During winter, all animals that rely on seeds for their survival will definitely take advantage of a poorly guarded sunflower garden or farm. From birds to squirrels, they won’t hesitate to make away with a hoard for the long haul.
You may be wondering how to even go about dealing with these seemingly harmless-but unstoppable forces of nature! It all boils down to knowing what to prioritize: the reaction and reasons why to do so.
For many gardening enthusiasts, winter poses a threat to their plants and harvests. This need not be the case when you know how to respond in kind when nature decides she wants to play ‘catch’ with you.
If you are passionate about your sunflowers keep reading on to know how to help yourself and your crop from being left out to freeze- literally!
What do you do with Sunflowers in the winter?
The answer is planning. You have to be proactive. Know the timings of the seasons and the chances of them changing unexpectedly.
You also should know the type of sunflowers you are dealing with. This will go a long way in helping you determine the routine you should follow in the event that frost comes earlier than expected.
Some varieties of sunflowers are more resilient than others because of their genetic structure. As a result the physiological appearance of say, a perennial sunflower could make you think it’s an annual sunflower.
So knowing what to look for as the typical characteristics of the variety will help you know what to do. This can help you have an action plan that is realistic, practical, and predictable when you need it.
Let’s dive in further.
When birds and other pests like squirrels are gunning for your hard laboured sunflower seeds, the only way that you can beat them is by being earlier than the early bird.
Harvest as many untouched seed heads and store them hanging downwards, covered in a paper bag in a dark warm room. The paper bag should have tiny air holes for ventilation purposes- at room temperature. You should cut below the head at least 12 inches.
Should you be harvesting on your own, tie up the stalks together with a non abrasive cloth.
After a period of not less than 30 days, your seeds will be dry and you can gently rub the harvested heads together to help you remove the seeds from them.
When handling the leftover debris from larger perennials like the willow- leaves sunflower, that can grow up to 10 feet, you should cut the stalks to the ground completely. Just to help you keep things looking clean and neat.
When to prune annuals and perennials
Annual sunflowers are the type that are most common in gardens and used as oilseeds for commercial purposes. Perennial sunflowers are not seasonal and need extra care when being handled.
Over the years, genetic variations have made it more versatile and resilient. Though physiologically speaking, the two are distinctively different.
That said, when you are pruning annual sunflowers, you should either be extremely careful or avoid it totally. This is because pruning annual sunflowers can kill them.
The case is different for the perennial sunflowers. This is done in spring just before they start budding.
What to do with leftover sunflower stalks
The stalks of a sunflower are the most versatile organic residual product that can come from a sunflower. Everyone just daydreams about walking through a field of smiley yellows swaying to the soft summer breeze- but wait it’s winter right? Oh well.
These stalks can take up on a myriad of gardening tasks, building projects for the creative types. You can actually use them to spruce up your children’s little tree house, foundation for your compost pile the list is endless.
The dried up stalks can be repurposed by you to create a garden fence. They’re quite strong and can handle the weight of any creeper.
Storage of sunflower seeds during winter
So you have harvested, repurposed the stalks and now you are left with the seeds. The seeds must be left out to dry completely. The best duration you can use for this is overnight.
The container in which you are going to keep the sunflower seeds should be airtight, well labeled and translucent. In the label you should include:
- The variety of sunflower
- The date you harvested
When you store your seeds in this way you can be sure that they will not only remain fresh but also they will last for years.
You can also store your seeds in the freezer to reduce the chances of rancidity settling in the seeds.
The shelf life of the seeds is dependent on how they have been processed. Are they; roasted, shelled, fried? All these processes will determine the actual time sunflower seeds remain useful.
The best thing about proper storage is that you can replant the seeds in the following year. The term viability of the seed is what it is referred to in gardening circles.
Most sunflowers are able to grow in hard areas, so for the most part, water and adequate amounts of sunlight is what you will provide for your sunflower seeds to germinate and grow.
When you want to plant some of the seeds you kept in storage, disrupt the soil repeatedly to make it inhabitable for subterranean insects. These insects inflict so much damage below the surface that by the time you discover them, you are too late.
Proper management for your garden will affect your ability to scale up or be overwhelmed with your sunflowers. Regular crop rotation can reduce the chances of your farm and, or garden being infested with pests or overrun by fungicides.
Preparing for any fire related hazard is important for your farm. Sunflower seeds contain oil and when you have extremely dry weather, that’s a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.
Make sure you are prepared with fire extinguishers and or you could harvest at night when the temperature is low. The chaff from the combined harvester will not double the heat.
How to use sunflowers
Sunflowers by just their appearance are such a joy to behold and in this stage we can see some ways to use them.
- Decorations- Florists and event planners love the diversity and boldness that sunflowers have. They can be used as centerpieces at weddings, parties and the like. The variety in unique color combinations also is a plus for many event planners.
- Gifts- The sunflower can warm any heart especially when you have a chance to visit someone who has been taken ill, the sunflower in it’s miniature size as a Teddy Bear, will have such a great impact on the person who is receiving them.
- Wedding ceremonies- The idea of having a flower arrangement specifically made for the bride on her wedding will most definitely brighten up all in attendance, including herself. The pairing of medieval charm with a modern twist is what a sunflower can subtly provide.
- Sunflower sprouts- The sprouts make for a healthy and adventurous taste in your salad.
- Sunflower leaves- The leaves are said to be of medicinal value as an alternative to herbal tea.
- Sunflower petals- Known for their unique sweet and sour taste, these petals not only garnish a meal but also accentuate the flavor of any meal.
- Sunflower seeds- Not only are the seeds low in saturated fats, but they also can be processed to give high quality oil for domestic use. You can also choose to eat the seeds raw, after soaking them in mild brine, or you could roast them for yourself on your farm as a reward for the hard work you put in.
Being a native American crop, this plant has grown in popularity and value. This is evidenced by how scientists keep modifying it to be more versatile and productive, even in the most harsh environments.
The influx of information about its origins to the untapped health benefits, make it more of an enigma to the masses at large. You can be sure that in the near future, more intriguing facts and uses will be unearthed as well as modified varieties. Keep your ear outstretched!
One last thing
There’s been rumors of sunflowers being harmful or poisonous. The fact is that this is one of nature’s gifts to mankind. You can almost eat every part of a sunflower and reap the benefits. According to the ASPCA even your pets can have a go at your carefully attended sunflower garden and be all the more healthier.
Let’s be careful not to get easily swayed by unconfirmed sources.
The discovery of the sunflower and it’s intricacies helps us understand our way of thinking and what we value. The process involved in preparing the land to plant the sunflower seed, knowing when to harvest, all culminating into self discovery.
The sunflower does indeed make you reflect on many things, but most of all it puts back a smile on all who gaze upon it.