Sunflowers are the quintessential flower of summer. But what if you got a late start on planting them this year? You may be wondering—just how late in the season can you successfully plant sunflowers and still enjoy their signature blooms before autumn frosts set in? With some strategic planning and careful variety selection, it’s possible to sow sunflowers later than you may think.
Factors That Allow Late Sunflower Planting
Several key factors influence just how late you can plant sunflowers in your growing region:
Different sunflower varieties have different maturity rates, measured in “days to bloom” from seeding date. Choose short season varieties under 85 days for late sowing success.
Climate and Weather
In areas with long, warm summers you have more leeway for late planting. Monitor forecasts to time plantings around heat waves for fastest growth.
Growing Season Length
Count back from your average first fall frost date to determine your cutoff for planting short-season sunflowers in late summer.
Location and Sun Exposure
Maximize sunlight in a south-facing spot sheltered from cool winds. Full sun accelerates growth for late plantings.
Prepare soil with compost to retain warmth. Warm, nutrient-rich soil enables vigorous growth into fall.
Ideal Late Sunflower Planting Time by Region
The ideal window for late season sunflower planting varies by growing zone. Here are some general guidelines:
Northern Zones (3-4) : Aim to plant sunflowers by early August at the latest. Flowering before the September frost date will require speedy blooming varieties.
Central Zones (5-6) : You can safely plant sunflowers through mid August for blooms lasting into October.Stick to dwarf and semi-dwarf types under 85 days.
Southern Zones (7-9) : Planting can continue into late August or even early September since frost holds off until November or later. Prioritize heat-loving varieties.
West Coast (8-10) : Coastal areas can plant sunflowers into September and see flowers till December. Use fastest maturing varieties possible for your region.
Maximize Success with Late Sunflower Plantings
If sowing sunflowers on the late side, give them the best chance at reaching maturity with these tips:
- Start Seeds Indoors – Get a head start by sowing seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before planting out. Transplant once seedlings have 2 sets of true leaves.
- Use Transplants – Buy pre-grown sunflower transplants locally to skip germination time. Look for short, stocky plants instead of leggy ones.
- Warm the Soil – Cover beds with black or red plastic mulch weeks before planting. The plastic traps heat to warm the soil for faster growth.
- Fertilize Well – Incorporate compost and granular fertilizer with phosphorus into soil to fuel rapid development.
- Water Thoroughly – Prioritize consistent moisture, especially during dry spells. Drought stress slows growth.
When is Too Late to Plant Sunflowers ?
There comes a point in mid to late fall when it is too late in the season to start sunflowers, depending on your climate:
After First Frost Date
Once temps dip below freezing, seedlings won’t thrive. Time planting to reach maturity before frost.
When Night Temps Cool
If overnight temps are regularly in the 50s F, seeds won’t germinate well enough to establish.
After Fall Tropical Storms
Wet, windy tropical weather can topple young plants. Avoid starting in fall hurricane alley regions.
When Days Become Shorter
As daylight hours decrease in fall, plants slow their pace of growth and won’t bloom quickly.
The Joy of Late Sunflower Blooms
While patience and planning are required, the cheerful sight of sunflowers blooming in fall when most gardens are winding down makes the effort of late planting worthwhile. With the right approach, you can enjoy their colors right up until frost nips the last bloom. Just be ready to start your seeds on the later side next year once you know your ideal planting window!