Sunflowers are not only a beautiful flower, adding color to your yard or garden, they are also a vegetable yielding seeds packed with a concentrated dose of essential nutrients and minerals including protein, fiber, and vitamin E, a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. In addition, the seeds provide heart-healthy minerals such as magnesium, selenium, and linoleic acid. Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or can be ground and used as meal or flour for baking.
These half-hardy plants are ideal for growing zones four through nine. An added bonus of these flowers is that each of its species attracts both birds and bees, ensuring a greater pollination for the other plants in your yard and garden.
Sunflowers can grow in soil that ranges between mildly acidic to mildly alkaline. It is best to clear your soil of all debris prior to planting. Eliminate stones, sticks, or other items that may inhibit root growth. Though sunflowers can grow in moderate soil, the best flowers and seeds will come from rich, well-fertilized ground. Use compost or an organic compound fertilizer, aerating the ground as you apply added nutrients to the soil. This will give your plants the best growing conditions for the season. Ensure that your soil pH rates between 5.7 and 8.1 for ideal results.
Sunflowers often require pre-season planting, especially in cooler climates, and because of that, seeds must be planted in pots indoors (ideally peat pots) about four inches in diameter. It is best to place these in an aerated space until the plant pushes through the surface of the dirt. Space seeds about nine and a half inches apart and about half an inch deep. Soil should be kept at a temperature warmer than 55°F, and all seeds should be planted about three weeks before the final frost of spring.
As their name suggests, sunflowers should be transplanted into a full-sun area. Once you have established an outdoor space for your seedlings, you will want to ensure that each is spaced according to the type of plant you’re sowing. Giant flowers, for instance, should be placed approximately three feet apart. Medium-sized (or regular) sunflowers should be placed about two feet apart, and miniature flowers should be planted with a spacing of about one foot. These plants are versatile and can be placed in traditional rows, in patterns, or in special groupings. The flowers give gardeners a bit of freedom in arrangement and appearance.
Be sure to moderately water your flowers until they are firmly established outdoors. At this point, the plants are a bit hardier and can withstand mild drought conditions if necessary. Sunflowers mature between seventy and ninety days, depending on their type, and most produce high yields of seeds.
Birds and other small animals love your sunflowers as much as you do. If you want to harvest your sunflower seeds, take protective measures against these critters snacking on your flowers. You can cover the seed heads of your plants with floating row covers, netting, or even paper bags while your seeds ripen for harvesting. Whatever your choice in covering, ensure that it allows both air and light to reach the seeds, promoting growth and avoiding mold and moisture build-up.
Harvesting Flowers for Decoration
If you want to harvest your flowers for indoor decorating or craft purposes, the ideal time to do so is right before the flower fades and the petals fall away from the plant. Cut the head of the flower several inches down the stalk, and use the stalk to hang the harvest upside-down in a well-ventilated space. Do not pile the flowers together or place them in a container, as this may result in molding and wilting. It may take a few weeks for the flowers to dry completely, but once they have done so, they are ready for your creative touch.
Harvesting for Seeds
If it is the sunflower seeds you desire to harvest, wait until the flower has begun to wilt and the petals are falling from the plant. Test the seeds by plucking a sample and opening the hull to establish the seed size. If the seed has filled the shell, it is ready for harvest. At this point, obtain the flower head in the same manner as described above, drying the heads completely by hanging. Once your flowers and seeds are dry, rub the flower heads together to extract all seeds; add your harvest to salads, dishes, and baking projects, or simply enjoy them as a healthy mid-day snack.