Tips - Planting, Varmint Wars

The first time I tried growing sunflowers, I got lucky, and we had just scattered the seeds randomly in an area where we turned the soil, and we pushed the seeds down in an inch or two, and watered each day until they sprouted. That year, the varmints didn't really get any. So in theory, you can get as simple as you like.

But when the varmints learn where your garden is, it's time to join the war with the varmints!




Planting
- I have tried different things; this year I actually planted a number of seeds in really large pots, so you could start there and move them in the ground
- One issue with planting directly in the ground is squirrels may dig them all up; so you might want to keep some seeds in reserve at least
- What I've generally done is to start the seeds indoors - I'll get "peat moss plugs" in a hardware store, with a little tray, and you put lukewarm water on them, they expand, and you stick the seeds in an inch or so. Then, when they're 1-2" high (inside), you plant them. Wait any longer than that, and the seedlings will get spindly.
- Generally you would want to plant Mammoth Greystripe seeds 12-16" apart.
- If you plant the seeds directly in the ground: you might like to put 2-3 seeds in a particular spot, maybe 1-3 of them will actually come up; and when they're very small, move or take away the one that isn't doing as well.
- Soil: Best thing to do is break the soil up a bit - ideally get some peat moss, mix it with "Moo-nure" (dried cow manure), and mix that into the soil.
- Mulch - after the seedlings are a few inches tall, it can help to put mulch down, like cedar mulch

Watering
- I don't know of any rules - I'd water sometimes every day - when the sunflowers get droopy and it's been really sunny, they need water - if they get yellow, they might need less water. When they get taller, they need more water. Probably 2-3 times a week works.

Fertilizer
- If you'd like to give things an extra boost, Osmokote seems to work; they're pellets you can get at a hardware store

Varmints
  • Rabbits - If you have rabbits around, they'll go after sunflower seedlings; an easy way to keep them away that's cheap and maintenance free is rabbit fence, available at hardware stores/home depot/etc.
  • Deer Off - for all kinds of varmints - There is a spray which stinks to high heaven but seems to work well, called Deer Off. Remember to shake it.
  • Critter Ridder - It's a little canister and you shake the granules - seems to work with raccoons and some others; it's relatively natural, "capsacin" I believe
  • Bugs - I use Sevin, if it looks like bugs are causing issues once the sunflowers grow larger
  • Slugs - a tray with beer will lure them to an early grave. seriously. Or Ortho "bug geta"
Staking and storms: Some people like to get PVC pipe (cheap) or wooden stakes (or older tall sunflower stalks, which are pretty strong), and tie up the sunflowers. When sunflowers get taller, storms can knock them over. Also the seed heads can get heavy. Staking can also help prevent some types of varmints from otherwise pulling the sunflowers over.

Harvest time and late season varmints

So generally the harvest time is in the fall. you can tell the sunflowers are getting there after the bees do their business and you see the surface of the seed heads go through changes. When birds or chipmunks start going after them, then they're getting closer. Some people like to leave them for the birds, but I like to keep the seeds and share them with people (and I usually end up paying the varmint tax anyway, because varmints are wily despite the best protection.

So when you notice the varmints going after them (probably a good idea to keep a close watch, one thing you can do is take paper shopping bags, put them over the seed heads, and staple them. This keeps just about anything from taking the seeds. Squirrels and chipmunks will try and get in, so stapling helps, even duct tape. Or try doing nothing and see what happens. But if you have a big beautiful seed head you'll probably be upset at the varmints for eating it all when you could share the seeds with people and be the ancestor of hundreds of sunflower growers, so it's also ok to protect them.

Not sure of the best time to cut sunflower heads, maybe someone in the club can do some research and let me know and I'll update the page. But what you can do is cut them down, then hang them to dry during the winter, and harvest the next spring - and give the seeds out and tell people to visit www.sunflowerclub.net and to check out the facebook group. There's people from different countries - england, the mediterranean. Not all people have seeds from the original sunflowers - http://sunflowerreport.blogspot.com - but that's no big deal; anyone who likes can get "grafted" into the family tree. But it is kind of fun to know that things have been going for a few years now, and the original sunflowers are like grandpappy sunflowers. That's the idea anyway.

Best wishes growing and let me know if I missed anything.

-Todd




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