Sunflowers are popular, native to North America

The annual sunflower (Helianthus annus) has a long history in North America, with evidence of its cultivation for food, ceremonial and medical purposes by Native Americans dating back to at least 1000 BC.

Sunflower seeds are said to have been brought to Europe by Spanish explorers around the end of the 16th century and eventually found their way to Eastern Europe. Ukraine is now the world’s largest producer of plants.

Grown commercially primarily for snacks and oil, pollinator-friendly plants – some of which can reach 10 feet tall – have seen new popularity in recent years as farms and fields have opened up to people looking for “sunflower selfies”. Photos of visitors standing in shoulder-length flowers have become ubiquitous on Instagram and Facebook.

It’s easy to grow your own field of sunflowers at home. Shorter varieties can even be grown in containers.

If starting from seed, soak them in room temperature water for 2-8 hours before sowing to improve germination. Plant directly in the garden, 1 inch deep and 6-12 inches apart, once danger of frost has passed, or start indoors three weeks before your last frost date. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy until the seedlings sprout.

Whether raised from seed or purchased from a nursery, sunflower plants should be moved outdoors when danger of frost has passed in your area.

Choose a location that will provide a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

As the plants grow, they develop long taproots that go deep into the ground. Before planting, loosen the soil by digging at least a foot and clearing rocks.

Mix a generous portion of compost into the bed or pot before planting. In addition to providing high quality nutrients throughout the season, compost will improve drainage in heavy clay soils and increase the moisture retention of sand.

Water your plants when the soil dries out, aiming to provide about an inch of water per week, adjusting for rainfall. A 2-inch layer of mulch will help retain soil moisture and reduce weed competition.

If you incorporated compost when planting, your plants may not need additional fertilizer. But if you haven’t, apply an all-purpose slow-release granular fertilizer once or twice during the growing season, following the package directions.

Taller varieties of sunflowers may need protection from the wind, which could topple them, so it’s best to plant them against a fence or structure that will protect them. Otherwise, tie the stems to sturdy stakes for support.

When the flowers open, cut them into bouquets in the morning, after the dew has dried, using a sharp knife or pruning shears.

To collect the seeds, wait until the plants die back and the flowers fall off at the end of the season. The backs of the flowers will be brown and you should be able to see the seeds emerging from the head. Cut flowers from plants with a few inches of stem attached and immediately place them in a bag or container to avoid spilling the seeds, which will be loose.

Remove the seeds by rubbing the flower heads over a bucket using your hands or a stiff brush. Sieve the seeds to remove vegetable matter and rinse well. Put them on paper towels overnight to dry.

Enjoy eating the seeds raw (store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator) or place them on a cookie sheet and roast at 325 degrees F for 15-30 minutes or until brown, in stirring them halfway through cooking. If you want your seeds salted, simmer them in 2 liters of water to which you have added 1/3-1/2 cup of salt, for 1 ½-2 hours, then strain in a colander and roast as above.

Comments are closed.