Guest blogger Karen Weiland is a master gardener and busines woman in LaGrange County. Not only does she author a gardening column for several local newspapers, she also runs Village View Bed and Breakfast in Howe. Karen also spearheads LaGrange County’s Barn Quilt Tour, having organized the event and painted many of the beautiful barn quilt murals that dot the LaGrange County landscape. Karen shares a wealth of knowledge about gardening.
In my opinion, the happy-face of the plant world is a big, beautiful, yellow sunflower. They can be grown as a cash crop for their edible seed and oil or for the sunshine they add to a floral arrangement.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) grow rather rapidly producing large, rough leaves and seed laden heads. The yellow petals that you see around the outside of the head are ray petals, attracting pollinators to the disk and the face of the head actually contains hundreds of disk flowers, each of which will form a seed. Sunflower heads turn with or track the sun during the early stages of their development . This aids in light exposure and photosynthesis. After pollination the disk will remain east-facing and eventually turn downward to protect the seeds from solar radiation.
Seeds may be planted about 1 inch deep after the soil has reached a temperature of 50 degrees and all danger of frost has passed through mid-July. Sunflowers prefer well-drained, sandy loam soil and 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.
I have not had much of a problem with diseases or insects. Grasshoppers and caterpillars like to feed on the leaves but not so much that it has been detrimental to the plant or yield. As with everything else in the garden, good crop rotation will prevent problems with sunflowers.
Protect the seed from birds by covering the head with burlap or netting. Sunflower seeds are considered mature when the back of the seed head is yellow. Remove the entire head and place it in a bag or wrap it in cheesecloth and hang it in a cool, dry, dark area to finish drying. After about 2 weeks the seed should be ready for eating, either by you or the birds. The birds like them raw but I like them roasted. Arrange the dried seeds in a shallow pan and roast them at 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
There are so many different varieties and colors of sunflowers to choose from. Start planting today and bring a little sunshine to your life!
As always, Happy Gardening!
Karen Weiland, Purdue University Master Gardener, Purdue Extension, LaGrange County