It is not too late to enjoy growing fall sunflowers
I think sunflowers fall into the category of sunny, summer royalty.
One of the most striking sunflower sights I have ever seen was while driving through North and South Dakota on the way to Sturgis and Bike Week. There were miles and miles -- acres and acres -- of yellow sunflowers blooming for as far as the eye could see.
They were being grown for oil and seed. This sight makes sense; in 2020, North Dakota was No. 1 and South Dakota ranked No. 2 in sunflower production, accounting for 45% and 39% of the nation’s output, respectively. Together, these two states produced over 2 billion pounds of sunflower products.
But that trip is a topic for an entirely different time.
I recently shared on social media a picture of some sunflowers I’m growing in the easement that runs along my property line. These pictures have generated some questions about whether it’s too late to grow sunflowers for the fall. The short answer is that it’s not too late.
Consider that most ornamental and cut-flower sunflower varieties flower 60 days after planting on average. So, for most years, if seeds are planted by Aug. 15, you can enjoy these gorgeous flowers from late September to October.
From several years ago, I remember a fantastic mid-October sunflower demonstration planting at the Fall Flower and Garden Fest at the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs.
The ornamental varieties have a wide range of sizes and colors. The plants can range from under 1 foot tall to 6 feet or more. And while yellow is probably the most popular color, other colors available are white, bronze, burgundy and orange.
For fall planting, I recommend 3- to 4-foot varieties in warm, autumnal colors.
Sunflower seeds can be started in small containers using professional potting mix and grown as transplants. When the seedlings are about 4 inches tall -- and this will happen within about 10 days -- they can be transplanted to full sun planting areas.
Since sunflowers are large-seeded plants, I find that if seeds are directly planted into the garden, they will develop much quicker than those started in small containers and transplanted.
One of the reasons I like to grow sunflowers is because they attract all kinds of wildlife.
I learned a wildlife lesson this year. I like to sow sunflower seeds in the easement by leaning over the fence and broadcasting the seeds. But this year, we have a gaggle of 16 Muscovy ducklings that have been wandering around our neighborhood. Everyone has enjoyed watching them grow up.
The day after I broadcast the sunflower seeds over the fence, I discovered all 16 ducklings moving through the easement and eating all of them. Suddenly, they were not so cute.
This past weekend, I saw seed racks still up in the store and containing a good selection of sunflower seeds. If you don’t already have sunflower plants growing, why not grab some seeds now and give growing fall sunflowers a try this year.