Even though they look more like miniature mops than a stuffed animal, it’s still quite easy to understand how ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers got their name.
They’re fluffy, bright yellow, and at just two- to four-feet-tall, are a comforting small size, especially compared to their relatives that can reach lofty heights of 10 feet!
Scientists have even determined that the double-bloomed sunflowers in the famous paintings by Vincent van Gogh were ‘Teddy Bear’ types, but they couldn’t find the gene mutation that made the centers green when the artist was painting in the 1880s.
It’s easy to see why van Gogh was drawn to these beauties. Kids tend to like them, too, maybe because there’s just something so reassuring about a bouquet or container full of bright, fuzzy flowers.
You don’t just have to admire them at a florist’s or grocery floral section, as it’s entirely possible to grow your own.
Most garden centers carry seeds, or you can find them online from True Leaf Market, in a variety of packet sizes.
‘Teddy Bear’ Sunflowers
Just the thought of these sunny, spunky annuals makes me think of the lyrics to that Elvis tune, “I just wanna be your…”
So hum along with me, as I take you through the tips and techniques for growing your own ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers.
Here’s what I’ll cover:
Tips for Growing Teddy Bear Sunflowers
What Are Teddy Bear Sunflowers?
‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers are adorable, starting with that name. But they have other charms, too.
An open-pollinated, dwarf cultivar of Helianthus annuus, these annuals are characterized by fluffy, double-petalled blooms of five to six inches across.
But don’t let the shaggy pom-pom flowers fool you. This variety has minimal pollen, though it’s still beloved by bees and other pollinators.
Chefs and salad fans prize these blooms, too. The individual petals, which are actually florets, look pretty and taste great in mesclun mixes or as an edible garnish on cakes, soups, and other decorative baked goods.
And at the end of the season, you can harvest the edible seeds, either for planting next year or roasting as a tasty and nutritious snack.
Each plant sends up one thick central stalk that branches into multiple blooms. They flower over a period of about five weeks, usually starting from around 75 days after direct sowing providing color for the rest of the summer.
Like the child’s beloved friend, these annuals are helpful in a lot of situations.
They’re a colorful choice for mixed beds or perennial borders. Their compact, bushy form is ideal for filling in the spaces in front of long-stemmed, tall H. annuus varieties in a garden or landscape.
They have large blooms but the stems are short enough to handle readily, so they’re a top choice for cutting gardens and attractive floral arrangements.
Since they bloom over a period of five weeks or more, you will have an ample supply to fill your vases.
Gardeners who want to attract pollinators will appreciate this variety, as will anyone trying to save seeds for planting next year.
This cultivar is open-pollinated, so if you plant it far enough away from other H. annuus varieties, the seed should produce flowers that are true to the parent next year.
They’re also a fine choice for growing in containers, or just about anywhere in the garden where they can get ample sun.
Since they’re so easy to grow and so charming, I also consider them a standout choice for a children’s garden.
All of the advice from our guide to growing sunflowers applies to this petite variety.
H. annuus thrives in a full sun location, with at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Plants require organically-rich, loose, well-draining soil.
For this cultivar in particular, here are a few tips:
1. Sow Seeds at the Right Time
Despite all the volunteers that you might have seen sprouting beneath your bird feeder, the safest bet for outdoor sowing is to wait for the soil temperature to reach 65-85˚F. This is the optimal temperature for germination.
2. Know What Height to Expect
It might seem odd to think that you can control how tall a plant gets, but you can do just that when you choose where to grow these edible blooms.
If you sow the seeds in four-inch pots, each plant will grow to just eight to 12 inches tall at maturity. If you plant in a bigger pot, they may reach a mature height of 16 inches or up to two feet.
If they are planted in the garden, the final height can range from 24-48 inches, so you may need to plan some supports.
If you’re growing extra-dwarf ‘Teddy Bear,’ they’ll typically grow to only 18-24 inches tall, even in a garden plot.
3. Give Them Enough Time to Grow
It’s only a very general rule of thumb that smaller edibles grow more quickly. In this case, similar to a miniature winter squash, ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers take as long to bloom as many of their much bigger relatives.
They may be short in stature, but they still need 75 days or so from planting to produce their gorgeous blooms.
If you live in an area with a very short growing season, you may wish to start seeds indoors.
4. Protect Young Plants
Birds, rabbits, squirrels and the like are fond of munching on the seedlings. Make sure to protect them with row covers or bird netting if you have trouble with those marauders in your garden.
5. Deadhead Regularly
If you cut spent blooms consistently, it helps the stems produce more flowers throughout the season.
A Cuddly Sunflower?
When I can’t see my loved ones in person, I try to write. One of my favorite sign-offs is, “Consider yourself hugged.”
‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers are sort of the same thing. You can’t embrace them, no. But a view of a few of their cheerful faces nodding and smiling in a border, or a sweet bouquet of these sunny, shaggy blooms in a vase feels like a virtual hug, to me.
If you could use more of that in your life, these may be a great flower to grow.
Are you growing ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers? If you have any suggestions for succeeding with these sweeties, let us know in the comments below! And feel free to share a picture.
For more scoop on growing sunflowers, including many that won’t remind you of an Elvis tune, check out these guides next:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Rose Kennedy
An avid raised bed vegetable gardener and former “Dirt to Fork” columnist for an alt-weekly newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, Rose Kennedy is dedicated to sharing tips that increase yields and minimize work. But she’s also open to garden magic, like the red-veined sorrel that took up residence in several square yards of what used to be her back lawn. She champions all pollinators, even carpenter bees. Her other enthusiasms include newbie gardeners, open-pollinated sunflowers, 15-foot-tall Italian climbing tomatoes, and the arbor her husband repurposed from a bread vendor’s display arch. More importantly, Rose loves a garden’s ability to make a well-kept manicure virtually impossible and revive the spirits, especially in tough times.