Watch a bee on the gorgeous annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and the phrase “busy as a bee” comes to mind. A sunflower’s head is actually composed of hundreds of tiny flowers. It is a food bonanza for most bees and pollinators, offering a high-quality pollen and nectar. Honey bees love them but so do a diverse mix of bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, beneficial insects, and pollen-eating beetles. They come in droves. Sunflowers are such a rich food source for our pollinators that everyone should consider growing them.
Sunflowers are also a great way to attract birds to your yard. They come for the insects on the plants as well as the eventual seeds.
Traditionally vegetable gardens are the home for the native annual sunflower. This is a great way to bring pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden. But do they have to be relegated only to the vegetable garden? Try them anywhere you want height and cheer in the garden. They tolerate dry soil. You will be helping the bees and helping your yard.
Which sunflowers to plant?
Highly bred sunflowers offer a variety of characteristics. How do you choose? Avoid buying “pollenless” varieties (developed for the flower arranging industry), or double-petaled ornamental varieties (those that have petals covering the center of the flower). These give little to no food for the bees. I like varieties that will produce many flowers along the stem, instead of just one flower on the top. More flowers! This year I am trying the variety ‘Soraya’. If you have smaller spaces and/or containers, consider the shorter varieties of sunflowers, such as ‘Irish Eyes’.
Buy a few seed packets and plant thickly. Sunflower seeds can be directly sown in late spring to summer, or plant indoors 4 weeks before planting them out. They are easy to grow.
By the way, have you heard of The Great Sunflower Project? This group is studying the effects of pesticides on pollinators and need your help. All they ask is that you plant ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers with pesticide-free seeds. Once they bloom, count the pollinators that come to a flower for five minutes. Then do it two more times. Report your findings. Easy! For more information, go to their website.
Which sunflowers are you planting this year?