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Mother’s Day has come and gone, which means we are finally safe to plant this year’s garden! (Does anyone else go off the rule of thumb that you should wait until after Mother’s Day to start planting, or is that just me?) I love planting a healthy mix of food and flowers and enjoy having my grandkids help tend the garden as much as possible.
To make gardening a little more fun and engaging for the littles, I have found that turning parts of the process into a competition makes it all the better. How does one make gardening competitive? Two words: Sunflower races.
What is a sunflower race?
A sunflower race is pretty self-explanatory, as you are literally just planting sunflowers, staking your claim to one or two, and then seeing whose grows the fastest!
How to grow and care for sunflowers
- Choose the right sunflower variety: For a friendly competition, you’ll want to choose a variety of sunflower that grows exceptionally tall. The aptly-named Russian Giant, American Giant, and Mammoth are some varieties known for their height, with the potential to grow up to 12 feet or more.
- Purchase seeds: Sunflower seeds are readily available at most garden centers and online. Be sure to buy enough for everyone participating in your competition!
- Prepare the soil: Sunflowers prefer well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. They’re hardy plants that can tolerate a range of soil types, but for best results, incorporate organic compost into your garden soil.
- Plant the seeds: Sunflowers should be planted in the spring after the last frost has passed. Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep and about 6 inches apart. If you’re planting more than one row, leave about 30 inches of space between rows.
- Water regularly: After planting, water the seeds thoroughly and continue to water regularly. Sunflowers are drought-tolerant, but regular watering will help them grow taller and healthier.
- Provide full sun: As their name suggests, sunflowers love the sun. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Make sure your garden area provides enough sun exposure.
- Protect from pests: Birds, squirrels, and some insects love sunflower seeds. Consider using netting or other protective measures if pests become a problem.
- Stake if necessary: If your sunflowers become too tall and begin to lean, you may need to stake them to keep them upright. Use soft ties to secure the stem to the stake, careful not to damage the plant.
- Measure the height: Once the sunflowers reach their full height, it’s time to measure them for the competition. Measure from the base of the stem to the top of the flower head.
How to turn growing sunflowers into a friendly competition
Are you ready to mix things up a bit with your grandkids? Follow these steps to turn gardening into a fun competition!
- Seed selection: Everyone participating in the competition should use the same type of sunflower seeds to ensure fairness.
- Planting day: Organize a common planting day. This could become a fun social event and will ensure everyone’s sunflowers grow in the same conditions.
- Weekly check-ins: Hold weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to see how everyone’s sunflowers are growing. This can also be a time to share tips and experiences.
- Measurement day: Decide on a final day when everyone will measure their sunflowers. This could be a fun event with a picnic or barbecue.
- Prizes: Consider having prizes for the tallest sunflower, the biggest sunflower head, the most sunflowers from one seed, etc. Prizes could be anything from a small trophy to a gardening book or a packet of next year’s seeds.
- Documentation: Encourage everyone to document their sunflower’s growth with photos. This can add to the fun and give everyone a visual record of their sunflower’s progress.
300+ Large Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower Seeds for Planting (Helianthus annuus)
As I previously mentioned, Mammoth sunflowers are tried and true and are excellent for a big and healthy variety (which is just what you need when seeing who can grow the largest)!
PHYEX 12-Pack 3 Gallon Nonwoven Grow Bags
An easy way to keep track of whose sunflower is whose is to plant them in separate pots and label each one. If you have a large area for planting, this is optional – just a thought for those without a designated garden.
Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
If you are a gardener, you already know that Miracle Grow makes the absolute best soil! If you aren’t a gardener, you can take my word for it.
I hope you and your grandkids enjoy this unique activity (and may the best gardener win, hehe). Even if you don’t go the competitive route, I find gardening with the grandkids to be a fun hobby that not only you can share but they can carry on for the rest of their lives.