sunflower seedlings

When To Plant Sunflowers In North Carolina

Growing sunflowers in North Carolina is a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Sunflowers are a beloved part of the state’s landscape and can bring a lot of beauty to any garden. Not only are they a beautiful sight to behold, but they are also easy to grow in North Carolina’s warm and sunny climate.

Sunflowers are an excellent choice for gardeners of all levels, as they require minimal maintenance and can thrive with just a few simple tips. They add a cheerful pop of color to your garden. The bright blooms are also known to attract bees, birds, and butterflies. With a little bit of care and attention, you can create a stunning sunflower garden to enjoy for years to come.

North Carolina climate and growing zones

Zone 6a has an average annual minimum temperature of -10 to -5°F (-23 to -21°C). This zone covers the mountainous regions of western North Carolina and the coastal plain. Summers are relatively mild, with average temperatures ranging from 70 to 75°F (21 to 24°C). Winters are cool and snowy, with occasional cold snaps.

Zone 7a has an average annual minimum temperature of 0 to 5°F (-18 to -15°C). This zone covers much of North Carolina, including the Piedmont and the Outer Banks. Summers are warm, with average temperatures ranging from 75 to 80°F (24 to 27°C). Winters are cool, with occasional snow and ice storms.

Zone 8a has an average annual minimum temperature of 10 to 15°F (-12 to -9°C). This zone covers the southeastern corner of the state, including the Outer Banks. Summers are hot and humid, with average temperatures ranging from 80 to 85°F (27 to 29°C). Winters are mild, with occasional cold snaps.

Growing sunflowers in North Carolina

Growing sunflowers in North Carolina can be a rewarding experience, as the state’s climate is generally favorable for the growth of these bright and cheerful blossoms. Sunflowers thrive in full sun and prefer well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5-7.5. In North Carolina, these conditions can be found in most areas throughout the state.

Sunflowers require warm temperatures for optimal growth and bloom, with temperatures between 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit being ideal. North Carolina has generally mild winters, and temperatures rarely dip below freezing along the coast. As such, the majority of the state is well-suited for growing sunflowers.

In more northern areas of North Carolina, where temperatures can drop to freezing and below, it is important to take extra care when growing sunflowers. Protecting the seedlings from frost and wind is essential, as is providing adequate insulation and mulch to the soil. If temperatures get too cold, sunflowers may not bloom or may become stunted in their growth.

Some of my favorite varieties of sunflower include:

  1. Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 75-100 days to maturity 
  2. Teddy Bear Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 60-90 days to maturity 
  3. Red Sun (Helianthus annuus) – 65-95 days to maturity 
  4. Autumn Beauty Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 75-90 days to maturity 
  5. Lemon Queen Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 75-95 days to maturity 
  6. Velvet Queen Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 90-110 days to maturity 
  7. Dwarf Sunspot Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 60-90 days to maturity 
  8. Giant Sungold Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 85-110 days to maturity 
  9. Evening Sun Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 75-95 days to maturity 
  10. Sundance Kid Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – 75-95 days to maturity

When to start sunflowers indoors in North Carolina

Sunflower seeds should be started indoors 4 weeks before your final frost date. In North Carolina, the final frost dates are:

  • Zone 6: Around April 21
  • Zone 7: Around April 3
  • Zone 8: Around March 28th

You should also consider the size of the variety of sunflower you are planting, as shorter varieties can be planted later and taller varieties will need to be started a week or two earlier. Sunflowers should be started indoors:

  • Zone 6: Around March 24th
  • Zone 7: Around March 6th
  • Zone 8: Around February 27th

Starting sunflowers from seed is a relatively easy process that can be done both indoors and outdoors. To begin, you will need to purchase sunflower seeds from a garden center or online. When selecting seeds, make sure to look for the desired variety you want to grow. Once you have your seeds, you can choose to start them indoors 4 weeks before the last frost date for your region. 

Fill a seed tray with starter soil and moisten it with a spray bottle. Place your seeds on top of the soil, cover them lightly with starter soil, and water them gently. Place the tray in a warm and sunny spot, and keep the soil moist. Once your plants have grown 2-3 sets of leaves, you can transplant them outdoors. 

Planting sunflowers outside in North Carolina

Sunflower seeds should be planted outdoors after the last average frost date for your area. Planting sunflower seeds too early can result in poor germination and seedling growth and potentially death if there’s a hard freeze.

When planting outdoors, make sure the area has plenty of sunshine and well-draining soil. Dig a hole that is twice the size of the root ball, and fill the hole with compost or aged manure. Place the seedling in the hole and backfill with soil, then water deeply. 

For the remainder of the sunflower’s life, make sure to keep the soil moist and fertilize regularly. With proper care, you should have beautiful sunflowers in no time!

When to harvest sunflower seeds in North Carolina

When sunflower seeds are ready to be harvested, the back of the flower head will be dry and start to turn brown. The individual seeds will be dry and firm. The green husks surrounding the seeds will have turned yellow or white and begun to dry out. To check if the seeds are ready to be harvested, lightly pinch the seed head between your thumb and forefinger. If the husks break open easily, the seeds are ready to harvest.

Harvesting sunflower seeds is easy. Cut the flower head off the stem and spread it out on a clean surface. To remove the seeds, use your hands to rub the flower head and release the seeds. Collect the seeds in a large bowl or container. Once the seeds are harvested, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Make sure the container is well sealed to keep the seeds from going bad. Sunflower seeds can last for up to a year if stored properly.

Sunflower seeds are delicious and nutritious snack food. They can be eaten raw, toasted, or sprouted. Sunflower seeds are also used in salads, cereals, granola, and energy bars. They are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. Sunflower seeds can also be used to make sunflower seed butter, which is a great alternative to peanut butter. 

In addition to being a healthy snack, sunflower seeds are also used to make birdseed. You can leave your sunflowers intact outside well after the flowers have died to give your local birds a tasty snack!

Cody Medina
Small Scale Farmer
Hi there! I'm Cody, a staff writer here at The Garden Magazine and a small-scale farmer living in Oregon. I've been gardening most of my life and now live on a quarter-acre farmstead with chickens, ducks, and a big garden.