chickencoupeDecember 10, 2013

You know... my head was dizzy while browsing the variety of sunflowers in the catalogs. I kept thinking "They're just sunflowers!".

1) For the birds, mainly. (Is harvest a big chore? Would be cool if I could easily put some back for winter. But I'm probably thinking nonsense. I'll be too busy with our food.)

2) Some for Bill to fiddle with harvesting and eating.

3) Strong and sturdy. I don't want to mess with 'em!

4) Something for Little Miss to sing about. She'll be assigned to water duty on the sunflowers. :D

What do ya'll recommend?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

If you are growing them for the birds, it is likely the birds will harvest the seeds long before you even realize the seedheads are ready to harvest. If your intent is to grow seeds for winter bird food, you'll need to keep the plants covered with bird netting that will keep the birds from eating the seeds in the summer. Then you can harvest them by cutting off the entire seedhead when the seeds are mature. I line them up on a table in my potting shed to dry. When I want to feed the birds in winter, I just place a gigantic seedhead full of seeds on the ground, and the birds peck the seeds right out of the plant themselves. Mammoth Gray Stripe, Titan, Giganteus, Black Russian or Giant Russian all work well for this. They also produce great seeds for human consumption, but you may have to fight the wildlife for them. Some years the squirrels, deer and birds beat me to ever sunflower seed produced by our plants.

Strong and sturdy? The varieties I mentioned above, plus SunForest and American Giants.

For Little Miss, there are miniature sunflowers that get only a foot tall and there are some that get 2 or 3 feet tall I love mixing those little varieties right in with my veggies. They are constantly introducing new dwarf sunflower varieties. Teddy Bear is one of my favorite dwarf ones and SunSpot is another. I've grown a mix called something like Solar Babies that was really cute too.

If you think she'd enjoy sunflowers in various colors, Autumn Beauty is a mix of lovely colors and I truly love the red varieties.

If it is seed you want, be sure you don't accidentally pick one of the newer pollenless types developed purely for the cut flower industry. Velvet Queen is likely the first red sunflower I ever grew, but it is not a true red. It is almost a brownish red at some stages.Some of the newer red varieties are more of a true red,but with sunflowers, the color red is more of a maroonish dark red, not a bright fire engine red.

There are so many different sunflowers available that it is really all about whatever sizes and colors you prefer to grow.

I've never met a sunflower I didn't like, so I often match my sunflowers to the season. I'll grow some of the ones that produce white (Italian White), greenish-white (Jade) or paler yellow (Lemon Queen or Lemon Aura) flowers for spring sunflowers or some of the pale peachy (Peach Aura or something similar) ones, and plant bright yellow and golden yellow ones (there are dozens of varieties in these shades) for summer sunflowers, and then plant the red (Infared or Moulin Rouge, which might be my all-time favorite sunflower), orange (Soraya) and earth-toned (Earthwalker is one) varieties for fall. There also are lots of bi-colored sunflowers now like Floristan, Jolly Joker and Cherry Rose that are great in summer and fall.

Sunflowers are ridiculously easy to grow. When the kids in our extended family were smaller, I liked to plant sunflower houses for the nieces to play in and bean tee pees for the boys to use as forts. There's really no bad or poor performing sunflower as far as I am concerned, so I just choose whichever ones appeal to me in any given season or year.

There are some butterflies here whose caterpillars feed on the sunflower leaves and these cats will devour every leaf and kill your plants. While I love butterflies and grow many flowers and other plants just for butterflies and moths, I learned long ago that I need to handpick and destroy those specific caterpillars or my plants won't live long enough to produce a single sunflower.

Other than those caterpillars, sunflowers are really easy to grow. They tolerate all kinds of weather really well and aren't that picky about the kind of soil they're grown in either. At some stages, the plants can be pretty vulnerable to the strong winds that often accompany thunderstorms, so I like to grow the sunflowers either along a fenceline, or with stakes in the ground next to them so I can stake them up when they get pretty tall.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 12:35AM
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I would adore to have a peaceful walk through your sunflower garden ... with Little Miss in tow. Well, I'd be in tow, knowing her.

Today we were visiting with my oldest daughter and my grand baby via skype. Little Miss was going on about gardening.

"But I only like the flowers." she said with a determined face.

I'm with ya. Sunflowers just shine with goodness, life and fulfilling happiness. There's so many more beautiful flowers in existence but this one takes the cake with an essence of "all is right".

I hoped to plant them along the fence line. It's windy down there.

How tall should my stakes be (in general)?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 11:53PM
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Thank you, Dawn. It was much more fun looking at the catalogs late last night after reading your post. There is a remarkable type of happy that runs in and through sunflowers. I hope to enjoy my own next year! And, from the sound of it, saving back for winter bird feed is highly doable if I can get enough ground worked in the spring.

What's the minimum size I should use for the stakes on the larger variety?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 9:41AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, It just depends on the type of sunflower. With the gigantic monsters that get 8 to 12' tall or taller, I like using green metal t-posts. I have some that are 6' tall and some that are 8'. I am not tall, so I have to stand on a ladder to hammer the t-posts into the ground, but once they are in place, I leave them there for the season. Much depends on how exposed your garden area is. Someone who has a good windbreak around their property might not stake the really tall sunflowers at all, but someone in an area with a lot of wind exposure and no windbreaks around might need to stake the tall ones.

Since we raised the garden fence to 8' in height a few years ago, I just tie my sunflower stalks to the fence more often than not. If I do things right, the fence is covered in vining plants like moonflower vine, morning glories, black-eyed susan vines (as cute and as cheery as sunflowers), hyacinth bean vines, cypress vines, cardinal climber, half-runner beans, pole beans, mini pumpkins, cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers, winter squash and gourds. Somewhere in the midst of all those vining plants, there will be some tall zinnias and some sunflowers that the vines climb and help attach to the fence. It is a sort of crazy, madcap garden madness and likely wouldn't appeal to someone who wants a neat, tidy garden, but my garden is a full-blown jungle every year, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

If you grow some of the more recently developed ornamental sunflowers that top out at only 5' or 6' in height, you likely won't even have to stake them. It is only the ones that go above 6' in height that seem to start leaning over and leaning and leaning once they are tall and heavy. You also can avoid staking if you plant them thick enough that they hold each other don't see any staked sunflowers in the fields of sunflowers grown by sunflower farmers!

If you feel like your area is exposed enough that even 6' tall sunflowers would need to be staked, I imagine even 3 to 4' tall grade stakes would work. I use that size stakes for lots of garden tasks because a bundle of grade stakes is relatively inexpensive compared to metal fence posts. I also use 3' tall green metal t-posts in the garden a lot. Often a tomato cage that is supporting a tall indeterminate plant will stay upright just fine as long as the cage is staked with a couple of 3' tall t-posts. Some of the larger tomato varieties that carries huge loads of fruit do need a 6' or 8' tall post most years, but a lot of the more average-sized ones do fine with smaller posts.

I haven't grown as many sunflowers in recent years because of ongoing drought that just won't end. Last year I planted tons of heat- and drought-tolerant flowers in the new back garden, which has a highly sandy loam content than the front clayey garden, so this year I am going to plant a lot of sunflowers back there. And if, in fact, we never make it out of drought conditions here and are headed into spring planting season already in drought, I likely will plant all the veggies in the front garden and only put flowers in the back garden. It is easier for me to stop watering flowers in severe drought than to stop watering veggies. (It isn't easy for me to ever just give up on the garden and stop watering anything, but the recent summer conditions have made it easier because you cannot even water enough to help.)

Sunflowers are about the happiest-looking flowers around, and wherever the native sunflowers spring up, I just leave them there. It doesn't matter if they are in the dog yard and we have to mow around them, or if they are in the path between the greenhouse and potting shed....I leave them and walk around them. Eventually a hungry deer will eat them, thereby removing them for me, but the birds, bees, butterflies and I will enjoy them every summer until the deer take them out.

Once you have even a single native sunflower that has gone to seed, you'll have them forever because the birds spread their seed around the natural way. I planted seeds of Maximilian sunflowers in out of the way places that we don't mow, like on the edge of the woodland, because they are very drought-tolerant and are one of the few plants that can be in full bloom and looking beautiful in the worst of the late summer heat and drought conditions. In the worst drought years they are much shorter than normal and have fewer flowers, but they still are there and they still have some flowers.

We used to have about a half-acre full of black-eyed susans along our southern fence line that bloomed a large portion of the summer, but the persistent summer droughts since 2011 have wiped them out. I might try mowing that pasture low in late winter and sowing black-eyed susan seeds there in an effort to reestablish those flowers there. It looked really sad and bare the last couple of summers with nothing but prairie grasses.

Black-eyed susans and clasping conflowers used to pop up all over our property back when we had more summer rainfall, but lately they have been scarce. To me, they are as cheerful and happy-looking as sunflowers, but at a shorter height and with smaller flowers obviously. I like to have them mixed in with sunflowers or at least growing close together because they are so pretty together.

When the garden fence was shorter, the deer sometimes would jump the fence and eat every part of the sunflower plant except the hard woody part of the stalk. They'd eat entire flowers before they even bloomed, but also while they were in bloom and after they had bloomed and were full of maturing seeds. Staking the plants gave the plants a little protection from the deer because they didn't devour the staked ones as much as the unstaked ones. I imagine it was a pain in the neck to work their way around the garden twine and stakes. You shouldn't have as much of a deer problem there as I have here. The only way to figure out if sunflowers will need to be staked, to some degree, will be by growing them and seeing how they handle the winds. some years, they'll be fine with no staking, but in other years, they (and you) will be happier if they are staked.

I really didn't start staking sunflowers until I made my first sunflower house. A sunflower house is, essentially, a children's playhouse made by planting sunflowers in a square (leave an opening for a door) to simulate walls. Then, once the sunflowers are several feet tall, you sow the seed of fast-growing vines between the sunflower plants. As the vining plants (I use morning glories, generally 'Heavenly Blue' the most often, but any vine will work) climb the sunflowers, they put a lot of extra weight on the sunflower stalks, so that's why it is good to stake each sunflower in the sunflower house. Once the sunflower stalks and vines are taller than the tallest person who will be in the house, you run garden twine back and forth between the flower stalks/stakes at head height. Then your vines grow horizontally along the twice to form the room of the sunflower house. It is simply the cutest thing you'll ever have in your garden! I almost planted a sunflower house just for myself last year in the back garden, and I think I might go ahead and do it this year. When we had little kids around, the sunflower houses were so much fun for them to play house in. Girls might drag little plastic chairs and teddy bears and dolls into a sunflower house, but boys will bring water guns, rubber band guns, nerf guns, etc. into the sunflower houses and use them as sunflower forts.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 10:45AM
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Errr... my creepy double post. The day was frightfully hectic yesterday. All the while my inner desire was to dream about next year's garden. lol I couldn't wait to get back to the catalog after reading your post. then I forgot I already asked.

I remember learning that stakes need be buried before the plant takes solid root. Otherwise I might damage the roots. So, I wondered how long it needed to be. I don't know why but my back yard can get very windy. Works well for the clothes line, but I'm betting a 6' tall sunflower wouldn't like it much. I'll plant them along the fence line close together with some stakes and see if I need to tie them up. I was wondering what to plant amongst them. Someone sent me some black-eyed susan seeds. They'll fit right in.

A jungle would be nice next year. If I can do. I so hope I can find a way to make it happen as much as the soil will allow. Ever since relief from surgery I'm just itching to make things finally happen.

Awesome is the sunflower house idea! I know where we can put it!

If I have my way, the bees are going to love me next year. I always feel sorry for them in early spring when they're making the most of the measly white clover patches and the grape hyacinths. I know the sunflower come later, but they are abundant here and I'm curious to see how they flourish. Just lovely thoughts in my mind.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 10:37PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

When I have plants that need stakes, I like to put the stakes in the ground while the plants still are very small so that I don't damage any roots when I hammer a stake into the ground. However, there have been plenty of times I've come back and hammered a second, third or fourth stake into the ground to support a heavily laden plant (normally it is a caged tomato plant) that is starting to lean sideways, and if I ever have inflicted one iota of root damage, I never knew it because the plants didn't falter or slow down or even act angry.

Sunflower houses have existed for as long as I can remember. Certainly they are a simple and beautiful way to include children in the gardening process and to give them summertime forts, playhouses and bean teepees (just make a bean teepee taller and wider than usual and leave one portion unplanted to serve as a door) so kids can play inside. With any and every sunflower house or bean teepee that I've ever made for the kids, whatever cats and dogs we had at the time spent at least as much time lying inside in the shade as the kids spent playing. There's just something appealing about a shady, enclosed area that makes everyone want to hang out there.

I worry most about the bees in December and January when little is in bloom. I always try to have something blooming for them, and sometimes I put out nectar in hummingbird feeders only mixed at the right concentration for the bees, and in very cold weather I've put out honey for them, putting it in a saucer sitting in the middle of a bird bath. I put the most shallow amount of water in the bird bath---just enough to keep eats from beating the bees to the honey.

On sunny winter days when there's not much in bloom, the bees visit the cracked corn I put out for the deer or in the chicken run for the chickens. I am not sure how they extract nutrients from the corn, but it is clear that they do because the corn is visited by bees nonstop from sunrise to sunset.

One reason I like henbit so much is that, even though many people consider it an unsightly weed, i think it is pretty (honestly, anything green with purple flowers looks gorgeous when it is the only thing in bloom) and the flowers feed the bees and other small flying critters that need to have something to help them survive the winter.

We had some henbit in bloom at this time last year, but the snow has slowed it down and none of it is in bloom yet this year.

I'm going to link the results of a Google search for sunflower houses. There's no wrong way to make a sunflower house and you can find many creative examples of them on the internet. My favorites are the ones where vines of some type are used for a roof because that shades the kids from the sun, but kids will play in and enjoy a sunflower house without a roof too. I saw one once that someone had planted in a circular shape instead of in a square. They used really tall sunflowers, probably Russian Graystripe, and then pulled the tops of the sunflowers together up high and tied them to one another, so the sunflower house looked like a sunflower teepee. It was so cute.


Here is a link that might be useful: Sunflower House Photo

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 9:53AM
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Hehe I showed her the catalog this morning. She really likes the big sunflowers and some of the reds. She was wondering how we get a table and chairs inside the sunflower house to have a "pick a nick". I think we're sold on the idea. Let's hope my dirt agrees.

Sunflowers and beans and glories.. a jungle.. Yea!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 11:01AM
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The giant mammoth sunflower seedlings have begun !! Some are not sprouting well - those in the buckwheat. It's a 3 sided square with one that runs through the buckwheat patch. I guess they don't like each other. maybe I need to rip out all of the buckwheat in that area. Looking forward to watching them grow. Bill just made the stakes today.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 6:52PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

The year I grew them, the squirrels harvested them before I did :) I couldn't figure out where the heads were going until I caught a squirrel dragging one away.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 8:14PM
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Oh, that just makes me hate those tree rats even more.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 9:58PM
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I read this, and it looks as though I goofed again. I planted some sunflower seed in a flower bed. I just went to check on them and I have 18, all between knee high and waist high. Madge had me move my walking onions from that bed because they hid her flowers. I don't think she is going to be happy with the Sunflowers either.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 10:55PM
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lol Thanks for the giggle.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 11:31PM
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Oh, how wonderful the sunflowers have been! I haven't anything special... just black sunflower seeds and mammoth sunflower seeds of both striped and black. MORE! Next year... much much more. The sunflower hut didn't make it as several of the flower succumbed to disease. But they came back and grew multiple heads instead of one while the others were much taller. The various growth rates didn't qualify for a hut. But there's always next year. Seems the sunflower seeds I dropped did much better than the intentional planted.

I don't ever want another summer without sunflowers in the garden. And that's an easy request with these lovelies.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 6:56PM
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