Sunflowers are one of the easiest flowers to grow in the garden. For this reason, they took the top spot in the Top 5 Easiest Plants for Kids to Grow. Sunflowers are a beautiful addition to a summer flower garden and are helpful with attracting pollinators to the garden. Many of us have memories of planting sunflowers when we were young; the stems seemed to shoot up before our eyes. Bring some of that magic into your garden by growing sunflowers. If you choose the right sunflower variety, you get the added benefit of harvesting delicious sunflower seeds.
Here are 5 tips for growing and harvesting your own sunflower seeds:
1. Sunflowers are simple to grow.
Sunflowers aren’t picky about the soil. Sunflowers tolerate rocky and sandy soils; to be sure though, sunflowers grown in rich soil will grow taller and fuller than those that aren’t. Sunflowers are easily grown from seed. If you do transplant, don’t wait too long as sunflowers get rootbound quickly and don’t always recover well. Space large sunflower plants 2-3 feet apart. If the plants are too close to each other, the heads will be smaller.
2. Choose the correct variety.
Confection varieties are grown for edible seeds. There are two main types of confectionvarieties: “tall” types and “short” types:
Tall confection types typically produce the most seeds, but seeds may be smaller sized. Varieties include “Giganteus”, “Mammoth Gray Stripe”, “Mammoth Russian”, and “Titan”. You can tell from the names these are going to be big flowers!
Short varieties are (obviously) shorter and they normally have fewer seeds per head, but the seeds are larger. Varieties include “Royal Hybrid”, “Snack Seed”, and “Super Snack Mix”.
3. Harvest at the right time.
Growing sunflowers is easy, but knowing when to harvest the seeds isn’t. If you harvest too soon, you will have plenty of seeds but small kernels inside. If you wait too long, on the other hand, they may dry out or get harvested by the birds. A few things to look for when determining when to harvest are:
- Harvest when seeds are plump and developed.
- Harvest when flower petals begin to dry out and fall off.
- Harvest when the back of flower turns from green to yellow (if you are cutting the stem off to dry).
- Harvest when the back of the flower is brown (if you are letting seeds dry with the stem intact).
4. Choose a method for collecting seeds.
One method is to let seeds develop on the stem, harvesting them when they begin to loosen. This method usually requires you to cover the heads with netting or paper bags to protect the seeds from being eaten by birds. Loosen seeds by hand to remove them from the head. Let seeds dry out before storing them. Another method is to harvest the head when outer seeds are mature and the inner seeds begin to ripen. Cut off the stalk about 4 inches below the head, and hang upside down in a warm area covered in a paper sack until seeds mature.
5. Enjoy your harvest!
After collecting the seeds, you can eat them right away, roast them with a little salt, or save some to plant for next season. The nice thing about growing sunflower seeds is you will probably have enough seeds to do all three! Once dry, you can store sunflower seeds for 2-3 months in a sealed container, or up to a year if kept in the freezer.
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About the Author:
Angela Judd is an avid vegetable, flower and fruit tree gardener. A mother of five children, she enjoys growing and preparing food from the garden for her family. She is a certified Master Gardener. She shares inspiration and tips to help home gardeners successfully grow their own garden on growinginthegarden.com. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.