Sunflowers – (Helianthus) Plants, care and tips – Floralelle



Growth height
from 40.00cm to 300.00cm
Growth width
from 0.00cm to 0.00cm
Growth characteristics
  • upright
Flowering time (month)
  • July to October
Flower shape
  • Single flower
  • tubular
  • Tongue blossoms
Sheet shape
  • heart-shaped
  • lance-shaped
Type of soil
  • sandy to loamy
Soil Moisture
  • moderately dry to moist
Lime tolerance
  • lime-tolerant
Nutrient requirements
  • nutrient-rich
Decorative or utility value
  • Flower decoration
  • Nectar or pollen plant
  • Flowerbeds
  • Bouquets
  • Single position
  • Garden fences
  • Group planting
  • Planters
Garden style
  • Pharmacy Garden
  • Farmer’s garden
  • Flower garden
  • Vegetable Garden
  • Natural garden
  • Pot garden


The common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) belongs to the genus of sunflowers (Helianthus), to which the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) also belongs. Its botanical name is derived from the Greek words for sun (helios) and flower (anthos) – the reason: the sunflower always turns its flowers towards the sun. The species name “annuus” comes from Latin and means “for one year”, which indicates that the common sunflower is an annual plant, unlike many other members of the genus. Like all sunflowers, this species belongs to the Asteraceae family. It probably originates from Mexico and North America, from where it was brought to Europe as early as the 16th century.


This sunflower is one of the fastest growing flowers in the ornamental garden. Within a few weeks, depending on the variety, it reaches a stately height of up to three metres


Annual sunflowers often only form a strong flower stalkwho is slightly hairy. The leaves are usually heart-shaped to lanceolate and opposite.

The sunflower blooms all summer from the end of June to October. Its plate-sized flower heads, with a diameter of around 30 centimetres, are among the giants among the native flowering plants. Its flower heads consist of yellow ray florets and inner brown tubular flowers. When choosing a location, you should bear in mind that the sunflower always faces the sun, so that the flowers look out into the garden or to the seat and do not turn away.

Location and soil

The common sunflower prefers nitrogen-rich, not too dry humus soil. The location should be sunny, as the name suggests. However, the sunflower needs a lot of water for its rapid growth. Its strong taproot is almost as long as the plant itself is tall and surrounded by dense root felt for water absorption

Ordinary sunflowers are annual and must be replanted or sown every year. In a fixed location they usually reproduce by self-seeding. The plant also spreads quite reliably through birdseed. However, the fodder seed plants are usually lean and less attractive than garden varieties. The seeds can be brought forward from April in pots or sown directly into the bed at the end of May. Keep a distance of 30 to 50 centimetres for direct sowing, as the tender roots of the young plants do not tolerate singling well. The seedlings will appear after about 14 days. Three to four months later the plant is fully grown. Since the large flowers bend slightly in the wind, they should be given a stable bamboo stick as support in good time.


During the growth phase, the common sunflower should be regularly fertilized and watered. If sowing directly into the bed, the young seedlings must be protected from snails


Sunflowers stand in front of fences or on the walls of houses, protected from the wind, and find support. In borders high varieties form a beautiful background. Planted in groups, sunflowers also serve as privacy screens thanks to their height. Smaller varieties find a place in the foreground in flower beds and borders, but they also feel comfortable in pots. Individually standing, large specimens are a beautiful eye-catcher in the garden or on the terrace. Ordinary sunflowers are classic plants for farm gardens and should not be missing in a rural garden.

As cut flowers the large flowers are very popular for lush summer bouquets. The cut can be made as soon as the petals open. Cut the stems diagonally with a sharp knife and remove all but three leaves from under the flower. Place the plants immediately in fresh, lukewarm water, which should be changed daily, and cut the stems more often – this way the flowers will stay fresh for a long time

Harvesting and utilisation

The sunflower seeds are harvested in September. The kernels, which are about two centimetres in size, are brown, black, grey or striped, depending on the variety

Before the seeds ripen, the flower heads are wrapped in a fleece to protect them from unwanted bird feed (left). When the flowers have withered, the sunflower seeds can be harvested (right)

The seeds are suitable as an ingredient in muesli, salad or bread and roasted or sugared as a nibble. Hold back some seeds of good varieties for next year’s sowing. Sunflower seeds are also a treat for birds. In the autumn, you can watch titmice, goldfinches and other birds gyrating on the flowers and picking the seeds.

The sunflower makes an important contribution to oilseed production. Sunflower oil is used particularly in the pharmaceutical and industrial sectors. In addition, sunflower oil is the second most popular kitchen oil in Germany after rapeseed oil, accounting for over 30 percent and a total consumption of 60 million litres. It contains many vitamins and a large proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid, which are necessary for cell metabolism and have a positive effect on the cholesterol level. To preserve the nutrients, store the vegetable oil in a cool place and protected from light!

Diseases and pests

Sunflower rust often appears on the leaves. The fungus leaves yellowish-brown spots and pustules on the leaf surfaces. Infested leaves should be disposed of immediately and possibly sprayed with a fungicide. Young plants must be well protected from snails. Later, the plants are popular places for aphids.


Sunflowers (Helianthus) are a genus within the family of composite flowers (Asteraceae). These are annual or perennial plants with growth heights between 25 and 300 centimeters. Some types form rhizome tubers as perseverance-organs. The yellow flowers stand individually or in groups and open in summer. The home of all approximately 65 types is North America. Here in Europe, two species play a role in agriculture: the annual common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is cultivated as an oil fruit and the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) provides nutritious tubers that are eaten like potatoes or processed into schnapps. Due to their low starch content, they are also suitable for diabetics.

Appearance and growth
In addition to the annual sunflower, the various perennial sunflowers (H. decapetalus, H. giganteus, H. micocephalus) and the willow-leaved sunflower (H. salicifolius), which can reach heights of between 120 and 250 centimeters depending on the species and variety, are interesting for gardens. The diameter of the composite flowers varies greatly and can reach 30 centimeters in the annual sunflower. The leaves are mostly heart-shaped to lanceolate and opposite. Annual sunflowers usually only form a strong flower stalk, perennials grow horny or spread over rhizome tubers – especially the Jerusalem artichoke has a strong urge to spread and can become annoying over time.

Location and soil
All sunflowers love sunny places with nutrient-rich, not too heavy soils.

Sunflowers are mostly planted in farmer gardens, but also in prairie beds with other North American prairie perennials and grasses. The annual sunflower is also often planted as a green fence. Low varieties of annual sunflower are also suitable for pots on the balcony. All sunflowers are excellent cut flowers.

In borders or along fences high varieties form a beautiful background. Sunflowers together with Zinnie, Autumn Anemone, Student Flower, Cape Basket, Girl’s Eye, Jewel Basket, Nettle, Lionmouth or Sun Hat are a great sight in any summer flower bed. Sunflowers are also excellent companions for dahlias. Their size and strong luminosity emphasise the colourful plant partners and at the same time protect the sensitive flower stems from wind damage.

The perennial sunflowers are particularly suitable as wind and sight protection. Bare walls, rubbish bins or compost heaps can be easily concealed with them. Around the terrace or the seat you can create an opaque frame with cleverly placed plants. The annual sunflower is also ideal for filling gaps in the bed. Small sunflower varieties find their place in the bed and borders in the foreground, but they also feel at home in pots. Individually standing, large specimens are a beautiful eye-catcher in the garden or on the terrace. Tip: So that sunflowers can defy wind and weather, you should use perennial holders or support the tall plants with sticks.

The best time to cut back sunflowers is in early spring close to the ground. The seeds are a pretty winter decoration and the seeds of the annual sunflower serve birds as fat and protein-rich winter food.

Sunflowers do not tolerate longer dry periods and should therefore be watered if necessary. So that the long stems do not bend, one supports above all high types with shrub supports. Long bamboo sticks have proven to be effective supports for tall varieties of annual sunflowers, and perennial sunflowers are divided every three to four years to keep them vital. This can be done in early spring or after flowering in autumn.

Perennial sunflowers are multiplied by division, annual sunflowers are sown in spring. If the seeds are to be harvested, it is advisable to draw a bag of gauze over a flower so that the birds do not have access to the seeds, which are popular as fodder.

Large varieties
The medium sized variety ‘Ring of Fire’ grows about 120 centimeters high and carries red-yellow flamed petals. It forms several flowers per stem and flowers until autumn. Florenza’ (120 centimeters) has purple red flowers with cream-coloured tips. Prado Red’ is a dark red cut flower variety with a height of about 150 centimeters. Sunrich Orange’ shows orange flowers around a dark brown centre on stems about 170 centimeters high. It is well suited as a cut flower.

Most perennial sunflowers also reach heights of up to 170 centimeters. Varieties such as ‘Monarch’, ‘Lemon Queen’ or ‘Soleil d’Or’ are long-lived, tall shrubs for warm, nutrient-rich locations. Their characteristics are the many, clearly smaller flowers and the bushy growth. The sunflower ‘Maximiliani’ reaches a stately size of up to 250 centimeters. Their 8 centimeter large flowers crowd closely together. Among the sunflower giants are the ‘Titan’ and ‘King Kong’ varieties, which grow up to four metres tall and have correspondingly large flowers.

Small varieties
Since the large sunflowers are too large for many gardens as ornamental plants, knee-high dwarf varieties are increasingly being cultivated. These can now be used in the bed design quite differently than one is used to it from sunflowers up to now. Varieties such as ‘Sunspot’ (yellow) or ‘Double Dandy’ (semi-double, red) are more stable than the meter-high sunflower varieties and are suitable for borders, tubs and even balcony boxes. The lemon yellow ‘Pacino Lemon’ flowers only eight weeks after sowing, ‘Irish Eyes’ shows yellow flowers with a green centre and some small varieties with lush foliage, such as ‘Big Smile’, look like low hedge plants or perennials planted side by side. The fluffy filled flowers of the dwarf sunflowers ‘Teddy Bear’ and ‘Yellow Peck’ present themselves particularly opulently. Attention: Since the plants are inhibited in their growth by an artificial hormone treatment and remain so small-growing, the seeds of the low varieties are not suitable for consumption!

Pollen free breeds
As with most composite flowers, the actual nectar-filled tubular flowers of the sunflower are located in the centre of the flower head. The conspicuous yellow or red circle of ray florets on the outside serves only to attract pollinating insects, especially bees and bumble bees.

New varieties, such as ‘Mezzulah’, ‘Double Dandy’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ or ‘Full Sun’ are now increasingly coming onto the market pollen-free because the lack of pollen prolongs the flowering time of the plants and makes them even more attractive as cut flowers. This makes the plants particularly suitable for allergy sufferers. According to the manufacturer, the absence of pollen does not affect nectar production for approaching insects. However, this is controversial in beekeeping circles, since the modern plants, primarily cultivated for oil production, already produce little nectar anyway. If you want to attract bees and bumble bees into the garden, you should use older varieties such as ‘Atlanta’, ‘Volgograd’ or ‘La Torre’.

Diseases and pests
Especially the young plants of the annual sunflowers are popular with snails. They should therefore be protected from food. Either they are pre-cultivated in pots placed out of reach of snails, or they are sprinkled with slug pellets. The leaves of the plants are also occasionally attacked by powdery mildew.


Don Burke

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide.  I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

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