Let the Sun Shine!
Now, more than ever, you may be feeling the impulse to bring the sunshine indoors. Indoor sunflowers are a beautiful way to keep your home bright and happy all year long!
Outdoor gardeners rely on a warm growing season and plant sunflower seeds after the last frost of the year. When planting outdoors, the sunflower thrives in Hardiness zones two to eleven.
But, when planting indoors, we’re free to improvise. So, let’s explore some sunflower gardening tips to help you get started on your very own sunshine garden – and excellent cut flowers.
The first step will be to choose the type of sunflower plants you want to grow, as the varieties vary in size, look, and seed production.
Types of Sunflowers
Of all the sunflower varieties, indoor gardeners generally prefer the dwarf varieties. Each of these small varieties can easily be grown in pots and containers. Here are some common types of dwarf sunflowers.
- Teddy Bear sunflowers can grow two to three feet tall and can have multiple blooms on one stalk. Their blooms resemble bright yellow poof balls and lack the flat, dark, seed-filled center usually associated with sunflowers.
- Big Smile sunflowers produce a single flower and grow up to eight inches tall. They are the perfect indoor sunflower because up to three can be grown in a six-inch diameter pot.
- Pacino sunflowers can reach two feet tall and produce several yellow flowers.
Other popular small sunflowers include Jade, Valentine, Little Becca, Dwarf Incredible, and Topolino.
If smaller flowers aren’t your aim, giant sunflowers can also be grown indoors if you have enough space and light. The Mammoth Sunflower is especially popular for its seed production. However, you will need a planter capable of holding at least 5 gallons of soil.
Check out this variety pack of sunflowers on Amazon today.
How Long Does It Take To Grow A Sunflower Indoors?
Grow time will vary depending on your variety, however most seeds should germinate within 6 to 10 days. Maturity is reached within 80 to 120 days.
Plant Sunflower Seeds
If starting your sunflowers from seeds, there are a few tricks you can use to get the best results. Let's start with the soil.
Sunflower seeds enjoy well-drained soil. Sandy loam or sandy clay loam soils typically allow excellent drainage, and sunflowers perform well in them. You can even make your own sandy loam soil.
Though it is not essential for all sunflowers to have fertilizer, it may be a good idea to add a slow-release granular fertilizer to your potting mix.
Another easy trick for starting seeds is to use peat pots, which can be purchased on Amazon or at your local hardware store. These biodegradable pots provide excellent drainage and make replanting unbelievably simple. Plant your seeds about one inch deep. During the germination process, it will be essential to keep your soil moist.
Once your seeds have germinated, transplant the entire peat pot, removing any portion that remains above the soil. This prevents the pot from pulling moisture up and away from the root.
If you are growing outdoors, it is perfectly acceptable to sow seeds directly into your soil. However, be sure not to plant until any danger of frost has passed. In many climates, this does not take place until mid-summer.
I'm going to go ahead and say that drainage holes are the most critical feature in a planting pot. No matter how excellent the make-up of your soil, without drainage holes, your sunflower is not going to be sunny or bright... or alive. Drainage and proper spacing can also help to prevent mildew.
For varieties that grow two to five feet tall, you will want to allow about 6 inches between each seedling, while larger types should be placed at least one foot apart. Putting them closer together may result in smaller flowers. After you have transplanted into your pot, mulch can be added on top of the soil, carefully avoiding the stem. This will help to prevent moisture loss through evaporation.
Sunflowers certainly earn their name for their sunny esthetic, but also for their love of sunlight. They enjoy full sun for at least six hours a day. The more direct sunlight, the better for the stem to grow thick enough to support its large flower.
We don't all have the luxury of the long warm summer, in which sunflowers thrive. In colder climates, or for year-round, indoor growth, a grow light may be required. You can find many different styles of grow lights on Amazon. Before you buy, take a look at The Best Grow Lights For Indoor Plants And Small Spaces.
During germination, it is vital to keep your sunflower well watered. A mature sunflower requires deep watering until the first six inches of soil is moist, about once a week.
The sunflower can self-pollinate between flowers, but it's not great at doing this on its own. Outside, bees are expert pollinators.
But inside, you'll need to "be the bee," by moving pollen from one flower to another. This is similar to the way that you would pollinate an indoor tomato plant.
You can be an expert pollinator with this fun tool from AeroGarden.
How To Grow Sunflowers Hydroponically
When growing sunflowers indoors, urban gardeners usually start asking about hydroponics.
Simple DIY hydroponics - or even a countertop hydroponics system like AeroGarden - are able to grow indoor sunflowers easily. Here's a quick video on growing your sunflowers hydroponically:
The main problem that growers have is the height of the grow light.
With the exception of some dwarf varieties, you'll have over 18" of growth, meaning you need to have a grow light that can grow with your plants.
Here are some grow light options that may be able to help you:
When growing sunflowers hydroponically, you'll need to add nutrients to your water reservoir. Here are some top brands for general hydroponics:
- General Hydroponics Flora Grow
- AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients
- Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio Hydro Formula
Sunflower History (More Reasons To Love Sunflowers)
It's important to know who you're sharing your home with, even the plants. To know them better, I'll very briefly touch on the rich history of the sunflower.
The sunflower (Helianthus annus) is one of the few crop species, now grown around the world, that originated in North America. They are thought to have been derived from wildflowers as far back as 1000 BC.
The sunflower grew abundantly in the great plains, and Native Americans cultivated their seeds for meal and oil used in medicines and for cooking.
When European settlers arrived, the sunflower was brought overseas in time to grace Van Gough's easel and became a major agricultural crop in Russia in the late 1800s.
The sunflower has primarily been seen as a crop flower until rather recently. It is now prized for its beautiful cut flowers, it functions as a living bird feeder, and as an ornamental plant. No longer exclusive to the rural countryside, the sunflower has now become a small garden and indoor favorite thanks to the development of many smaller varieties.
Harvesting Sunflower Seeds
Of course, we don't only love sunflowers for their cheery disposition and rich history, also for their vitamin-rich, edible seeds.
When growing sunflowers indoors or out, they must receive lots of sunlight. They must also be kept warm. The ideal soil temperature for germination is between 70-75 degrees.
Sunflower seeds will naturally dry and fall off of the seed heads as they become heavy and droop toward the ground. However, when you are ready, cut the flower heads off, leaving several inches of stem attached. These sunflower heads can be hung in a dark, dry place as they continue to dry.
If you are growing your sunflower outdoors, tie a paper bag or netting around the seed head to catch any falling seeds and protect them from rodents and birds. Little critters love to make a healthy snack of sunflower seeds.
Growing A Year-Round Sunshine Garden
When growing indoors, your sunflower knows no growing season. Use success planting to continually have blooming flowers. Either plant multiple varieties with varying days to maturity or plant the same or various types in one to two-week intervals.
See, it's easy to plant indoor sunflowers and enjoy your sunflower plants year-round. Either to harvest your own sunflower seeds or just enjoy their sunny disposition, open the windows, prep your pots, and let the sun shine!