Although sunflower seeds are typically sown straight into the garden, many people like to get them started early because it can take quite a few weeks for the plants to grow and produce those gorgeous flower heads. But, can you transplant sunflowers?
Sunflowers can be transplanted as seedlings after they’ve been started indoors. But, you should not allow them to become root bound before transplanting them into the garden. Another good idea is to start the seeds in biodegradable pots, so you don’t disturb the roots too much when transplanting.
How to Transplant Sunflower Seedlings
If you’ve started your sunflower seeds indoors, you can prepare to plant them out in the garden once all danger of frost is over. Sunflower seedlings should be transplanted just when the first true leaves appear.
If you leave it too long to plant them out, they may become stunted and will often require staking. This is primarily because the plants, when seeded into the garden, will produce a long tap root to support the tall stems and heavy flower heads.
However, when started indoors, this tap root cannot become established in the ground and may become damaged during transplant. It’s very similar to carrots and other root crops.
Steps to Transplanting Sunflowers Outdoors
- Wait until the danger of frost is over and the seedlings have grown their first two true leaves.
- If you’re growing tall sunflowers, you should space them around 3 feet (91 cm) apart. Smaller sunflowers can be spaced around 1 foot (30 cm) apart.
- When transplanting, take extra care not to damage the roots and make sure that the planting holes are deep enough to accommodate the roots that have grown.
- You can use a pencil or dibbler to gently guide the roots down into the planting hole.
- Firm the soil around each seedling and then water well. This should reduce some of the transplant’s shock and will also help to settle the soil around the roots.
Can you Transplant Large Sunflower Plants?
So far, we’ve discussed transplanting seedlings, but is it possible to transplant larger pot-grown plants. As long as the plant has been growing in a pot, it is possible to transplant it into either a larger pot or into the ground outside.
This will result in a little transplant shock, but the plant should come good if it’s given enough water. You will most likely find that the sunflower plant will not grow any taller, especially if it already has flower buds. It may also require staking after you do this.
Don’t Transplant Large Sunflowers growing in the Garden
While it’s fine to transplant sunflowers that have been grown in pots, it’s not advisable to transplant those that are growing in the garden. These garden plants will have a long tap root that is likely to be several feet deep in the ground.
If you dig these plants up, you will most definitely damage the tap root, and the remaining roots will not be able to support the fully grown plant. This will likely cause severe transplant shock, and your sunflower is unlikely to survive.
How to Transplant Young Sunflower Plants grown in the Garden
If the sunflower is not too tall yet (under 6 inches or 15 cm), you might be able to transplant it if you can keep the roots intact. To do this, dig a circle around the plant, going as deep as you possibly can. You want to be able to reach right under the root ball.
Carefully lift the plant out of the soil and place it in its new spot immediately. Refill around the roots and water well to allow the soil to settle around the roots as much as possible.
At this stage, it’s also a good idea to set up some supports for each plant so that any strong wind doesn’t blow them over. You need to remember that the roots are not yet anchored into the ground and can’t support the plant very well yet.
Just remember that the larger the sunflower plant is, the more difficult it will be to transplant it successfully.
Advantages of Starting Sunflower Seeds Indoors
One of the major reasons why many gardeners like to start their sunflower seeds indoors is because they take such a long time to produce their magnificent flower heads. Therefore, for gardeners who have a short growing season, it’s wise to give your sunflowers a head start by growing the seeds indoors.
Another advantage is that your seeds will be protected from common garden pests. You see, sunflower seeds are highly sought after by animals and birds that visit your garden. Particular sunflower thieves include chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and a variety of birds.
Understanding the Sunflower Root System
To understand why transplanting sunflowers can sometimes be tricky, you need to understand how the roots are formed. Here’s how sunflower roots grow:
- When the seed first germinates, it sends out one long and sturdy root. This is referred to as a tap root. It’s very similar to how a carrot grows. The orange part of the carrot that we eat is actually the tap root.
- Sunflowers produce this long tap root in order to be able to support the plant as it continues to grow. Some sunflowers can get really tall stems that are susceptible to movement in the wind. Then, once the flower heads form, these can become extremely heavy, especially once the seeds start to form. As you can imagine, all of this height and weight require a lot of support.
- All along the tap root, smaller and more fibrous roots will start to form, and these are the ones that will feed the plant with the water, air, and nutrients found in the soil.
When transplanting a more mature sunflower plant, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to dig deep enough to keep the taproot intact. This means the main root and all of the fibrous roots coming off this will be damaged or removed. In this case, the roots that are left will not be enough to support the growth of the plant.