All the Secrets to Growing Great Sunflowers for Cutting

Autumn Beauty and Red Sun

Autumn Beauty and Red Sun

Want to grow show-quality sunflowers in your own garden that can be cut for bouquets?   I grew flowers for cutting for many years at Rainwater Farm on Orcas Island.  Now I take these skills and use them in my own garden here at Highland Garden House Bed and Breakfast.

Each flower has it’s own growing and cutting ‘habit.’  But the ‘after cut’ conditioning care is the same for most.


Here are all the secrets:

Choose a ‘cutting’ cultivar.  I like ‘Autumn Beauty‘ or ‘Red Sun.’  ‘Autumn Beauty’ is a mix of rustic shades, all the same habit.

Sow 2-3 seeds in 4″ pots about May 1.  They grow really fast, so you want to have transplants ready after your weather and soil is warm.  Grow in a sunny, warm spot.

Harden off your plants for a week before transplanting at least 16″ apart.  Don’t take the plants apart if there are 2 in a pot, plant them just as they grew in the pot.  Plan on supporting your sunflowers at the 3 ft and 6 ft levels.  I use rebar stakes or steel fence posts with twine.  They are not in a row as much as a block, surrounded by the stakes and twine around and criss-crossed between the stakes.  Too much support is better than too little.  They hold each other up or collude to make each other fall down.  The former is preferred.

Moderate water is needed for the first half of their lives.

Sunflower block

Sunflower block

The first secret to getting up to 20 blooms from each plant is cultivar choice, see above, the second secret is to pinch the very top bud when it starts to show as the dominant blossom.  Pinch it out!  Yeah, this may be painful to do, but is worth it in the long run.  You will potentially get a blossom at each and every leaf joint. (Snapdragons are treated this way, too.) To the left is a photo of my block of sunflowers for cutting.  Ladder top step is 6 ft. above the ground.  See all the blooms and buds up the stems?

Leaf joints

Leaf joints

Now you just wait until the blooms start to show.  Cut when just fully open.  The petals will all have all unfurled and surround the center. Cut to the leaf, but leave the leaf on the main stalk.  The longer you wait the more you will find that the cut blooms do not last as long.  The photo to the left shows the leaf joints with a new stem arising at each leaf.



The cutting and conditioning secrets:

Always cut in the mornings, at least before noon.

Cut as long as the stem will allow, without sacrificing unopened buds.  (A diagonal cut is preferred by some with the theory that it leaves a larger cut stem area to suck up water.) You will be shortening the stem a little in the next steps.  Put immediately into WARM water.  Warm water is ‘wetter’ that cold water and the stem can draw up this water easier.  Your container should allow for the cuts to be put in upright and in the water all the way up the stems; to their necks.  This step is to allow the cut stem to drink up as much water as possible through the cut end and along the submerged stem.

Place this ‘conditioning’ container of stems in the coolest place you have.  Basement, unheated room, etc.  Leave the container in this cool place at least 24 hours.  Sunflowers will drink a lot of water the first few days after cutting.

Now you have conditioned stems that are full of water.  Get your other show vases out, fill with warm water and recut a bit off each stem end as you arrange.  Always use warm water.  Strip off leaves that will be under the water. Some growers add flower preservative or sugar, I don’t.  It just contributes to the breakdown of the vase water and must be changed more often.  Pee-eww!  Clean the vase and change the water when it turns cloudy or murky.  Make a new cut on the stem end each time.

Happy gardening!

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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One Response to All the Secrets to Growing Great Sunflowers for Cutting

  1. Thanks for the detailed post and great pics, Dennis. I can testify to the beauty and longevity of your cut flower bouquets!

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