How to grow giant sunflowers

Come the summer and you can guarantee than most towns and villages will be holding some kind of a giant sunflower completion. Of course most people will stick a seed in the ground and hope for the best but if you consider yourself to be more of a 'competitive' parent (you know who you are) then is is a lot you can do to encourage those extra inch that will help annihilate the competition.

These are my golden rules to winning first prizes in any giant sunflower competition.

1. Choose the right site!

As hinted in the name, sunflowers need plenty of sun. It may seem obvious but the more sunlight you can have shining on your sunflower the more energy it can produce in its massive leaves and therefore power its growth to a gargantuan winning size.

2. Prepare the ground.

While light levels are extremely important, sunflowers will also need plenty of nutrients. Dig in a good bag-full of well-rotted farm manure a couple of months before planting, then mix in a handful or controlled release fertilizer, such as osmocote, when planting. Once growing strongly, alternate a weekly water-soluble feed with week one being seaweed extract and week two one with a high nitrogen feed such as miracle-grow.

3. Purchase the right seed.

If you want giant sunflowers then purchase the appropriate seeds. Most garden retailers will supply giant varieties such as 'Mongolian Giant' and 'Russian Giant', but purchasing competition standard seeds such as the 'Sunzilla' cultivars can give you the extra edge you need.

4. Start them early.

Sow sunflower seeds under protection in late February in deep long-tom pots. In warmer mediterranean regions you can get away with sowing outside at the end of March. Whatever your climate, do not plant sunflowers outside until the the threat of late frosts have passed.

5. Plant multiple seeds and then progressively thin out the weakest.

Sow five seeds for every one plant you wish to take to maturity. Once they get to 3-4 inches, thin out the weakest two. One they reach 2 ft tall thin out the weakest two again. No pain, no gain!

6. Water

Get the watering wrong and you can end up with early flowering, stunted losers. Water thoroughly once a week, and once the weather heats up this can be increased to twice a week or even  more if necessary.

7. Staking

Plant your giant sunflowers 2ft apart and put the stakes in at the time of planting. If you wait until you need stakes then you will damage the root system when the stakes are put in place. Avoid using stakes at your peril as you run the risk of your prized giant sunflowers being knocked over in strong winds.

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