like a sunny windowsill.
Sowing Sunflower Seeds in the Ground
Make sure the soil you will be sowing the seeds in is loose, rich, and loamy and the area is well-drained and enjoys full sunlight. Create a shallow depression of about one to one-and-a-half inches in the soil for each seed and sow each seed about two to three inches apart.
The seeds should be planted between one and one-and-a-half inches deep in the soil and about six inches apart in warm, loamy soil. You can also plant sunflower seeds in small containers which will make it easier to bonsai them.
Mix a light application of fertilizer into the soil when you plant the seeds as this will encourage strong root growth and keep the soil moist and well-drained.
Caring for Sunflowers
Sunflowers are very easy to care for if the correct procedures are followed. Water the plant around the root zone when it is small and place some organic pesticide around the stem to protect them from pests.
Once the young plant is established, water deeply once a week unless the weather is exceptionally wet or dry. Be careful not to overfeed the young plant – the best way to avoid overfertilization is to add diluted fertilizer into the water.
Sunflower Pests and Diseases
No matter what size, sunflowers will attract birds and squirrels who love eating their seeds, so keep your bonsai sunflowers indoors in a sunny spot or cover them with white garden fleece if they are outside.
While sunflowers are relatively insect-free, however, moths and butterflies can lay their eggs on the leaves and in the blossoms so watch out for the worms and pick them off otherwise they can decimate the leaves. Downy and powdery mildew and rust can also affect small plants, so if you spot any mildew or fungal diseases, use an organic garden fungicide.
How to Bonsai Your Sunflowers
While bonsai is usually practiced on trees, the smaller varieties of sunflowers like Teddy Bear Sunflowers can be manipulated to develop into small plants, similar to that of bonsai trees. To develop bonsai sunflowers, the growing rootlets need to be carefully pruned to prevent the plant from growing to full size.
Plant the sunflower seeds in a small container or pot. Turn the baby plant out once a week and tease out the growing rootlets that have reached the pot side and cut off the ends. Place the plant carefully back into the pot without disturbing the main root ball. This should stunt the growth of the plant to create a small, bonsai version.
One of the biggest and brightest flowers around, sunflowers bring vibrant splashes of color and feelings of summery happiness to any garden or balcony. Whether it’s a tall single stalk flower growing in the garden or a tiny bonsai sunflower in a pot on your kitchen shelf, sunflowers are easy to grow and look after and will undoubtedly bring years of joy.