What do sunflowers eat?

How many sunflower have petals and sepals

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Plant of the Week

Helianthus mollis range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Ashy sunflower plants. Photo (c) 2011 David D. Taylor.

Close up of the flower head. Photo (c) 2011 David D. Taylor.

Leaves and stem of the ashy sunflower. Photo (c) 2011 David D. Taylor.

Ashy Sunflower (Helianthus mollis Lam.)

By David Taylor

Ashy Sunflower is a member of the Asteraceae, the Sunflower family. In older manuals and guides, this family is called the Compositae because the ‘flowers’ are a composite of many flowers, often of different types. The many species of plants in this family are grouped based on the arrangement and type of flowers. All members of the family produce one or more heads (capitulum, the term used in technical keys) of flowers. This and other sunflowers have two different types of flowers, ray flowers and disk flowers and in turn, these can have male and female parts, or either one or the other. The ray flowers look like petals, but each is actually an individual flower. The disk flowers are at the center of the head, inside the ring of ray flowers. The disk flowers are usually small. Using a hand lens, one can see the distinct tips of 5 petals in each flower. The disk flowers closest to the ray flowers open first.

This sunflower is 0.5 – 1.0 meters (1.6 – 3.3 feet) tall. The stem is rigid and covered in soft spreading hairs that give it a white to gray cast. Leaves are opposite (rarely alternate near the top), wider at the base than the top, and are 6 – 15 centimeters (2.4 – 6 inches) long by 3-7 centimeters (1.2 to 2.8 inches) wide. They also are covered in dense hairs, resulting in a white to grayish cast. It is from this coloration that the name ashy sunflower is derived. Heads are generally borne individually or in clusters of 2 or 3, and may be found in the axils of leaves from the top to above half way down the plant. Each head generally has 15-30 ray flowers that are 1.5 – 3.5 centimeters (0.6 – 1.4 inches) long, and numerous disk flowers. Both the ray and disk flowers are yellow. The center of the containing the disk flowers is 2-3 centimeters (0.8 – 1.2 inches) wide. The entire head is 3.5 – 6.5 centimeters (1.4 – 2.6 inches) wide.

Ashy sunflower is an open land species, generally on drier, often sandy soils. It is a species of prairies and other grasslands, roadsides, savannas, and woodlands and sometimes old fields. It also occurs in forest openings. It is found from Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska south to Texas and east to the Atlantic with the exception of Florida, Vermont, and New Hampshire. It is also known from Ontario.

This species flowers in July to September depending on the part of the country in which it is found. It is an excellent prairie garden species and is sold by a number of nurseries. Numerous finches will eat the seeds directly from the heads.

For More Information

  • PLANTS Profile – Helianthus mollis, ashy sunflower
  • Flora of North America: Helianthus mollis, ashy sunflower

Are Sunflowers Edible: How To Use Edible Sunflowers From The Garden

Growing sunflowers is great. These stately, tall flowers produce stunning, large, regal blooms. But can you eat a sunflower? You know you can eat sunflower seeds, but if you grow these fun plants you may have wondered if you can eat the actual flowers too. We’ve got the answer for you.

Are Sunflowers Edible?

Most people grow sunflowers simply for their statuesque nature and cheerful, large flowers. But you may also grow them to eat the seeds. Sunflower seeds are tasty and nutritious. Of course, they are also grown on a large scale to make oil, but you can even make a delicious seed butter out of sunflower seeds.

But did you know that you can actually eat much more of the plant than just the seeds? This includes the flowers. You can enjoy both the buds of sunflower plants and the petals of mature blooms. The greens are also edible. Sunflower sprouts are delicate, while the older leaves can be a little tough and fibrous.

How to Use Edible Sunflowers

Eating sunflower buds will mean you don’t get as many big blooms, but they are pretty tasty. Consider growing some extra so you can try them in the kitchen. The buds are best cooked; try lightly steaming or blanching. Toss in butter with a little garlic and salt for a simple vegetable side dish that tastes like artichoke. Just be sure to remove the greens from around the base of the bud before cooking.

The petals of sunflowers are also edible. Pluck them individually to toss into salads. The flavor is unique, described as bittersweet or a little nutty. They make a nice contrast to other flavors in salads. When eating sunflower petals, leave them raw so you don’t lose the flavor and texture.

Sunflower sprouts taste fresh and green, perfect for salads or a topping on stir fries and soups. Use the older leaves as you would other greens: boiled, steamed, sautéed. Remove the center rib before cooking, as it can be pretty tough.

Making the Most Out of Sunflowers

The sunflowers in front of Green City Growers’ Somerville office are bright and in bloom, stretching high above the rest of the garden. With their soaring stalks and bright yellow petals, sunflowers bring color to almost any plot of land. However, sunflowers can do more than just add aesthetic appeal; in fact, they are an entirely edible plant.

From root to leaf, sprout to stalk, you can use your sunflowers to make everything from salads to sunflower tea. Before chowing down, though, make sure the sunflower you’re about to enjoy has been grown organically, without pesticides, or any other toxic substances that might not be so kitchen-friendly.

Once you’ve confirmed your plant is safe to eat, there are plenty of ways to make the most of your sunflower. With a little creativity, you can use all of the following parts of the plant:

Sunflower Roots

The roots of the sunchoke, a species of sunflower also called “Jerusalem artichoke” or “sunroot,” can be roasted, sliced thin and fried, shredded into slaw, steamed, mashed with potatoes, marinated, or even chopped raw and added into salads. Green City Growers regularly plants sunchokes at our production sites such as Whole Foods and Fenway Farms .

Sunflower Sprouts

Once hailed as a salad’s “secret weapon” by The New York Times , sunflower shoots can be used in the same way you might use alfalfa or soybean sprouts. Sunflower sprouts have a taste somewhat similar to sunflower seeds—a slight nuttiness but with more of a fresh, plant-like flavor—that adds an unexpected element to salads and sandwiches.

Sunflower Stalks

Interestingly, sunflower stalks are the lightest natural substance known to man, with a specific gravity one-eighth that of cork. Science aside, sunflower stalks make great snacks, too. With a satisfying crunch and a taste comparable to celery, the stalks of young sunflowers can be added to salad, or eaten raw with hummus or peanut butter.

Sunflower Leaves

Sunflower leaves can be used as a greens for salad, boiled in the same way you might cook spinach, or even baked like kale chips. The leaves are also used as an herbal supplement, with the leaves steeped to make tea.

Sunflower Petals

While sunflower petals might make for pretty garnishes, they can actually be used in salads, too, and they add more than just a dash of color. Known for their unique bittersweet taste, they can be used as a compliment to sweeter flavors in your dish.

Sunflower Seeds

A sunflower is ready to have it seeds eaten when the disk flowers on the back of the plant have turned from green to yellow. While sunflower seeds are often sold in stores, it’s easy to make your own. You can eat them raw, or soak them over night in a salt water and then roast them at 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours.

Try incorporating sunflowers into your own home garden this summer. Don’t have a garden? Request a consultation and we’ll help you get started.

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Sunflowers: Seeds and More

His name was Bob Davis and he grew sunflowers some 15-feet high. I dated his niece, Edie May. I remember her and the flowers with affection though it is approaching a half a century ago.

More so, he managed to get these gigantic flowers up and fruiting in the very short Maine summer, which from frost to frost, can sometimes be less than two months. In fact, I once saw it spit snow on the Fourth of July, a prime reason why I have lived in Florida since 1977.

Striped-hull seeds are for eating

Despite the fact sunflowers sometimes have a head a foot across they are not the largest native blossom in North America. That distinction goes to the much smaller American lotus. Apparently petal size is the issue, not seed bed. None the less, sunflowers look like they should be the largest flowers in North America, certainly the tallest.

One Florida summer I grew seven or so of these mammoth plants and managed to keep the gigantic heads away from the birds long enough to harvest them. I put them in my Florida room to cure. Looking in on them three weeks later they were all eaten. Squirrels, and perhaps a few other creatures. They came in through a small dog door and dined. At least the sunflowers went to a good cause.

No-stripe hull seeds are for oil

Sunflowers have been under cultivation more than 4,000 years, starting perhaps in central Mexico and moving northward and now throughout North America. While the seeds are edible, the roots of some sunflowers other than the Jerusalem Artichoke are also edible. For information on the Jerusalem Artichoke see a separate entry on this site.

Harvest your own snack food or make oil

Sunflowers have also been part of many pre-Columbian sun religions. That the young plants will follow the sun across the sky and then return to facing east during the night was not lost on ancient cultures. The scientific name, Helianthus annuus (heel-ee-ANTH-us AN-yoo-us means annual sunflower. Russia is the largest producer of commercial sunflowers with Argentina second and the United States third. Thus you will find two kinds of wild sunflowers, those that escaped cultivation long ago, reverting back to smaller forms and some that escaped last season still big and brassy.

Hand-operated oil expellor

Sunflowers have many uses. The seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack or, raw, ground into a meal to thicken soups and stews. Roasted hulls can be used to make a brew similar to coffee. Dye can be extracted from hulls and petals and face paint can be made from dried petals mixed with pollen. Dried stalks can also be used to build shelters. The oil is used for food, cooking, medicine and cosmetics. You can even make your own oil with an expellor. One warning, some people have contact dermatitis with the sunflower.

Two types of sunflowers are grown in the United States, oilseed and confectionery. Oilseed sunflowers seeds are small and black with a high oil content. They are processed into oil and meal. Confectionery seeds are large black and white seeds which are roasted and for snacks and breads. But, the offering does not stop with the seeds,.

Helianthus strumosus also has an edible root

Helianthus strumosus, like its cousin the Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, has an edible root. You can tell the strumosus from the rest by a stem that is very branched. It also has a waxy layer that rubs very easily. Its leaves are lighter colored hence its common name, Pale-Leaved Woodland Sunflower. It is found throughout eastern North America. Helianthus means sunflower, annuus, annual, tuberosus, tuber growing, and strumosus a tumor or swelling, in reference that that species edible root.

Incidentally, the sunflower, H. annnuus, is the state flower of Kansas. Also be careful where you collect your wild sunflower. They will take up toxins in the soil and were in fact used after the Chernobyl accident to clean the ground.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Tall, annual or perennial plants, to 12 feet or so. Rough, hairy stem, branched on top. Toothed leaves often sticky. Lower leaves opposite, ovate or heart-shaped. Upper leaves are alternate and narrower. Flower heads with bright yellow rays. Young flower heads follow the direction of the sun, turning east to west during the day turning back to east overnight. Older plants stop turning but face east.

TIME OF YEAR: Seeds and roots in the fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Prefers rich soil and good watering

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous; Seeds raw or roasted, roots raw or roasted. Seed oil has a wide variety of uses and applications.

  • Sprouts: At the beginning of a sunflower’s life cycle, you can pick the sprouts and use them as microgreens. The sprouts are high in zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E. To grow sunflower sprouts, soak black-shelled sunflower seeds for 24 hours, and then plant them in a shallow container filled with soil.
  • Roots: Here’s where another myth comes into play. The roots of sunflower are often touted to be Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes or sunroots. However, these are actually the root of Helianthus tuberosus, a related plant. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, also have edible roots, though, and can be chopped up and steeped in hot water to make tea.
  • Stalks: Chop up the stalks of a young, tender plant and add them to salads for a celery-like flavor. The stalks are best from young plants, as mature sunflowers have woodier, less appetizing stalks.
  • Leaves: Sunflower leaves can be used like other types of greens. Wash them, remove the tough center ribs, and use the greens in a salad or stir-fry. The leaves can also be steamed like greens and seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Petals: Sunflower petals are completely edible, but they don’t have the best of flavors. Many people consider the petals of a sunflower to taste bitter, but they can add a depth of flavor and a boost of color in raw dishes, such as a salad. Additionally, when the sunflower is in a bud stage, it can be harvested and eaten. Take off the bitter green around the bottom and then steam the entire bud.
  • Seeds: When a sunflower head turns yellow or brown (versus green), the disc on the back will be full of seeds to harvest. Cut the stem about an inch below the head and put it in a dry place. Rub the seeds from the head using your hands, blow off the chaff, and let the seeds dry before storing them in an airtight container for two to three months in the pantry. You can roast the sunflower seeds by soaking them in water overnight and then spreading the seeds on a baking sheet and baking them at 300 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes. You can also grind the sunflower seeds to make sunflower seed butter, a popular alternative to peanut butter that works well for those with nut allergies. Alternatively, the seeds can also be used to feed birds.

Such a shame, you spent all Spring and Summer caring for those mammoth sunflowers, then come bloom time and it’s empty, the seeds have vanished and so has your desire to try growing them again! Don’t despair there are reasons for this as I discovered early on.

So why are there no seeds on my sunflower? The reasons could be varied, ranging from a cultivated variety not designed for pollination, lack of pollination, misinterpretation of what’s happening in the flower, something else got to them first, or possibly but rarely, pests. Let’s take a look at each of these and the possible solutions.

Why Do Sunflowers Produce Seeds

First, let’s just be sure we know why sunflowers produce seeds in the first place. Surprisingly, it’s not so that humans can roast and eat the seeds – although I would highly recommend it. In fact, you can eat the seeds raw, but that’s a whole different subject.

I wrote more extensively about this in my post about Pollination, but in short, the seeds serve the purpose of housing the next generation of sunflowers.

The reason it produces seeds in such large quantities is so that genetically, the probabilities of seeding a new crop of little baby sunflowers become greater.

So it’s purely genetics, but strangely, almost the entire life of the sunflower, every ‘waking moment’ is obsessed with striving for and attaining a fabulous new crop of seeds – it almost sounds familiar!

Sunflowers That Do Not Produce Seeds

Some bright human thought that it would be a good idea to genetically modify certain species of sunflower to NOT produce seeds. Why? Well, in the same way, one might produce seedless grapes. There’s just less mess involved. They do … possibly have a place. They do not produce pollen, so they’re good for hayfever sufferers, and they’re useful for indoor flower displays.

Personally, I just don’t buy these types, they’re show flowers and it just seems a shame to me – even though they do look lovely.

Anyhow, the thing to watch out for is when you purchase the seeds, be sure to check the label as it will clearly tell you if the Sunflower was ‘Bred’ to be seedless.

Yes, they look lovely – as all sunflowers do, but with a huge tinge of sadness, it would seem.

Seedless Sunflower

Maybe You Just Can’t See The Seeds!

Strangely, there is a point at which the seeds become more apparent in the sunflower. Let me explain.

Seed husks will begin to form from the outside of the main head, working inwards. Towards the end of this process, it may appear to just look like a blanket across the face, appearing to look like it’s just the plain surface – and not seeds at all.

If in doubt, then once cut (see below on cutting), break open the head and you might see a wall of seeds from the side view

However, these may not always be visible. Sometimes this can be because there’s such a dense covering of pollen, or that seeds are embedded deeper into the green head. Or simply that it hasn’t got to that stage yet.

The way to tell when the seeds are ripe is to look at the back of the plant. If, or when the green base at the back begins to turn yellow – or has turned brown, then you know the seeds should now be visible and just about ready.

Be wary, however, until the seeds have dried out, then being ‘ready’ may still not be apparent to those who have not grown sunflowers before.

If you’re growing sunflowers to harvest the seed heads, whether for human or animal consumption, don’t cut the heads until the green disk at the back of the flower has begun to turn yellow.

At this point, the seeds will mature properly if left on the head and kept in a dry, well-ventilated place. Birds will eat the maturing seed if the heads are not protected.

After the ray flowers have fallen off, cover the head with a cheesecloth or paper bag to keep birds away until you cut it and bring it inside.

Seeds are ready to store or eat when the disk at the back of the flower has turned dark brown. You can easily remove the seeds by rubbing two heads together or just rubbing your palm over the seeds.

Why Sunflowers Are Not Pollinated

Another common reason why you may not see any seeds on the sunflower is simply lack of pollination.

The ‘Build it and they will come’ approach doesn’t always pay off for our yellow petalled friends.

Despite all the flowers’ best efforts to attract our lovely bees, bumble bees, wasps and even moths. Sometimes they just don’t come around as they should.

There are a couple of main reasons behind this.

  1. Bees are one of their main sources of Pollination. It might be there are limited bees and insects in the area, and not enough to pollinate all the seeds. Ideally, the sunflowers need to be within 300 feet of a beehive to have enough chance of bee pollination.
  1. It may be the case that there are certain plants, weeds or strong odors in the garden which could be acting as a deterrent to bees and other insects. The way to mitigate against this is mostly by trial and error. It starts by a bit of monitoring of your sunflowers each day. Just take a look and see if you can see bees and other insects dancing around in the center of the flowers. If you can then great. If not, then start to locate the source of what is keeping them away.

As mentioned, to find out more about this subject and how it concerns sunflowers, check out my article on ‘Pollination of sunflowers’

Possible Deterrents to Bee Pollination

I would start by ensuring that there are none of the following flora and fauna around your Sunflowers when planting, or ones that can possibly be moved if you discover this later on.

  1. Spearmint
  2. Eucalyptus
  3. Thyme

Something Beat You to the Seeds!

Squirrels or Marmots are notorious sunflower seed lovers. It is certainly feasible for a squirrel to much his way through an entire Sunflower seed head in one sitting. This may even be at the first light of dawn when no one’s looking. If this is the case, you may well simply find husks scattered around the floor and some seeds left on the plant that are hollow inside.

If your sunflower is growing within dense foliage or grass around its base, then it may not be that you’ve been robbed by a squirrel. Check more closely to be sure.

The other source could be birds, a number of them having a go repeatedly can create a dent in the seed crop. However, they tend not to devour the entire seed crop so fast. So this is one reason you can probably cross off your list of suspects.

Other culprits might include Chipmunks, Racoons, Woodchucks, mice or rats.

Squirrels AND birds together though, now that could be a reason!

Pests of Sunflowers

Thankfully, sunflowers have very, very few arch enemy pests. So this issue is likely to be rare for you. But it’s worth checking out if all the above possibilities still have you scratching your head in dismay. It’s also not always apparent.

The main little mini-beast pest to be aware of is the Cochylis hospes. This little critter will bore its way into each shell of the seed and devour the contents inside, leaving a crop of empty shells behind. It can be controlled, but it can devastate crops if left untreated.

The Final Thing to Try

If none of the above avenues seem to fix your problem and your sunflowers are seedless, or just no sign of seeds on your sunflower then. Then your final and only route is to return it to mother nature and she will do the rest.

By that, I mean, take the sunflower head. Break it up and scatter it over the area where you would like future sunflowers and use a fork or spade to gently turn it over into the soil. IF … there are any seeds left, then maybe mother nature can find them and bring them to life.

Apart from staying away from seedless sunflowers – unless you’re a hay fever sufferer or a flower arranger! I hope that you’ve managed to find an answer to why your sunflower is not producing seeds, or at least may not seem like its producing seeds.

Related Questions

Do Sunflowers Follow The Sun? Sunflowers have an inbuilt mechanism, evolved over many generations, to take full advantage of natural light for the purpose of photosynthesis. You can find out more about that HERE.

If I’ve missed anything, then please add it to the comments below so we can share the knowledge and try to save more sunflower seeds.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.” ― Helen Keller

Sunflowers, a natural emblem of sunshine, are beautiful and happy flowers emanating with healing powers to uplift and inspire. A sunflower arrangement conveys joy and optimism throughout the tall and vibrantly yellow blooms. Along with cheery and ebullient energy, sunflowers are also plants with an interesting background and a myriad of health benefits. Here are some facts you might not have know about this flowering plant loved for its cheerfulness.

Sunflower Oil for Cooking

In moderation, sunflower oil serves as a healthy source of fat, provides vitamin E and is low in saturated fatty acids. Cooking with sunflower oil can lower your risk of heart disease, help maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your immune system. Naturally free of trans fats, sunflower oil is even a healthy substitute for butter (especially for baking homemade bread).

Sunflower Oil for Beauty

Sunflowers are rich in vitamins A, B, C and E. Not only is the sunflower amazing for the skin, but it contains powerful anti-aging properties that fight off free radicals for a toned and glowing complexion. Sunflower oil is a strong emollient that keeps hair moisturized and looking radiant.


Heliotropism is like solar tracking (also called phototropism), which enhances photosynthesis and boosts growth rates. With its sun-tracking characteristics, sunflowers are one plant species that face the sun and track its movement to optimize the use of light. Heliotropism also increases the flower’s temperature, attracting bees and pollinators.


Sunflowers bloom as bright rays of sunshine during the summer months in dry, wide-open environments. The sunflower’s native environments are prairielands, plains and meadows. The bright yellow plant may also grow as a weed in farming fields and pastures. They often grow along highway routes, speculated to be planted by truckers who eat the sunflower seeds to stay awake on the road and spit them from their windows.

Record Height

Giant sunflowers can grow to reach amazing heights. With adequate care and moisture, along with full sun exposure, sunflowers typically grow to be an average height of 10 to 20 feet. The tallest sunflower in the world was measured at 30 feet and 1 inch. It was grown in Karst, Nordrhein Westfalen, Germany, on August 28, 2014, according to GuinnessWorldRecords.com.


Sunflowers bloom gorgeously and naturally make delightful aesthetics for floral craft projects, especially because their coloring varies from yellow and deep red to pale and dark orange. GardeningGuides.com provides a step-by-step guide for how to dry sunflowers using silica gel and crystals. Preserved flowers can be framed with other pressed flowers as a charming decoration with a vintage look.

American-Indian Origins

American Indian tribes cultivated sunflowers as a common crop throughout North America. Evidence suggests that American Indians grew the crop in present-day Arizona and New Mexico around 3000 BC ― and may have even been domesticated before corn, informs the National Sunflower Association. Sunflower seeds were grounded into flour for cooking and mixed with vegetables. The sunflower was also turned into purple dye for textiles and body painting.

Black and stripe seeds are the only two kinds of sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil is made from black seeds (oilseed), whereas healthy snacks are made from striped seeds (non-oilseed). Black oilseed is typically the preferred type of feed for birds.

Source of Nutrition

Sunflowers produce nutrient-dense seeds, an excellent source of beneficial fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. Salted, dry-roasted sunflower seeds, rich in the antioxidant vitamin E, are eaten as part of a healthy diet. Seeds can also be raw dried, oil roasted or unsalted, dry-roasted. Other forms of sunflower seeds include ground sunflower seed butter and sunflower seed flour. Add sunflower seeds to chicken or tuna salad, mixed-green salads or even scrambled eggs to add unique flavor.

How to Eat a Sunflower

From seed to stalk, the sunflower is an edible and nourishing plant. You can eat almost all of it one way or another.

Let’s start with the sunflower seedling. From the moment of emergence to the time the seedling is about six inches high, it makes a good raw snack. It’s packed with nutrients, as all edible sprouts are. Eat it as is, or in a salad or stir fry.

You can eat the leaves of older sunflower plants, although they’re not as tasty as sprouts. They are nutritious and a good emergency food, eaten either raw or boiled like greens. Remove the tough center rib to make them more tender when you cook them. Season with salt and a little vinegar or salt, pepper and butter.

You can eat young sunflower stalks after peeling them, either by themselves as a snack or chopped into salads. Some say they taste a little like celery. They definitely have the same crunch.

When sunflower plants are old enough to bloom, watch for full buds. Pick them, pull off the bitter green around the bottom and plop them into boiling water for a few moments. They taste somewhat like artichokes and you can eat the same way. Offer a small dish of melted butter for dipping.

The fully opened sunflower has cheerful yellow rays which make a great garnish or salad ingredient. Alone, they’re fine for a bite or two, but the bitter edge makes them unpleasant to eat by themselves, so mix them with other things.

As the sunflower matures, it brings us full circle to the seeds.

A strain called “Mammoth Russian” sunflower is the familiar snacking sunflower seed you see roasted and salted in bags at the grocery store. You can grow and make them yourself and not only save money, but have the fun of knowing that you’ve done it from beginning to end and you’ll have a healthy snack to eat, too.

You may have trouble with birds eating the sunflower seeds when they begin to mature. Panty hose or other stretchy lightweight material pulled over the head will allow them to continue to mature safely. If you cut the sunflower head off before it’s ready, the seeds won’t have time to develop and you’ll have some completely empty hulls as well.

The sunflower head is ready to harvest when the back of it is banana yellow, with drier, browner areas along the edges. Cut it off the stalk (which you can now use for fuel for a fire) and hang it in a warm, dry place. Make sure the head is completely dry with no green at all before trying to release the seeds and make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them.

To remove sunflower seeds from the head, put on a pair of clean gloves and rub the head briskly over a cloth or large bowl. To make roasted and salted sunflower seeds, soak them whole in heavy salt water over night then roast at a low temperature (250 degrees) for two or three hours, stirring them occasionally.

Some fun facts about sunflowers:

A wild sunflower plant will usually have upwards of twenty five flowers during the season. They seem small compared to cultured sunflowers, which usually only have one, but a very large one.

Does a sunflower really follow the sun? Yes, when they’re in the bud stage. Once the flower has fully opened, strangely enough, most of the time it faces east. The reason is not known.

Sunflowers were cultivated by Native Americans thousands of years ago and were used for food, for medicine and for building. They were probably also used the woody, dry stems as fuel for their cooking fires and possibly harvested seed heads to bait traps for fowl in the winter months.

You might also be interested in how to harvest and enjoy dandelions.

If you want bright, bold and majestic sunflowers to bring instant cheer to your garden this summer, you need to plant them now. This is what you need to know to make sure you get the most out of your favourite variety…

But first, a quick lesson in sunflower history…

People often assume that sunflowers are so called because, well, they look like the sun. However, throughout the course of the day sunflowers follow the sun; twisting their faces to track it across the sky and absorb its powerful energy.

“Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And a lesson in life.” – Calendar Girls


Classic sunflowers are a triumphant yellow, but there are thousands of other varieties and shades to choose from – ranging from deep maroon to dusky pink or blazing orange.

For classic yellow… If you’re after rows of classic yellow sunflowers (you really can’t beat them), try Soraya seeds – with thick sturdy stems and big beautiful petals these beauties can grow to be over one and a half metres tall.

Dave ReedeGetty Images

For vanilla colour… If you don’t have lots of space, try the small but cheerful Choco Sun with its fantastic zesty yellow petals.

Getty Images

For red tones… If yellow’s not your colour maybe you’d prefer the deep mahogany tones of the Moulin Rouge sunflower. This is a multi-head variety – so you can snip a few cuttings for a brilliant bouquet.

Aaron Elin / EyeEmGetty Images

For orange tones… For a range of bold colour, try Earthwalker – whose petals differ from a deep red, to a rusty autumnal orange to bright, brilliant yellow.

Aaron Elin / EyeEmGetty Images


When: Sow when the soil feels warm – anytime from now until May.

Where: Although they can be planted in thin soils, show your sunflowers some love and plant in rich, loose, free draining conditions. Sunflowers are greedy, so ensure soil is nutrient-rich with composted manure.

They also grow best when exposed to direct sun for six to eight hours per day (it’s in the name remember).

But be warned, sunflowers are tall – and therefore prone to blowing over. Try to plant in a spot sheltered from strong winds; against a fence or wall.

Preparation: Prepare the flower a comfy bed by digging two feet down and three feet across to ensure the soil isn’t too compact.

How many: Sow two seeds per position, 45cm apart and one inch deep. Then give them some room on either side – make rows approximately 30 inches apart.

Protect: Birds steeling your seeds? Spread netting until they’re germinated.

And to protect them against slugs and snails, it might be worth cutting the top off a plastic bottle and placing it over your seedlings to shield them.

To support them throughout, place a cane next to the stem and tie together for support.

Feed: Sunflowers get thirsty – so water regularly (but gently).

Maintain: Sunflowers have big roots and love to spread out. Thin them out leaving the strongest, tallest plants.

Andreas JonesGetty Images

3 ways you can keep using your sunflower after it’s died…

1. Feed the birds

With those dazzling faces, sunflowers attract a lot of attention – particularly from the bees and the birds. When it has run the course of its’ life, dried sunflower heads make tasty bird feeders in the winter.

2. …Or feed the family

Harvest and roast the seeds and sprinkle on salads or enjoy as a healthy, tasty snack. (Seeds are generally ready to harvest when the head turns brown on the back.)

3. Heat the house

To put the whole flower to good use – the stems are so thick they can be dried and used as kindling.

If planted now, your sunflowers should flower in August and we’d love to see your progress. Post your pictures to our Facebook page or tweet them to @countrylivinguk.

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