by Debra Wyatt
(last updated July 22, 2015)
The sunflower seems to have it all. Sunflowers are a very versatile plant it is nutritious, attractive, and the seeds are very healthy for us. The sunflower is seen as both a flower and as a vegetable. While they are native to North America this flower can be seen growing around the world.
As a flower the sunflower is used as a bedding flower, in borders, and also used as a cut flower. The plant comes in dozens of varieties as well as different sizes. People love to have them in their yards, especially if they want to attract birds. People love to eat the seeds which are high in protein and are very popular when processed for cooking oil.
This is one of the easiest plants to grow. It is considered to be an annual plant. The seeds can be planted directly into the ground. With the seeds being big they are easy to handle making it a favorite of children to help plant. When planting a person should be mindful that the flowers love to see the sun and that the flowers will open facing the East. So when planning your garden, plant the seeds so that you will be able to see the flowers facing you, like on the west side of the house. The plant will mature anywhere from 70 to 90 days after being planted.
The sunflower can be planted most anywhere. They produce better flowers in full sun, but they can tolerate some shade. Sunflowers are to be considered as one of the hardiest plants. Little care is needed with sunflowers, especially if planted in rich soil. They can survive droughts and mild frosts. A lot of this is due to the fact that they have deep roots. If a hard freeze in the spring is anticipated then they should be covered. An added plus for this plant is that they seldom have disease problems.
Best time to harvest this plant is when the flowers begin to die, usually after the petals have fallen off. To test if the seeds are ready, pull a seed out of the flower and open it up to see if the seed is full. If the plant is ready then cut the head of the plant off, being sure to leave at least three to four inches of the stalk. In a well-ventilated area hang the stalks so they can dry. When the flower has dried rub two flowers together to extract the seeds. The seeds should come off easily.
We enjoy sharing this crop with wildlife. We also enjoy eating the seeds. Birds and squirrels will begin their assault before the seeds are completely ripe. You can protect against this annual invasion by covering the entire flower with an old nylon stocking, a cheese cloth bag, or any other covering that allows light and especially air to flow through. Do not use plastic bags, as moisture buildup will rot the flower and heat buildup will scald it. Some people will put a bag below the flower to catch any seeds that fall.
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