When we think about sunflowers, our minds instantly wander to those towering mega flowers that Bill and Ben loved so much. But would you be surprised if we told you that there are, in fact, dwarf sunflowers that might be considered the smallest sunflowers in the world? Growing a tiny sunflower is entirely possible, but you must make sure to give the plant plenty of what it needs to thrive. This includes planting in late spring and giving them lots of sunlight. In this short guide, we will be talking you through everything you will need to successfully grow the smallest sunflower in the world; the dwarf sunflower.

Red/ Yellow Little Becka Sunflower
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What’s The Deal With Tiny Sunflowers?

There is something of an obsession with tiny things that are supposed to be large. Just take a look at some of the things that come out of Japan, a place where smaller is better. But while the Japanese tend to favour small toys and trinkets, the smallest sunflower in the world was planted and grown in the USA. According to Guinness World Records, the teeny flower was cultivated by a guy named Michael Lenke in Oregon in 1985 and as things stand, his prized tiny flower is yet to be beaten. Measuring just (2 1/5 in), Lenke managed to keep the sunflower so small by using a patented bonsai technique, which not surprisingly, comes from Japan; we told you they liked things small.

The most exciting thing about this whole tiny sunflower business is that it is entirely possible to Bonsai a sunflower, despite the practice being much more common on trees.

Small Suntastic Yellow Sunflower with Seed Head (inset)
Small Suntastic Yellow Sunflower with Seed Head (inset)

Can I Bonsai A Sunflower?

If you want to challenge the current world record for the smallest sunflower, then using a Bonsai technique will probably give you the best chance. But there is a knack for this! Bonsai involves pruning the roots of the plant and if you want to achieve a tiny sunflower then this will need to be done at least once a week. You should turn the plant out and carefully tease the roots, removing any that are touching the outside of the pot. It is also important not to overwater the sunflower. Using this technique will likely stunt the growth of the plant but it is vital that you do not interfere with the central root ball as this could simply kill the flower.

The original patent (now expired) by Michael Lenze describes the pot design he created when studying the bonsai techniques.

How To Grow A Small Sunflower

Following Michael Lenze’s pot design and trying to bonsai a sunflower may be a little too much but you can grow dwarf sunflower hybrids that are still very small in comparison to normal sunflowers.

The most common dwarf sunflower varieties are:

  • The Sundance Kid can grow anywhere up to two feet.
  • The Little Becka has beautiful orange/red petals and grows between one and two feet.
  • The Pacino sunflower has a beautiful yellow hue and can grow, on average, to around 16 inches.

Remember to choose a variety that grows well in your climate!

1 – Start Seeds Indoors

  • Timing: Start seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost to ensure they have a strong start.
  • Seed Soaking: Soak the sunflower seeds in warm water for 4-6 hours to soften the seed coats and promote germination.
  • Soil Preparation: Use a sterile, light, well-draining seed starting mix in your trays or pots.
  • Planting Seeds: Sow the seeds at a depth of about 1-2 centimetres, with a spacing of 5-7 centimetres apart.
  • Germination Conditions: Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and maintain a warm environment (around 18-22°C) with plenty of light, either by a sunny window or under grow lights.

Step 2 – Care for Seedlings

  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but ensure it’s well-drained.
  • Light: Place seedlings in a location where they receive plenty of light.
  • Thinning: Once seedlings develop a couple of true leaves, thin them to prevent overcrowding.

Step 3 – Prepare the Outdoor Space

  • Soil Prep: Choose a sunny spot in the garden and enrich the soil with compost, ensuring good drainage.
  • Spacing: Plan for about 15-30 centimetres between plants, depending on the variety.
  • Protection: Consider barriers or natural deterrents for pests and provide wind protection if necessary.

Step 4 – Transplant Seedlings

  • Hardening Off: Gradually introduce seedlings to outdoor conditions over a week to acclimatise them.
  • Transplanting: Plant seedlings on an overcast day to minimise stress.
  • Initial Care: Water thoroughly after planting and provide support if needed.

As they grow, gently tie stems to stakes or cages to maintain upright growth.

Step 5 – Ongoing Care and Maintenance

  • Watering: Water deeply but infrequently to encourage robust root development.
  • Fertilisation: Apply a balanced fertiliser as needed, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Pest and Disease Monitoring: Regularly inspect for common issues and address them promptly.

Conclusion

The smallest sunflowers in the world are dwarf varieties that grow just a couple of feet at maximum. While there are varieties that can grow up to 16 feet, we don’t all have gardens big enough to accommodate these. Growing a small sunflower can be done in a pot and these little plants can also be turned into a Bonsai, for a truly tiny flower.

Garden Doctor Trev

Garden Doctor Tips

“Ensure that you plant your wallflowers in a nice and sunny spot!”

“Ensure that you keep your wallflowers well watered in the summer, they are big drinkers!”

“Sow your wallflowers in pots indoors and transplant them out in May!”

“Wallflowers will grow quite a bit of foliage so plant them at least 30cm from each other!”

Frequently Asked Questions

What are small sunflowers called?

Small sunflowers are known as Dwarf sunflowers. Dwarf sunflowers are just much smaller versions of their larger cousins and they require very little maintenance as long as they are grown in full sun.  

Are dwarf sunflowers annuals or perennials?

Dwarf sunflowers are annuals. They will grow for one season and then you will need to harvest the seeds in order to plant the following year. 

Are there miniature sunflowers?

Yes, you can get miniature sunflowers known as dwarf sunflowers. Few people know that sunflowers can also be bonsai’d making them even smaller. 


Author

Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.


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