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Sunflowers have several benefits

Posted: May 18, 2012 - 5:15pm

It is spring, and many of us have thoughts of planting things. No, we’re not farmers but we like to grow vegetables and we like to grow flowers.

Many of us also hunt and watch birds.

OK, plant some sunflowers, and you’ll touch on all of these desires.

Someone may argue that sunflower cannot be put into the category of vegetables, but look at all the packages of sunflower seed sold as snacks.

What our focus here is to get some sunflower seed into the ground where you may do your hunting,

Commonly, we think of planting sunflowers where we intend to hunt doves. This is done more and more in Arkansas although it still falls well short of a common practice.

Millet is likely a better crop to use for doves, but the birds come to sunflower offerings also. So do all sorts of other wildlife, including deer.

Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow. Scratch some dirt loose in your desired area, poke the seeds to a depth of about the second joint of your finger, cover and wait. The gardener will tell you to keep weeds away, but in most cases, the sunflowers will survive minimum or no weed removal. They are sturdy plants.

There are two general types of sunflowers — striped and black oil. Striped are the ones sold in the snack packages. Grow some, shake out the heads of the plants when they are ripe, and you’ve got the snacks right at hand.

Black oil is the type sold for feeding birds. Nutrition is higher because of the higher oil content. And birds of many types go for the black oil sunflower seeds as sales in all sorts of stores will show.

If you are growing sunflowers for the first time, be patient. The plants have to become large, tall, before the heads will develop. Those heads are actually clusters of flowers. The yellow crowning leaves of a fully grown sunflower are at first used to cover and protect the actual flowers, the brown center. The flowers in the center of the sunflower then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and later these seeds will loosen and scatter to the ground.

The big yellow flowers of sunflowers are what we identify with this plant, and some flowers can be huge, the size of a car’s steering wheel or seven more. Yes, birds may get to the seed before you do if you intend to gather the seeds for snack use. But the big heads tend to droop, too, making it hard for birds to grab the seeds when the flowers are bent over.

If you have youngsters in the family, they may well get interested in the sunflowers, especially when you tell them that the flowers turn during the day to face the sun.

If you plant sunflowers at home, keep in mind how big they get and that they will shade out smaller flowers as well as vegetables. In hunting territory, this height shouldn’t be a concern.

And right along with snacks, shelled sunflower seeds are excellent additions to salads.

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