It's officially summer! How do you celebrate this glorious sunshine filled season? Relaxing on the beach? Kayaking down a lazy stream? A backyard BBQ with friends? How about adding "growing sunflowers" to that list. The gorgeous blooms are surprisingly easy to grow, and their benefits continue long after the flowers fade.
Sunflowers may surprise you
Recently, I was searching through a seed catalog for sunflower seeds to plant for my honeybees. I was pleasantly surprised by how diverse the selection was. Sunflowers can be as short as two feet tall (dwarf varieties) to as tall as 15 feet high. But what I found most delightful was the variety of colors, which range from traditional sunshine yellow to burnt orange to deep, dark red.
Sunflowerselection.com has introduced three new varieties for 2016. The Procut Orange DMR resists downy mildew, Procut Plum is a new color that's never been seen in sunflowers before, and Gypsy Charmer is a vibrant tricolor flower.
Your guide to growing sunflowers
Sunflowers are easy to grow, and that's why they're a great garden project for kids. Smaller sized gardeners will love getting their hands dirty planting the easy-to-handle seeds, charting the flower's growth, and ultimately celebrating its brilliant bloom.
Plant sunflower seeds after the risk of frost has passed. For most of the U.S. this will be in the spring from March to May.
If your soil is thick (i.e. has a lot of clay) then mix in some peat moss. Aside from that, little soil amending is required. Of course sunflowers will appreciate compost, but they'll probably fare well without it.
As the sunflower plant grows it will need a trellis or stake to climb. A bamboo stake or wooden dowel purchased at the local hardware store is useful. How long the stake or dowel needs to be depends on how tall the seed packet says the plant will grow.
Plant seeds 12 inches apart. The seed packet will tell you how deep to plant the seeds.
6 benefits of growing sunflowers
1. Sunflowers attract beneficial honeybees. You know how beneficial honeybees are as pollinators. You also know that they are threatened by a variety of factors. The good news is that growing sunflowers attracts the busy pollinators to your garden.
2. Sunflower seeds are beneficial feed for chickens. Your backyard chickens will enjoy sunflower seeds as a nutritious, all-natural addition to their diet.
3. Birds love the seeds too. Many other species of birds are important pollinators, and they are attracted to large, brightly colored flowers. So, growing sunflowers will attract these important pollinators as well as bees.
4. Economical fresh cut flowers. Have you been to your local flower shop or farmers market recently to purchase sunflowers? If so, you've noticed how pricey they can be. By growing your own you'll have an abundant supply of the blooms for cut flower arrangements.
5. Delicious and nutritious sunflower seeds. Once the glorious sunflowers have passed their prime, cut off their droopy heads and leave them outdoors to dry for a couple weeks. Once the heads are dry you'll be able to free the seeds by giving the heads a couple of strong shakes. (If the shaking doesn't work, then lightly brush them out with your hand.)
Roast the seeds in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30-40 minutes.
Enjoy the nutritious seeds as a snack while you're out enjoying all your favorite summer activities.
6. Attract bugs away from other garden plants. Sunflowers will attract harmful bugs such as aphids and keep them away from other garden veggie plants. (Thanks to Brandon & Meredith's YouTube video for this tip.)
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image of woman with sunflower via Shutterstock