Some might say sunflowers always look a bit leggy, with their long stems contrasting with a large circular head.
But a real concern for most gardeners, especially those growing them for the first time is the question, ‘will leggy sunflowers survive?’.
It isn’t always a straight yes or no answer, so let me explain a bit more about leggy seedlings, what causes them and how to give them the best chance of recovering.
Will Leggy Sunflowers Survive?
If appropriate action is taken early on there is every chance a leggy sunflower will survive and flourish. More often than not the reason a seedling is leggy is because it isn’t getting enough light, so you want to get it outside in the sunlight as soon as possible. When this isn’t possible either put it on a windowsill that gets plenty of sunlight or use fluorescent lights to encourage its growth.
What Causes Leggy Sunflowers?
Any kind of seedling is described as leggy when it grows tall and has a skinny, lanky stem.
Remember that kid at school who had a sudden growth spurt and seemed a foot taller than everyone else?
The same can apply to seedlings.
There isn’t a specific height a seedling must hit to be classed as leggy, it is more how the seedling looks in comparison to a healthy seedling of the same age and variety.
Often when you are growing a plant for the first time you spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself and convincing yourself ‘it doesn’t look right’.
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Sunflower seedlings that sprout and are leggy are all part of the learning process, and eventually, with experience, you will know whether your sunflower is leggy or not.
More often leggy seedlings develop because the sunflower seedling is spending a lot of its energy looking for sun rather than growing.
They are straining for the light, resulting in thin stems.
Are Leggy Seedlings Bad?
It isn’t great to have leggy seedlings.
If left, their stems will continue to become thin and fragile, resulting in mature plants with weak stems, that droop over and don’t look as great in your garden.
Can Leggy Seedlings Recover?
The good news is more often than not leggy seedlings can recover.
The even better news is that we have outlined a few simple tips and tricks that can help your leggy sunflower seedling develop into a stronger plant that flourishes.
How Do You Fix Leggy Sunflower Seedlings?
Tip #1: Give Your Seedlings More Sun
If you are pulling your hair out and asking yourself, “What can I do with my leggy sunflowers”, the answer more often than not is simple.
Make sure it gets more sun.
As mentioned above, at its most basic level, lack of light is the main contributor to leggy seedlings.
Keep an eye on the sunflower stem, if it seems unusually pale or white then this is often a sign it is not getting enough sunlight.
If they are being grown in pots and it is too early to move them outside permanently (this is covered below), you can move them outside temporarily each day in the sun, or at least find a spot where they can get more sun.
More sun equals a happier sunflower which in turn equals a happier gardener.
Tip #2: If You Are Growing Your Seedlings Indoors Choose Your Spot Wisely
I know from personal experience sometimes it isn’t possible to grow sunflower seedlings in ideal conditions all the time.
If you are growing your sunflowers in pots choose their spot wisely.
As alluded to above they are sun worshippers, and the honest truth is windowsills often aren’t bright enough for sunflower seedlings to begin with.
But if you have no other option try and find a big, bright, sunny, south-facing window if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere do the same but for a north-facing window.
These are the spots that will get the most sun.
Tip #3: Give Your Seedlings A Helping Hand With A Grow Light
One way to give your sunflower seedlings a real boost if you are growing them inside is to use a fluorescent or LED grow light.
These lights are great as they give off very little heat, so you can keep them very close to the tops of your sunflowers as they grow.
Ideally, keep the lights around 2 to 3 inches above the plants and move them up continually as they grow to maintain that spacing.
I have rounded up my choice of the best LED grow lights, but in all honesty, simple fluorescent shop lights should be perfectly adequate.
Make sure they have regular bulbs (not full spectrum) and leave the sunflower seedlings under them for 12 to 16 hours a day.
This should promote stronger seedlings, that are less leggy.
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Tip #4: Grow Your Sunflower Outside
Sunflowers will grow best when they are grown outside in the ground.
This allows them to fully develop an extensive root system that will support the plant and the seed head.
Sunflowers are hardy plants but they don’t like the cold (like me!). If you intend on moving your sunflower seedling outside, do so after the last frost date.
You do need to be careful if moving your sunflower seedling from growing in a container to outside in the soil. The video above elaborates on this.
It can damage or disturb the roots and end up stunting their growth.
As a rule of thumb, transplant it into the soil no later than when the first true leaves appear and do everything you can not to damage the roots whilst you do so.
Once your sunflower is outside it will have access to the nutrients and moisture in the soil and develop a deep taproot and a wide network of roots and be happier and healthier.
Tip #5: Bury the Sunflower Deep
I spent a bit of time debating whether to include this tip, mainly as when I Googled “Can I plant leggy sunflowers deep?”, there was contrasting advice.
Burying the seedlings deep simply means adding more soil to bury the long stem of the sunflower further into the ground.
On the side supporting this is Charles Dowding, who is a popular YouTube gardener, who always plants his seedlings deeper.
He was backed up by a number of amateur gardeners on some forums I was browsing:
“Add more soil so the stem is buried further into the ground. This won’t harm the plant at all, and it will start to take root up to where the soil ends”
“I had the problem of my sunflowers being leggy and so I went deep when I moved them outside and they are doing well. They didn’t look great at first, but they rebounded.”
“When you transplant them (the seedlings) try burying them deeper. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about burying seedlings to the first set of leaves and people do seem to have had good luck with that.”
But on the other hand, there were warnings about burying sunflower seedlings deep:
“Not all seedlings can be buried deep. Tomatoes benefit from it and root along the stem, but leggy or weak sunflowers won’t, and if buried deep won’t grow to their full potential.”
“Sunflower roots grow shallow, strong and wide to anchor the plant and if you bury the stem too deep it can rot.”
This isn’t something I have tried, so if anyone has, then please leave a comment in the comments section below. I’d love to hear some first-hand experience.
Tip #6: Secure the Stem of Your Sunflower
It is important your sunflower gets plenty of support early on.
Not just from watering and sun, but also physical support.
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During seedling growth and early vegetation, you can secure their stems when they seem thin and spindly to give them the extra support to grow and develop more.
Tip #7: Give Your Sunflower Some Protection
In the early stages of growth, giving your sunflower seedling some protection can have real benefits, especially if it seems leggy.
Ways of doing this when it is outside include:
- Cut the base off of a clear bottle and unscrew the cap and place it over the sunflower
- Place a clear, plastic bag over the sunflower like a mini tent
Doing this has a multitude of benefits. It helps keep in moisture, regulates the temperature, protects them from the wind, keeps away pests and encourages them to grow strong and sturdy.
So as you can see, leggy sunflowers can survive.
Generally, the reason seedlings become leggy is because they aren’t getting enough sunlight, but there are ways around this, even if growing conditions for you aren’t favorable.
If you take action early on there are plenty of ways to help leggy sunflowers recover and thrive.
In the same way that awkward, gangly kid at school filled out and became a strapping young athlete, your sunflowers can transform into elegant, attractive flowers with strong and supportive stems.