Sunflowers bring such positive energy and welcome cheer to our gardens! If you want to brighten up your garden with pollinator-friendly flowers in summertime, April is the ideal time to sow sunflower seeds. There’s no need for any special equipment; sunflowers are hardy annuals that can be sown outdoors now. Seeds can be started off in containers of peat-free compost and planted out after they have developed their first true leaves. However, an easier option is to sow your seeds directly in the soil where you want your plants to flower. Avoid areas of compacted ground and sow seeds outside the rain shadow of buildings to ensure your plants are watered when it rains. Choose a bright and sunny position to grow sunflowers.
If you dream of growing magnificent towering specimens, select tall growing sunflower varieties like ‘Russian Giant’ or ‘Titan’ (both up to 3m (10ft)). Sunflower stems thicken significantly as the plants develop and mature; don’t be tempted to place your plants too closely together – follow the spacing directions on your seed pack.
My favourite sunflowers include ‘Valentine’ (1.5m (5ft)) sunflowers with their soft-lemon yellow petals and chocolate centres, and ‘Claret’ (1.5m (5ft)) with its dusky-burgundy-coloured flowers.
For containers, I adore Sunflower ‘Little Dorrit’ (60cm (2ft)) with its single-stemmed, full-sized flowers. Sunflower ‘Tiger Eye’ (60cm (2ft)) is a new multi-branching sunflower that produces numerous medium-sized flowers with fiery highlights that emphasise the flower’s disc florets. Pinch out the main flower bud when it appears to encourage more flowers to develop. ‘Sunray’ (50cm (1.6ft)) is a super-cute multi-branching sunflower with sunny-yellow petals and dark centres.
Our native dandelion is another sunny flower. Dandelions are a vital food source for bees, butterflies, moths, and pollinating insects. It’s a pity that dandelions are so maligned. Allowing dandelions to flower in our gardens will really help our insects. If you don’t want dandelions in your garden, please don’t spray your plants with weed killer, instead remove the plants by hand. Dandelions have long tap roots; to remove gently loosen the soil beneath the leaves, grasp the top of the root and pull!
Dandelion roots can be used as a coffee substitute. Young dandelion leaves, buds, and flowers are also edible and can be used to make wine.
Immature sunflower buds can be eaten; their flavour is akin to a more intensely flavoured globe artichoke.
Sunflower seeds are edible and provide a valuable food source for birds in autumn. Stagger your sunflower seed-sowings over the next couple of months to prolong the flowering period.
Dandelions are slug-proof and mature sunflowers are pretty robust; however, sunflower seedlings can be quickly devoured by slugs and snails. Check out the results of my Slug and Snail Trial for my top tips on protecting your plants.
For more gardening advice for April, please click here.
To see my Calendar of Bluebell Garden Openings and Bluebell Woods, please click here.
For my Calendar of Daffodil Garden Openings and Events, please click here.
To see my plant pages with photographs and advice to help you grow a wide range of edible and ornamental plants, including fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, plants for bees and butterflies, and more, please click here.
For my Calendar of Specialist Plant Fairs, please click here.