How to grow sunflowers
My one annual essential is the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). I say ir’s one for my kids, but I enjoy growing these garden giants as much, if not more, than they do. Though sunflowers can be sown direct in the ground, for best results (and to protect against slugs), I grow them in pota for planting out when 10-15cm tall. My favourites are the red varieties, such as ‘Velvet Queen’, Chianti, Black Magic, and Red sun.
For a clear, buttery yellow, I’d recommend Helianthus annuus ‘Valentine’.
- Fill small flowerpots (7.5cm are ideal), or multi large-celled seed trays with seed compost, and press down gently with our fingertips. Water and allow to drain.
- Plant a sunflower seed 1 cm below the surface of the compost into each pot or cell and cover. Leave in a cool, bright place and keep well watered.
- When the seedlings are 10-15 cm tall, remove the pot and plant into a sunny spot in the garden. Keep them well-watered and fed, and stake them if necessary.
Jobs for May
- After the risk for frosts has passed, plant hanging baskets of summer-flowering annuals.
- Prune lavender hard back.
- Plant summer-flowering bulbs.
- Plant out border gaps with harbaceous perennials and grasses.
- Prune out winter-damaged, dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs.
- Feed, re-seed and/or topdress your lawn after giving it its first cut.
- Start sowing vegetable seed.
- Feed borders with slow-release fertiliser.
- Check for nesting birds, then trim hedges.
- Lift and divide congested clumps of spring-flowering bulbs.
- Start earthing up potatoes and plant any that aren’t in the ground yet.
- Mulch your borders.
- Start staking floppy perennials.
Plant it now….May
- French bean ‘Purple Queen’ : Climbing beans with purple flowers giving rise to glossy dark purple pods (which go green when cooked). Pretty enough for the flower border.
- Pelargonium tomentosum : Lush, velvety, peppermint-scented edible leaves, and delicate white blooms — perfect for a windowbox or patio pot.
- Honesty Lunaria annua : Sow this biennial for fragrant purple and white flowers next spring. The papery ‘ silver dollar’ seed heads are produced later in the year.
Your tip : When I have a busy day of gardening ahead, I make a flask of tea or coffee and take it out into the garden with me to save time.