Teddy bear (Helianthus annuus) sunflower is a fast-growing annual plant. They are not only joyful to look at, but they are also delicious. Some people snack on their seeds. Their oils are extracted for culinary purposes.
This flower makes an excellent option for your flower garden. It grows easily and is easy to maintain. The plant produces fluffy-double flowers in summer, which can grow up to 12 cm wide. The texture of the teddy bear sunflower is quite impressive, such that you can pet the petals. It’s endowed with beautiful, ovate leaves.
The flower heads are attractive to birds, bees, and butterflies. The teddy bear sunflower makes stunning cut flowers. But, these flowers prefer full sun and enjoy moist, fertile, soils. Although you need to expose the sunflower to full sun, ensure you protect them from the wind as well.
Thankfully, you don’t have to admire these flowers from the grocery or florist’s section. You can easily grow them in your garden.
A Brief History
This ancient bloom is native to Central America. But there is evidence of sunflower gardening in Mexico dating back to 2600 BC.
It is believed Native Americans brought teddy bear sunflowers to the southern parts of the US. The Native Americans used sunflowers in various ways. Some of the applications included medicinal salves, bread, and paints.
Sunflowers got introduced in Europe around the 1500s, with a spark of broad usage. More so, leaves and stems have wide applications of use. Stems are used in producing paper goods, while leaves can feed cattle.
Vincent van Gogh has been the famous representation of teddy bear sunflowers.
Russia and Ukraine produce half of the world’s supply, while Turkey, Spain, China, Argentina, and Hungary grow most of the remaining supply.
Growing Teddy Bear Sunflowers
Teddy bear sunflowers are heliotropic, meaning the blooms follow the sun when growing. Here are simple steps for growing them.
Teddy bear sunflowers are easy to grow. And if you want to have a fun gardening project with and for your kids, growing Helianthus annuus is the way to go. These flowers are not picky about the surrounding environment.
You can propagate them from transplant seedlings or seeds. The most crucial consideration is to ensure you expose the flowers to full sunlight. The soil should be well-drained, to ensure the seedlings thrive.
2. Growing from Seeds
Teddy bear sunflowers thrive best when sowed directly into the garden or yard. It gives them ample space to develop taproots that send them deep down. The flowers are annuals, suitable to be grown anywhere, as long as they don’t get frozen.
It’s best to select a place with at least 6-8 hours of sunlight exposure. The sunflowers might thrive in less ideal conditions, but they might not grow as strong and big.
Planting seedlings is a hassle-free task. You only dig a shallow trench about one-inch deep and place the seeds inside. Plant the seeds 2-4 inches apart for small flower heads and 6-8 inches apart for larger heads. Keep distance in mind while planting!
After putting seeds in the trench, cover them shallowly and water thoroughly. Ensure you keep them moist until they germinate, which takes about ten days. When the first set of leaves sprout, pluck any stray seedlings growing too close together.
And since the sprouts are edible, don’t toss extra seeds into the trash. Instead, toss them into your salad. You can also grow teddy bear sunflower seeds indoors. And for this, start few weeks before the last frost.
If potted plants grow too big in a small space, they might not thrive when transferred to an outdoor space.
3. Transporting Seedlings
If you have grown your own or get seedlings from the store, you can transfer them to your outdoor garden. Once again, ensure you plant them in a location that has sunlight for at least 6 hours. Dig a hole carefully, remove your plant from the starter tray, and transfer the plant into the hole.
Space the holes about 2-12 inches apart. You can check the seed package for more instructions. If you started seed in biodegradable peat pots, you can place pots directly into the soil.
Teddy bear sunflowers love warmth, making them handle high temperatures pretty well. Water sunflowers at least once a week to keep blooms strong and happy.
Stick your finger in the soil to check moisture. If it feels wet, then your plants are well watered. If the wind becomes an issue as flowers grow taller and large, you can stake them. However, you can avoid this issue by planting the flowers close to the fence for support.
Teddy bear sunflower may not need too much fertilizer, but a little can go a long way. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, while phosphorus and potassium support bigger and vibrant blooms.
5. Give Sunflowers Time to Grow
Teddy bear sunflowers may take long to bloom, just like other larger relatives. The plants are short in stature but may take a more extended period to produce the gorgeous bloom. Typically, it takes about 75 days.
Cutting blooms regularly encourage the stems to produce vibrant flowers the entire season.
How to Revive Sunflowers That Won’t Bloom
It can be disappointing when your sunflowers don’t bloom. However, there are reasons why your teddy bear sunflower won’t thrive. Although there are solutions, sometimes the best decision is to start over.
Some reasons that may make your sunflower fail to bloom includes:
- Not Enough Time to Grow
You might be watering your plants, and they tend to look tall. But this doesn’t mean it’s time to bloom. Different varieties take different times to bloom. Generally, give your plant at least 100 days to bloom.
If your area has a short growing season, you might need to cover plants with row covers. Protect the plants in the chilly months until they flower. Even some dwarf varieties may take 85 days to bloom.
- Not Enough Sun
Generally, sunflowers love sunlight. They grow best when exposed to the sun for about 6-8 hours per day. The flowers may emerge from the ground under the shade and attain some height, but they won’t grow strong.
Less than six hours could result in no blooms. When planting your flowers, choose a location with enough light. The larger varieties need lots of sun to produce flower heads. However, high winds can make them topple before blooming.
Consider growing sunflowers where they can get enough sunlight. And if they grow too tall, you can stake them to prevent the plants from falling.
Deer can cause cosmetic damages to your garden. These cuties can be a reason your teddy bear sunflowers do not bloom. They happily eat your flower’s heads, preventing the plant from blooming.
So, if deer are common in your location, you can keep them off with a wire barrier
Teddy bear sunflowers are favorite among birds, and some specific bugs. However, some insect pests can keep your flowers from blooming.
For instance, sunflower moths are notoriously known for destroying sunflowers. The larvae eat the tissues from flower heads, and they also promote Rhizopus fungi. These fungi make the flower heads rot before or during blooming.
Sunflowers are a source of food for wildlife and humans as well. Therefore, allowing nature to take its course is the best way to deal with moths. Flies and wasps tend to keep moths at bay too.
- Excess Nitrogen
Nitrogen plays a vital role in encouraging sunflowers to grow strong. However, too much of it might halt the blooming process. A study shows that side-dressing your sunflowers with nitrogen can speed growth.
If you apply too much nitrogen or live in an area with nitrogen-rich soil, it may be best to start over. Only sow the seeds and replant the fast-growing variety.
These tips can help bring the bloom back. If none is successful, you may be required to start over. This time, ensure you choose the right seeds, expose the flowers to the sun, and water them regularly.
Managing Diseases and Pests
Growing teddy bear sunflowers comes with its challenges. There are various creepy-crawlies and diseases to watch out for.
- Birds and Squirrels
Both of these adore sunflowers! But they can mess with your flowers, making you lose a bounty harvest. Cover the flower heads with a screen or cheesecloth once the seeds develop. Or you can do what most growers do; let the bright blooms as natural squirrel and bird feeders.
Sunflowers get attached by a variety of cutworm species. The dingy cutworm is the biggest culprit. These moth larvae eat the foliage and create holes in the young leaves. AS a result, the young plants wither and eventually die.
Handpick any larvae you find nearby and get rid of them. More so, you can apply diatomaceous earth to get rid of cutworms.
- Sunflower Beetles
The tiny beetles like to eat through the foliage and skeletonize the entire flower. Uses neem oil or insecticidal soap to get rid of these insects.
- Alternaria Blight
When alternaria bright attack your plant, it suddenly specks with yellow-ringed black spots. The stems may also develop splotches that make them look like an overripe banana. You can avoid this infection if you refrain from overhead watering.
When the plant gets infected, spray recommended fungicide.
- Head Rot
Black spots on the back of the flower heads are the initial signs of head rot. Although there is no ideal control, you can keep moths under control.
Sunflowers can get various types of rust infection, such as red, yellow, and white rust. Rust infection causes yellow, whitish, or orange spots on leaves or stems.
Rust infection is controllable using a copper-based fungicide.
- White Mold
White mold is a notorious sunflower disease caused by the fungal pathogen. The disease normally hits the roots, making the plant wither. You can only pull and destroy the affected sunflowers to stop the spread.
How to Harvest Teddy Bear Sunflowers
Sunflowers are endowed with vibrant, yellow blooms that brighten your garden. Unshelled sunflower seeds can keep you busy when on a long trip. Your plant might take between 80 and 140 days to mature.
The flowers start hanging their heads, and petals turn brown. At this stage, the plants wither and look dead and dried. They give you’re a flower head packed with ripe seeds. The center disk has hundreds of minute inflorescences.
You’ll know your sunflower is ready for harvest when kernels turn yellowish-brown. The tiny petals will dry out, and you can choose to cut the heads before they dry out completely.
But you should not let seeds dry thoroughly while still in the garden. Birds and squirrels will eat them and drop the seeds on the ground. This means you’ll have volunteer sunflowers in the coming season.
Harvesting kernels helps you control where future sunflowers get planted. Cut the flower heads with a pair of pruning shears or a sharp knife.
Tie about three stems and hang them with their heads facing down. Ensure you hang them in a partially sunny, well-ventilated area. Alternatively, you can let the heads dry in the garden. But you’ll have to keep a close check until the heads turn entirely brown or yellow.
Then tie a paper bag around the heads to prevent birds from eating your seeds.
With a knife or your hands, gently scrape off the dried petals. Use your thumbs to rub seeds off the head into a container or basket. Alternatively, take two ripe flower heads and rub them together into the container.
The Bottom Line
Teddy bear sunflowers are a treat to grow. You can eat their sumptuous seeds or gaze at their magnificent beauty. These flowers are easy to grow and maintain and a must-have for your flower beds. Enjoy the beauty of these plants and have fun trying different dishes!