Wouldn't it be lovely if the result of this unwelcome super virus was that every garden, allotment and balcony became home to a host of sunflowers. The bees and other insects would be overjoyed. The birds would have a feast to see them through winter. And parents would have a source of inspiration for homeschooling sorted - more of that later.
If you don't have a garden, don't worry. Sunflowers can be grown in pots if you have a nice bright and sunny space to put them in.
What sort of Sunflowers to Grow
Sunflowers can be single stem or branching. It will say on the packet which sort they are so choose carefully depending on what you want to achieve.
These only grow one flower from one seed - so probably the sort you want if you are going for "Tallest Sunflower" Because they only have one flower you will need to plant seeds every 7 to 10 days to keep flowers in your garden all summer.
These produce many flowers over the season. And these generally have the less traditional colours like oranges and chocolate tones.
Win, win, win!
Whatever type you choose post your progress on Social Media with the tag #SunflowerChallenge - there is a prize for the tallest sunflower and the ones the judge liked the most. The competitoin is the brain child of Andrew Bentley @GardeningGent who kindly allowed us to join in and offer a prize. So take a picture of you with your flower and you can still take part even if yours isn't giving Jack and his Beanstalk a run for their money.
How to grow Sunflowers
Whichever sort you choose, you can sow them either in pots or straight into the ground where they are going to flower.
If you are sowing into the ground then make sure the area is weed free.
Once you have pulled up all of the weeds rake the soil and make some drills (shallow trenches) 1/2" (12mm) deep.
Carefully place 2 seeds an inch or so apart into the drill every 17" (45cm) or so. Cover the seeds with soil. Water gently.
Keep watering daily if there isn't rain and your seeds should take 7 to 10 days to appear. Some seeds will grow stronger than others. So take out the weaker of the two seedlings and either discard or plant elsewhere.
Growing in a pot
The pots you choose can be anywhere between 12" like the Vigoroot 20L pot to 14" like the Potato/ tomato Planter or for even better root growth try the Vigoroot Potaot/ Tomato Planter. Make sure whatever you use has good drainage holes or the seeds will rot.
Fill your pot with compost. Plant 2 seeds near the middle of the pot, pushing them into the soil about 1" (2.5 cm). Add a thin layer of compost over the seed and water gently.
Continue to water daily and your seeds should appear in 7 to 10 days. Once they do, take out the weakest one and either discard or transplant elsewhere.
For Both Pot and Ground grown
Sunflowers need to be watered well or they will become spindly. So water every day to ensure that your sunflower never gets dry.
Slugs and snails adore young sunflower plants so they need protection. For pot grown ones a line of copper tape round the pot may help to deter invaders. A beer trap such as the Slug Buster is ideal for both. You could also use a Victorian Bell cloche to protect the seedlings. If you can't get hold of those then cutting the top off a plastic bottle and placing it over your seedlings will work too.
As your sunflower begins to grow you will need to support the stem. Place a bamboo cane next to the stem and secutre it with Soft tie. This will ensure that the stem is not damaged as it blows about.
Sunflowers don't necessarily need feeding to grow but they will take everything there is from your soil so it may be worth feeding them. Its maybe more important for those in pots. If you descide to feed then before they flower, use a high-nitrogen liquid plant food, then move to one with more phosphorus when they begin to flower.
Watch your monster sunflower grow and grow and grow. If you are lucky it will grow biggger than the biggest ever sunflower. That was recorded at 30 feet (9.17m.) That's about twice the height of a giraffe and taller than the length of a London bus!
Home Schooling Ideas
I said I woud come back to this so for those of you home schooling at the moment these are the boxes you can tick with a simple sunflower.
Gardening is science so that box is ticked right away. For oolder children read about photosynthasis and how this works, measure the pH of the soil (if you happen to have a kit at home.) For younger childre name the parts of the plant - stem, petals etc.
Estimate the height of the flower then measure each week, if you are growing more than one make little tags and use them to order the flowers from tallest to smallest
Write instructions for someone to grow their own, write a story or poem about a sunflower,
Draw your sunflower, paint pictures of them (somone once got very famous doing that!) Make a sunflower out of the junk in your recycling box. Even knit a sunflower if you know how...
Top Tip: Seeds can be bought online or many Garden Centres are still delivering. Give your local one a call to see how they are doing things.