Sunflowers, from the small to the tall, worship their namesake and bring joy to people of all ages. There are fifty species of sunflower, native to the United States. Ranging in color from the brightest yellow to the deepest red, sunflowers carry such romantic names as "Irish Eyes" and "Velvet Queen". Whether used to create a summer hideaway for children or cut for vibrant arrangements, sunflowers are easy to grow, maintain and use to liven up the dullest of landscapes. Here are some things you need to know about caring for sunflowers.
Start caring for your sunflowers before you ever plant the first seed. Pick a location with well-drained soil and full access to the sun. While sunflowers can grow in a variety of soil conditions, you will want the best-prepared soil in order to help your sunflowers thrive and grow to their full potential. Add compost, manure and other organic matter to the soil before planting seeds, and also mix in some sand to increase drainage.
Give your sunflowers the space they need to grow. When planting, space seeds 12 inches apart, at the very least. You might also want to plant stakes at this point, to avoid damaging roots after the sunflowers are in full growing mode. Keep in mind, sunflowers have a one track mind--they think about sun, sun and more sun. They follow the sun's path, and as such generally grow up to face the east, no matter where they are planted. So, if you're planting location is facing west, you'll be seeing the backsides of your sunflowers much of the time.
Forget shade. Sunflowers abhor the shade, and will not thrive when located anywhere near it. They need the sunlight and will seek it out, thus growing long, weak stems that will eventually fall to the ground.
Fertilize sunflowers, especially those in poor soil, with time-release granular fertilizer to encourage fuller growth. To promote a larger seedhead, add some extra fertilizer when the seedhead begins developing.
Water sunflowers according to soil conditions. For the 20-day period before and after flowering, water sunflowers regularly. For soil that contains lots of organic matter and nutrients, you will only need to water when it has not rained for more than a week. For sunflowers planted in poor soil, water several times a week.
Protect sunflowers with mulch, grass clippings, straw and peat moss. Do not use peat moss alone, however, as it may solidify and repel water. To protect seedheads from birds and squirrels, cover flowers when they start to droop with polyspun garden fleece or fine netting. Watch for signs of fungal diseases such as rust or downey mildew. Use a fungicide to protect and kill off these diseases in the early stages. For severely damaged flowers, you will need to remove and destroy them immediately to prevent spread of the disease.