In the United Kingdom sunflowers are generally not seen as anything other than a large and perhaps ‘clumsy’ flower, however their popularity has seen them travel the globe and they are now available in many different sizes and colour forms.
Although the most common forms that come to mind are the tall, striking, golden/ yellow varieties, there are now many ‘dwarf’, multi-flowered forms which are themselves becoming increasingly popular, in particular the gorgeous ‘Black Magic’ and the magnificent Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’
Sunflower seeds are best grown outdoors sown directly into a prepared seed bed. In truth, they will germinate with very little help, but to get the best out of them they will need to be planted into a nutrient rich soil, so add plenty of well rotted farm manure to the ground a few weeks prior to sowing, digging it in deeply. Try to avoid planting into light sandy soils – especially for the taller specimens – as they can be prone to blowing over in strong winds. After planting, it’s worth covering the newly sown seed with some kind of an open mesh, as birds, squirrels and other animals are more than capable of digging them up for a quick and easy meal. Depending upon your average day temperatures you can expect to see your germinating seedlings to appear anytime between 14 and 21 days
When planting them in the garden perhaps the most important thing to be aware off is the plant's sensitivity to light and its ability to ‘track’ the sun as it travels across the sky. It is this ability that the plant has to do this – and of course its resemblance to the sun and its rays - which is why in English speaking cultures it has been given the name the sunflower. With this in mind make sure that you plant your sunflower seed in that part of the garden that is facing the sun, otherwise you will spend that year looking at the back of those outrageous flower heads instead of being able to get the full frontal effect- as it were!
Experience has shown that sunflowers can tolerate a certain amount of shade such as an east facing border, however they will grow their best in full sun.