The most sought after seed at the feed store also happens to be one of the most expensive: sunflower. Why not grow some yourself and enjoy the sight of finches, chickadees, meadowlarks and others hanging onto the large, full heads and feasting on the plump seeds?
Sunflowers are a sun-loving plant native to the Americas, and both annual and perennial varieties can be grown to feed the birds, though the most popular seed plants are usually annual cultivars.
Birds Attracted to Sunflowers
Sunflower seed is not the most popular birdseed without good reason! A host of birds enjoy this seed, including tufted titmouse, chickadee, meadowlark, mourning dove, goldfinch, house finch, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, quail and many types of sparrows.
Cultivation Guidelines for Sunflowers
Sunflowers are not a fussy plant, but they do require a very sunny position and good drainage for best flowering. Sow the seeds ½ inch deep about 12 inches apart in a moderately fertile soil and keep moist as the seedlings establish strong roots. If you allow last year’s plants to seed themselves, make sure that seedlings are thinned and given adequate space by the time they are 3-4 inches tall to promote strong flowering and healthy plants.
If you want the seed heads to feed the birds naturally, just leave them alone and the birds will take care of the harvesting. If you wish to harvest them yourself and spread the bounty out over a few months of winter, cut the seed heads when most of the seeds are ripened and plump (there are almost always unripened seeds in the center of the flower) and allow the heads to dry on a cookie sheet somewhere dry and warm. When they are fairly dry and come apart with a little encouragement, pull the seeds off and store in jars or freezer bags. Learn More: How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds.
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