Nothing sends Christmas love more than a gift you’ve grown yourself. And nothing is more appreciated than a pot of golden dwarf sunflowers set off by bright, healthy green leaves. Just like their big cousins, dwarf sunflowers have large blooms and depending on the variety, they may have more than one flower to a stem. Dwarf sunflowers typically take around 8-10 weeks to flower so plan you seed sowing so that your gift will be given when buds are fat and just beginning to open.
Sunflower Incredible Dwarf grows to just 45cm high and sports a traditional sunflower bloom with a golden brown centre and short yellow petals. Sunflower Teddy Bear has a super-sturdy stem and a huge, fully double, pompom-style bloom that grows to 13cm across.
You want your Christmas gifts to be sensational so here’s how to pamper your little sunflowers right from the start. Sow the sunflower seeds into takeaway coffee-cup-sized containers (one seed to a container) filled with good quality seed raising mix (ensure each container has a drainage hole in its base). Place the containers indoors on a sunny window ledge and keep the seed raising mix damp but not wet. As soon as the seedlings germinate, move them outdoors but keep them protected from the weather (a greenhouse or cloche is ideal for this). Once the seedlings are 4-5cm high, it’s time to transplant them.
Fill a large planter (at least 20cm high and 30cm wide) with commercial potting mix (don’t use soil regular from your garden as it will be too compact). Push a bamboo support down through the middle of the potting mix until it reaches the base of the pot. Transplant three seedlings at equal distances around the support. Scatter slug and snail bait around the seedlings.
To keep your seedlings growing straight and strong, and in pristine condition, feed them fortnightly, for the first month, with liquid plant food (use a commercial mix or make your own by soaking well-rotted animal manure and seaweed in water). Keep a daily bug check on the plants, and treat if necessary. As the plants grow, turn the planter daily so that all the seedlings have equal access to the light (this will help keep them at even heights). Tie the plants (individually) to the bamboo support to prevent them collapsing.
Giving your gift
When it’s time to give your gift, tie a bright yellow ribbon around the container. If the buds on the plants are not yet open, make a sunflower tag by cutting a sunflower photo from a magazine or from the packet the sunflower seeds came from. Glue it to a piece of card and attach it to a skewer which can be pushed into the soil close to the plants.
If you want to be eco-conscious, head to your recycling centre for pre-loved planters which will scrub up like new, or metal containers that can be painted in bright enamels (don’t forget to make drainage holes in the base).
There is nothing to be gained by filling the base of your planter with pebbles. Contrary to popular belief, pebbles will not improve drainage. However, they will take up space in the planter which could otherwise hold soil and nutrients.
Keep spare seedlings on hand. If one of your trio of sunflowers succumbs to disease, you can quickly replace it.