Transplanting Sunflowers – Moving the Plants to a New Location

Does the bright face of a golden sunflower cheer you up? Did you plant hundreds of the sunflowers seeds, so you could be continuously cheery, but realize that now you need to thin them out? Or maybe some just popped up in the wrong location. Never fear, you can move your beloved sunflower to an appropriate place safely, and enjoy its beauty for the rest of the season.

There are over sixty varieties of sunflowers. Each one has specific needs for growth and care, but the basics are all about the same. You’ve planted the seeds, whether indoors or out, and now need to transplant or thin them out in the garden. The process will take a little time, but should result in undamaged sprouts or flowers in the end.

When Transplanting Seedlings

Seedlings are very delicate until several weeks when the stem grows thicker and develops in to a stalk. When you are moving them from a germination flat from indoors to outdoors, you will need some special care. Pick a location that receives full sun or only partial shade for the best results. Do not plant outdoors until all danger of frost is gone, as the cold will freeze the tender stems and they will die and not regrow.

Begin by digging small holes where you would like your seedlings to go. Make sure they are adequately spaced so the roots will have plenty of room to grow. You don’t want to have to re-transplant them again in another month by spacing them to close together. Dig a hole about two or three inches in to the ground. Work the soil so it is loose and the roots can take hold and latch on, on the sides and bottom of the hole.

Position the sunflower in the center of the hole and cover with soil. Pat gently so the soil is firm and will keep sunflower in place. Water the area to give the roots extra help in growing and repairing themselves from the transplant.

If your seedlings are small and don’t stand up on their own, you might want to use a stake. You can buy metal or wood ones and prop next to the seedling or tie it with some string. Popsicle sticks and wooden stakes cut down to the size of the seedling work best. The stakes will also protect against heavy rain and high wind damage.

And like all young sprouts, they will attract wildlife. Rabbits especially like to eat the tender green stems of sunflowers. Its not uncommon to have a beautiful row or two of sprouts emerge, grow to six inches tall, and then be completely mowed down overnight by a hungry rabbit or deer. A fence made of wire or mesh might keep them out, at least until the seedlings can grow tall enough where the rabbits lose interest. A fence would need to be at least eight feet tall to keep deer out, and then it isn’t even a guarantee. Human or animal hair placed near the seedlings may also repel their interests.

When Transplanting Older Plants

When digging your sunflower up, make sure to give it wide berth. If you dig too close to the stalk, the roots can be damaged and your beloved flower might not recover. The farther out you dig, the more roots will remain on the stalk. Dig straight down to go deep and avoid cutting the largest roots. Shake off excess dirt if it is too heavy to carry to the new location.

Pick your location and dig a hole about six to eight inches deep, and at least that in width, depending on the exact age of your plant. It is has a lot of roots, dig even deeper so they have adequate room to grow. Loosen the dirt around the area so the roots have air and can latch hold easily.

Place the plant in the center and cover with dirt, packing it down to hold the plant firmly in place. Give it lots of water so the roots can recover from the trauma of being removed. A grown plant should not require stakes if it is planted deep enough.


Sunflowers don’t require fertilizer while they are growing in normal conditions. If you have an unusual soil type, you may consider it, but do it lightly. Sunflowers are hardy plants, but chemical interference may do them in.

After a sunflower has bloomed, birds will start to notice it and the seeds within the center. Keep the sunflowers up until the next planting season, so the birds have an abundant food supply all winter long. Cut the heads or pull the entire stalk out of the ground when the seeds are all gone. Begin your new crop for the new season!



8 Responses

  1. Can I dig up sunflowers after they have gone to seed or gone dormit. If I harvest seed must I chill them for any length of time before planting? Should I add lime and or sand? Thanks Ed

  2. I was growing a sunflower for the first time in a hot house to get it started. Soon it reached the roof of the hot house, (6 FEET)!! so without checking this article, I decided to move him outside.
    I did exactly as stated, as I like to think I have a green thumb like my Dad did. I dug a nice deep wide hole in an outside location that gets lots of both sun and shade. I carefully dug down and around the roots and carefully carried him to his new home. I placed him gently in the hole and covered him with a nice big mound of dirt. But when I stood up to admire him, he had completely wilted, just that fast 🙁
    I immediately gave him a nice big drink of water and thought he’d bounce back. I gave him another drink last night, and again this morning, but as of yet he hasn’t bounced back. Any suggestions please?

      1. I’ve had sunflowers come back from completely snapped stems with a little bit of plant food and a whole lot of water. Not all the time, but that’s how I’ve managed to save a few.

  3. I’ve just experienced a similar situation as Joni. I tried to transplant some your stalks (less than 1 feet) from a semi-shaded spot to full sun. I dug up the soil in the new location, but I think it has more clay than the other location, and I didn’t add any potting soil. The 3 plants are willting away! Very sad! 🙁

  4. I have a sunflower that is 1 1/2 feet tall, 2 feet wide and in a large pot. It is infested with ants and the leaves are turning brown so I decided to transplant it to my garden. I read it could be from over or under watering and the roots could start to mold. I started it in the pot because we have unforgiving chipmunks that will not allow a sprout to grow in the ground. The pot I have I believe is large enough to support a large sunflower but I was worried it was going downhill.. Upon trying to remove it from the pot the top probably 8 or so inches separated from the rest of the root system which went all the way down to the bottom of the pot. The roots that tore off were all very small, hairlike in size but I am concerned too many of them were separated from the stalk. There is probably a foot wide, 8 or so inch deep roots connected to the stalk. I have put in the ground and added water with fertilizer mixed in. Is there anything else I can do to preserve the flower? I’m not concerned if the growth is stunted and it doesn’t get as tall as it would normally. I just want to prevent it from dying if possible.

  5. Kamikaze gardener here – I transplanted about 10 sunflowers in different stages this year and have done so successfully.
    I actually just pulled them out of the ground after I had watered, they came out with their root ball. Once, I put 6 in the wheelbarrow after I pulled them out, grabbed my spade and dirt and mulch and rolled them to the front yard.
    The first time it took about 5 days for the sunflowers to completely perk up, the second time it only took 3 because I knew what I was doing and knew what to expect.
    You have to expect that they will look like they have died. The answer to that is fertilizer of some sort (I used some diluted seaweed fertilizer and sprayed it on the sunflower) and water it 2 times a day: in the morning and in the evening. Give it a nice long drink.
    I pretty much did what the article said, except on the second occasion, instead of digging up the root ball, I just pulled up the flower. Then I dug a hole in my bed, put the root ball in, add soil on top of that and topped it with some heavy mulch. In my case that mulch was 6 month old straw bale that was what I would call “seasoned.” I had prepared the straw for a straw bale garden which failed and so began mulching with it. I gave them a good long drink of water after they were planted.
    Strangely, the first batch that were dug up were much more droopy and for longer than the ones that I just pulled up from the ground. 2 of the pulled up from the ground were fine by the end of the day, while 3 more took a couple more days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.