How to grow tall sunflowers (win free seeds and organic food)

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Abel and Cole is currently giving away free sunflower seeds, with an added prize of organic food goodies for the person who grows the tallest sunflower from their packet of seeds.

To improve your chances of winning, Groweatgift presents top ten tips for growing tall sunflowers.

1 As the name suggests, sunflowers like the sun rather a lot. As such, you shouldn’t plant the seeds outside until it’s nice and sunny, and all risk of frost has passed. However, as a general rule I find plants grown from seed outside tend to be hardier than those started off inside – something about being brought up in priveleged surroundings when they’re tiny tends to make them much more demanding when they initially get out into the big bad world. It should be fairly safe outside weather-wise now, at least in the south of England but use your common sense and check the weather forecast to be on the safe side.

2 Positioning your sunflowers in the sun is also important – they ideally need 6-8 hours of direct sunshine per day. However, you don’t want them needing watering multiple times per day (something that’s very possible at this time of year – and should also be considered for anything that you have in hanging baskets or planters. If you’re limited on time or are worried you might forget to water your plants, grow them in the biggest container possible if you don’t have access to a garden.)

3 Water them lots. And lots. You need to make sure that the water reaches right to the roots and doesn’t just sit on the surface of the earth, evaporating away.

4 Give them space #1. Although sunflowers are very friendly flowers to humans, they are a little greedy around other flowers. As such, give them room to pig out on the nutrients in the soil without competition from other flowers – and keep the area grass free and weeded so the grass/weeds don’t get the sunflower’s dinner either. Make sure they’ve got lots of compost-rich soil so they can enjoy a gourmet feast. Nitrogen-rich soil is particularly good for them, so if you grew peas last year, and the patch you grew them in is sunny enough, plant your sunflower seeds there as pea roots help boost nitrogen levels in soil.

5 Give them space #2: Once you’ve planted your sunflowers, don’t move them unless it’s unavoidable (another reason why it’s best to start them off outside if at all possible.)

6 Give them support. Once they’re tall enough to need a stake, don’t leave them flapping about as they’ll put their energy into staying upright rather than growing (OK, this may not quite be the reason why you should stake them, but thinking about it in this way helps me remember to do it.) Use canes dug deep into the ground as sunflowers can get quite weighty when they’re fully-developed.

7 Pay attention to grooming: As with any plants, removing dead leaves will ensure they put all their energy into the living ones.

8 Keep off the chemicals. Sunflowers may like a drink but pesticides and other chemicals do them no favours at all, so keep them well away from any areas of the garden you’ve treated.

9 Avoid wind: For obvious reasons, sunflowers don’t like being blown around the place so make sure they’re in a protected space.

10 Dig deep: Sunflower roots can grow up to four feet underneath the soil.

Of course, choosing the right sunflower seeds helps too. If you’re not entering the competition (the site doesn’t state what kind of sunflower seeds Abel and Cole is giving away) then Moonwalker and Russian Giant are good seeds to look out for – and Sunzilla can get up to 16 feet high (though they’re harder to get hold of in the UK)! But no cheating and swapping your seeds for more competitive ones if you enter. The flower heads do vary so you’ll only get caught out as a rotten cheater.

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