Growing Sunflowers From Seed
An Explosion of Sunflowers
Grow Sunflowers In Your Yard Or Garden
A beautiful and fun flower to grow is the sunflower. They got their name because the colorful blossoms will turn during the day to follow the sun's path. Although most people think of them as yellow, there are actually several varieties that aren't yellow at all.
Along with having the lovely flowers (just one or two in a tall vase can be spectacular) you can also grow sunflowers for their delicious and nutritious seeds! You can harvest these to eat yourself or save them for a mid-winter treat for birds in your yard.
I have grown sunflowers on and off for the last decade. In the Pacific Northwest where I live, an overcast summer can make it challenging.
Sunflower Seeds For Planting
Heirloom, organic seeds are hardy and reproduce by open pollination, so any seeds saved will reliably grow the same flowers in future seasons. This is an important feature for healthy ecosystems, and for seeds intended to be eaten by animals, birds or people.
Colors and Types of Sunflowers
Although most people would presume that sunflowers are yellow, there are actually quite a few color variations available.
- Yellow - These can be dark gold to bright lemon yellow.
- Red - The red range can go from dusky orange or rust to bright cherry red.
- Green - Sometimes called lime or ice green.
- Chocolate - This is the name give to brown sunflowers.
- White - A very pale flower.
The petals on a sunflower can vary as well. Some have bold, spaced petals while others like the Teddy Bear sunflower are covered with so many little petals, they look fuzzy! You will also find varigated sunflowers, where the petals fade from one color to another, or into several more. These can be quite dramatic.
Not all sunflowers grow singluarly either. While some stalks are topped by just one large bloom, some variations put out multiple flowers all along the strong stems.
If you get a seed mix, you'll have the ability to grow different types and be surprised all summer!
Hybrid vs Heirloom
- Hybrid varieties are purposeful crosses of two plants, and those seeds will not reproduce themselves. The offspring will show characteristics of one or the other parents. They must be repurchased fresh each year
- Heirloom or open-pollination varieties are plants that will produce the same type of flower if the seeds are saved until the next year. These are favored by organic and permaculture gardeners.
Start by finding a spot in your yard or garden that is 1) sunny and 2) has room for plants that can be five feet tall or taller. Sunflower definitely grow best where there's lots of daytime sunshine and you want to make sure they aren't going to bump into anything when they reach their full height, or shade out other plants below them that might also need some sun.
Growing sunflower plants need plenty of water, especially if the plants are young transplants or if the weather is hot for a sustained amount of days in a row. Giant-head varieties and other "super" seed producers may also need poles for extra support or to ensure sturdy growth. Be sure to tie stems to supports with soft ties so as not to damage plants. They also benefit from being fertilized. (please use only organic products for your benefit and that of the critters in your yard!)
Harvesting Sunflower SeedsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Harvesting Your Sunflower Seeds
- Harvesting & Handling Sunflowers
Sunflowers growing in the backyard are easy to harvest and roast for a tasty treat. Sunflowers should be allowed to mature in the garden.
- Growing Giant Sunflowers
How to grow giant sunflowers: tips from an expert
- Ancient Seeds Sow Debate Over Sunflower-Farming Origins
Mexicans discovered sunflower farming for themselves around 300 B.C., a new study says. Others argue that the technique trickled down from the eastern U.S.
Join The Hunt for Bees!
- The Great Sunflower Project
You'll get sent free sunflower seeds (it helps for the study for everyone to grow the same flower), it takes just a few minutes and you can beautify your garden and help keep an eye on your local bees!
Saving and Drying Your Sunflower Heads
As sunflower heads approach maturity, it may be necessary to protect developing seeds from birds, squirrels or other garden nibblers. Netting or bagging the heads can guard the seeds before they fully loosen or start being eaten. Cheesecloth or small paper bags are most often used. One really easy method is to use a small-mesh lingerie bag which can just zip closed around the stem but still let plenty of air to the flower head.
One interesting thing about sunflowers is that while they are developing, the heads will turn to follow the sun, BUT once the seeds really start to grow, the sunflower will stay facing to the east to protect them from the serious sun rays that come from facing west.
How to Tell When The Sunflower Heads Are Ready For Harvest
- Watch for the back of the seed head to turn from green to yellow. When it gets really yellow, you'll want to cut the head and as much stem as you can from the plant. Then take the head and hang it up in a dark, dry location to finish drying. How much time that takes will vary. You'll know when the seeds are done as ripe seeds will be lose in the head and should be able to be brushed out by hand easily.
Listen to a Sunflower Farmer
Shelling or Hulling the Seeds
- The Sunflower Seed Huller and Oil Press By Jeff Cox
The job was to find out who makes a sunflower seed dehuller or to devise one if none were manufactured. And to either locate a home-scale oilseed press or devise one. No mean task.
- Tips for Preparing Sunflower Seeds
The quickest way to shell sunflower seeds is to grind them in a seed mill and then place them in cold water where the shells will float to the top and can be skimmed off with a slotted spoon.
- A Seed Dehuller for the Corona Grain Mill
I began to wonder if the Net might offer any practical suggestions for dehulling sunflower seeds, and found this: An attachment for the Corona hand cranked grain mill--"a gift to humanity" designed to hull rice, spelt wheat, quinoa and millet.
Uses for Sunflower Seeds
Roasting Sunflower Seeds
- Boil the seeds (shells and all) in heavily salted water for about an hour, and then roast for about 20-30 minutes in an oven that's about 350 degrees. Keep an eye on those seeds after the 20 minute mark as you want them roasted and not burnt, and how long they take will vary slightly with each batch you roast.
Sunflower Seed Butter
- Shell (hull) your seeds and then crush them with a mortar and pestle or run them through your food processor the same way you would with any other seed or nut.
Saving Heads For The Birds
- Many people who grow sunflowers for the birds pick and dry the heads, offering them later in the winter. Leave a good amount of stem on the head when you dry it, and it will make it easy to hang as a bird feeder all by itself!