Grow Sunflowers in Pots for Beautiful Blooms Even in the Smallest of Spaces

published Aug 31, 2023
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Close-up look at a sunflower bloom in a a terracotta pot
Credit: Yada's Room/Shutterstock

Sunflowers are one of the most recognizable flowers, and they’ve remained a garden staple for centuries. You probably think of sunflowers as being massive plants with huge blooms, and that’s certainly true. But if you live in a small home or have limited outdoor space, you should also know that it’s very possible to grow sunflowers in pots.

Quick Overview

Can you grow sunflowers in pots?

Yes! Look for dwarf varieties, which are smaller in both height and spread than standard varieties. When you plant, make sure to choose a high-quality potting mix and make sure seedlings aren’t crowded.

Years of breeding have created sunflower varieties that are smaller than their traditional counterparts, with less height and less spread. These varieties, called “dwarf varieties,” are much more manageable for planting in containers, whether inside or outside.

Danny Cox, vice president of horticulture at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, says that sunflowers are great beginner-friendly plant. “Some of my first experiences with gardening were with my mother, who loved to grow sunflowers in our front yard in southwest Florida,” he says. When Cox found his own passion for gardening, one of his first plantings was a sunflower seed in a tiny, 3-inch terracotta pot, where it thrived.

Sunflowers are easy to work with and have a high success rate for amateurs, which is why, as a professional, Cox now suggests them as a good starter plant.

Whether you’re trying to brighten up a balcony garden, add color to a patio, or test your cultivation skills, a sunflower’s stately blossoms can add freshness to a space while giving confidence to beginners. So, can you grow sunflowers in pots? The answer is yes, and here, experts divulge how.

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What varieties of sunflowers grow best in pots?

Sunflowers stand relatively tall, so if you aim to keep them indoors or in a small pot, start by picking a seed variety that can handle those constraints. “For potted sunflowers, I would select a dwarf variety,” says Austin Graf, who gives planting advice as Buzzed Blooms on Instagram. For potting, Graf suggests these varieties:

  • Teddy Bear, which has blooms with a fuzzy texture and grows only 2 to 4 feet tall
  • Firecracker, which has bi-color red and gold petals and grows about 30 inches tall
  • Big Smile, which has bright yellow petals and grows about 15 inches tall in containers

Anna Ohler, the owner of Bright Lane Gardens plant nursery in Michigan, agrees that seed variety is key, especially because some sunflowers grow long and have an extensive root mass. “Many sunflowers can reach towering heights of over 6 feet, which makes these varieties a poor choice for growing indoors or in pots,” says Ohler. These are her top picks:

  • Little Becka, which has deep orange petals with yellow tips and grows to about 3 feet tall
  • Choco Sun, which has yellow petals and a brown center and grows to about 12 inches
  • Elf, which grows to a height of 14 inches to 16 inches

What size pot do you need for sunflowers?

Once you select the ideal seeds, choosing the right pot will also set the plant up for success, and size matters. The taller the sunflower is projected to grow, the larger the pot size you need. 

Seasoned horticulturist Tony O’Neill says sowing seeds in the container you intend to keep the adult sunflower plant is advisable. “Starting sunflowers directly in the pot is typically the best approach,” he says. Because of their taproot system — they have one big root that all the smaller roots branch off of — sunflowers don’t tolerate transplanting well, so allow the plant to germinate and mature in the same container. 

One of Cox’s favorite things about sunflowers is that they are pretty flexible regarding the construction of the pot itself. “Like many other plants, sunflowers will appreciate a container that has good drainage and will not blow over in the wind,” he says.

Vessels such as whiskey barrels, terracotta containers, and plastic decorative pots are all suitable for growing sunflowers.

Credit: Nikolett Emmert/Shutterstock

How do you plant sunflower seeds in a pot?

Sunflowers proliferate, which can tax soil, so using a quality potting mix is vital. “Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so plant them in a really rich balanced potting mix,” says Graf.

Cox suggests soil containing perlite to ensure adequate drainage, but proper fertilization is also necessary. “Consider mixing in an organic-based fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer if the product does not already say it has fertilizer in it,” Cox says. From there, follow these instructions:

1. Sow seeds.

Sow your seeds 1 to 2 inches deep in your preferred pot. If you choose to plant more than one seed, space them 3 inches apart.

2. Cover with soil.

Cover seeds with your high-quality potting mix.

3. Water regularly.

Water your seeds daily, keeping the soil moist until the seeds germinate. That will take about seven days.

4. Later, thin seedlings.

Once the seeds germinate, pull out the weaker seedlings so that stronger ones can grow into mature sunflowers.

How much water and sunlight do sunflowers need?

Once your sunflowers grow and mature, you’ll finally reap the benefits of having gorgeous golden blooms. If you place them outside while it’s still warm, they’ll also support garden pollinators.

As their name indicates, these flowers adore the sun — and even follow it throughout the day with their large flowerheads. Sunflowers need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive. 

“Plant them in a location with maximum sun exposure, preferably facing south, to ensure they receive the most sunlight,” suggests Brock Ingham, who runs Bigger Garden, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Ingham also notes that sunlight filtered through a window isn’t typically strong enough unless the light comes from the north or south. You might need a grow light as a supplemental light source.

As with any plant, maintaining a proper soil moisture level is integral to the growing cycle. Cox says that the potting mix should feel wet.

Although mature plants can handle drier conditions, keeping seeds and young plants hydrated but not soggy is essential.

Credit: Yui Yuize/Shutterstock

How do you maintain sunflowers in pots?

Deadheading, the process of removing dying blooms from the plant, isn’t essential, but it can spur more buds to grow instead of putting energy into seed production. “As the dead heads are pruned, the plant is encouraged to produce more shoots with fresh blooms,” says Ingham.

Removing spent parts will help the plant look neater while also potentially extending the flowering period so that you can enjoy your sunflowers longer.