How do your sunflowers grow?

People have been sharing photos of their potted-up sunflower seeds and seedlings with us. Here’s a glimpse of some of the Project Sunshine sunflower plants that are growing around the country.

Students at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School in Wellington have planted their sunflower seeds – look at the beautiful seed markers they’ve added to their pots:

Denis in Auckland has planted our seeds as a home-school project:

Anna’s seeds in Wellington have just poked through the soil:

Catherine’s little seedlings are bearing up in the Wellington wind and continuing to stand tall. There are 35 seedlings planted out the front of her house in total!

Philip has planted his little bebe fleurs de soleil in his Wellington garden:

If we hop down to the South Island for a moment, we can see that Heather’s plants in Christchurch are growing really well:

Brigitte in Nelson says “… today I prepared some pots for the sunflowers… one lot for Brian, one lot for Eileen, and one lot for this hill… for the start. The bbq table is covered with trays to organise my experiments, only a small area is left for breakfast.” Just look at that amazing view in the background:

Little Earth Montessori preschool in Kapiti sent us these three beautiful photos of their seedlings:

Finally – we’re keeping a close eye on an exciting ‘sunflower growing race’ on Twitter between two Project Sunshine friends. Rob lives in Wellington and his seedlings are just starting off. Meanwhile, Leon is in the South Island’s West Coast and has a flying start with his plants – he credits his home-made “secret recipe liquid seaweed. Looks a bit like really old motor oil…”

Leon’s seeds are actually from Kings Seeds, so we’ve just popped a pack of our special Giant Russian sunflower seeds in the post, so he can grow some of ours as well. 🙂

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What’s the buzz

Our Project Sunshine stall at the Riverbank Market in Lower Hutt last Saturday was great fun. Bella and Tāne managed our stall on a gorgeous sunny morning. Lots of people gave us donations for sunflower seedlings and seed packets, and for Common Unity heritage tomato plants – it was a lovely way to meet lots of new people!

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Look at all these envelopes full of sunflower seeds! These are about half the envelopes that we’ve posted out to people all around New Zealand this week.

We’ve received over 85 emails from people in NZ, from the top of the country in Northland, all the way down to Gore in the South Island. One of our favourite emails contained a fantastic bit of history about Epuni School:

Hi Kids at Epuni school,
I would love to have some sunflower seeds to plant in my garden.
When I was small I attended Epuni school, in the 1950’s, and recently I visited Lower Hutt and took a ‘trip down memory lane’, it was such a pleasure to stroll through the grounds of Epuni school and admire the marvellous garden out in the back field.
I remember I had James K Baxter for a teacher one year, his only foray into teaching, a wonderful and inspiring teacher, I remember when he left, telling my parents “he’s leaving to go to a poet factory” and their amusement… I hope the school continues to be a happy place of learning in the local community, well done on such a great garden.

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We received these colourful letters from Mrs Green and Waipu Primary School – they’re up the top of North Island too! It’s great to hear that their seeds have sprouted already, and we hope the plants are growing well. The seedlings must be getting quite tall by now?

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If you’d like some of our sunflower seeds and you know someone who works in the Xero office in Wellington, then get in touch with them! Our seed packets are available there for a donation, and are sitting on the Xero kitchen bench. (Thank you Simon for helping us out!)

Sunshine and the city

[Today’s story comes from Philip. He has never grown sunflowers before *and* he lives several stories up in an apartment in Wellington! He shares his growing adventures below.]

The colourful envelope of sunflower seeds from Project Sunshine that arrived in my letterbox one blustery spring day brought with it the promise of summer. This was going to be like the pockets of cheery daffodils that had popped up on my street, but bigger and better. The next thing I needed was a bit of germination. Can’t be that hard, right?

I decided to try little peat pots inside my apartment, along with some rich seedling mix and my trusty spray bottle to keep them damp but not too wet. That’s when the performance anxiety started to kick in. After a few days my neighbour was already asking if the seeds had sprouted. Not yet, I said awkwardly. What say they didn’t? Why would they? Should I be doing it outside and not six floors up in an apartment building? After a week of germination angst I was rewarded with the first sprouts. They were the best and most beautiful sunflower shoots ever.

Seedlings in peat pots

Now most of the seeds I’ve planted have come up. A wise sunflower-growing friend suggested I get them to about 20 cms before planting them out. This will give them a better chance against greedy insects that love nothing more than to dine on tender sunflower shoots. At the rate they’re growing I might be planting them at Labour Weekend. I’ve scoped a few likely spots in the garden outside my building. Perhaps in among the daisies, or by the block wall out front which gets great sun. Or maybe on the bank by the tagged garages next door?

Garden

Block wall

Garages

Plant straight in the ground? Or in a pot?

You have your packet of beautiful Giant Russian sunflower seeds in your hand. Do you plant them straight in the ground, or should you first sow some seeds in pots?

At Project Sunshine, we do both planting methods, to make sure that we get the best sunflowery results!

Sowing directly in the ground
It’s pretty easy to sow your seeds directly in the ground. Before you plant, you need to make sure you’ve picked a good spot: sunflowers need at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. Once you’ve chosen a good spot, use a trowel and dig a small hole about 3cm deep, and then drop in a seed. Cover the hole again with a blanket of soil and then give it a drink of water.

Sunflowers are like people: they like to be in families and planted close together. Plant your seeds about 20cm apart. Water your seeds regularly, to make sure they don’t dry out – if the soil is kept damp, they should germinate in about 5-10 days.

Something else to bear in mind is that slugs and snails love to nibble on brand new sunflower leaves and stalks, and can quickly wipe out baby sunflower seedlings. To keep snails and slugs at bay you can place snail bait around your seeds (make sure you keep it well away from little people and pets) – otherwise you can always go out at night with a bucket and torch collect any snails that look like they’re heading towards your precious seedlings.

Planting seeds in pots
To ensure a good sunflower harvest, it is also a good idea to plant some seeds into pots. The seedlings can be transferred into the ground later on when they reach about 20cm high. There are several different pots you can choose to use and we’ve listed a few different examples below to give you an idea of the sorts of pots/containers to use. Just make sure that whatever pot you do use is fairly deep, as sunflowers send out a deep tap root. Something like an egg carton would be too shallow, for example, so go for a pot/container that has enough room to allow the sunflower to send down a good, strong root.

Make sure you use potting mix or seed-raising mix as your soil. The soil in pots needs to be light and airy for the plants to grow well. Dirt straight from the garden is too heavy and will clump down in pots. You can buy potting mix fairly cheaply from supermarkets and hardware stores. You can always make your own if you’re interested – here’s a good potting mix recipe.

Plastic pots

Plastic pots are great to use for sowing seeds – and you can use them again and again. Make sure they are nice and clean on the inside before filling them with potting mix. If you have bigger pots then you can sow a couple of seeds to each one. When the plants are big enough (about 20cm high), you’ll need to gently lift them and all of the soil out of the pots, and then plant them in the ground (Don’t plant your plastic pot in the ground!)

Take-away coffee cups

Take-away coffee cups are the perfect size for growing sunflower seedlings. Make sure your coffee cup is nice and clean, and make a small hole in the bottom for drainage (you don’t want your little pot to stay too damp, otherwise the roots will get mouldy). Then fill it with potting mix or seed-raising mix and add your seeds.

If you have a ‘bio’ or ‘eco-friendly’ coffee cup, which is designed to completely break down, then you can plant it straight into the ground when the plant is big enough, as the cardboard will disintegrate and the roots will push through the cardboard. Only do this if your coffee cup is an eco-friendly one though, as many take-away coffee cups have plastic in them, which will not break down in soil.

Peat pots
Peat pots

You can buy peat pots from gardening/hardware stores. I bought 16 from Mitre 10 for $8.00. They’re great because once your seedling is big enough, you can plant it straight in the ground along with the pot. Just make sure you don’t let the soil in them dry out.

Toilet rolls

Toilet rolls are also an inexpensive type of ‘seed starter’. By cutting four slots in a toilet roll, you can fold the flaps on the bottom – as you can see in the photo above. When you have enough toilet rolls, you can place them inside a plastic container, like an icecream container, and then fill each one with potting mix.

Be careful not to over-water the toilet roll planters, as they can get mouldy if they get too wet (update: half the ones I just planted got very mouldy on the outside, so great care needs to be taken when watering them). Because the rolls are made of cardboard, they can also be planted directly into the ground when the plants are big enough as the cardboard will quickly break down.

Folded newspaper containers

You can also make your own inexpensive seed starting containers by folding sheets of newspaper. By googling ‘how to make newspaper seedling pots’, you can find lots of different folding methods. We quite like the method shown in the youtube video below, as it is simple – all you need is a sheet of newspaper and a tall glass (you might need an adult to help you if you’re younger).

When the seedlings are big enough, the newspaper container can also be planted directly into the ground with the seedling, as the newspaper will break down quickly in the soil.

Some sunflower seed growing tips & tricks

In Spring, plant your sunflower seeds into pots filled with potting mix. We ask that you do this around the week of Halloween (which is October 31st) so that our flowers bloom around New Zealand all at the same time. A good way to plant them is to press your forefinger into the soil, and then drop the seed into the hole that it leaves – not too shallow and not too deep. Then sprinkle a light blanket of potting mix overtop.

Once potted, keep your seeds damp. Don’t let them dry out or they won’t germinate. They will pop up out of the soil in about 10 days if they are keep warm and damp. Keep watering and start feeding them some organic fertiliser if you want to – sunflowers love food and this great start to life will ensure big, strong plants.

When the seedlings are about 20cm tall, you can take them out of the pots and plant them in the ground. Ask your friends, family or school to get involved as this is can be a fun community event.

If you want to plant the flowers down your street, it’s a really good idea to knock on doors and tell people why you are doing it – it’s a great way to say hi to your community! We’ve previously done flyer drops to mailboxes beforehand to let locals know we are coming.

Your sunflower plants will need a thick layer of compost and mulch to keep them from drying out. They may need to be staked as wind is not kind to them. It is also important to keep up frequent watering, so that after about 12 weeks you can see the magnificent sight of your sunflowers beginning to peep open.

When the sunflowers have finished flowering, they will bow their heads and look tired. They bow their heads to protect their seed from the wind. As you watch the seed slowly turn brown over the weeks, you will notice the birds getting interested in them too! It is then time to cut the heads and store them some place very dry so that they can totally dry out, before you store them away for next year. 

Remember to leave some for the birds to eat! 

And please remember to send us photos of your beautiful sunflowers to projectsunshineaotearoa(at)gmail(dot)com, or post them on our Facebook page, for everyone to enjoy.