Garden Help Desk: How do I take care of my sunflowers? 01

Large Sunflower

Question: We have a couple of volunteer sunflower plants in the garden at our new house. We kept them because we thought it would be nice to have some bright flowers, but now they are getting pretty tall and the flowers are large. We think they might be the kind of sunflowers that have seeds large enough to eat. Is there anything special we should do to take care of them?

Answer: Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, so your plants won’t need much in the way of special care. They’ll be happy with a sunny spot and a deep soak once or twice a week. Avoid fertilizing them now so that they will concentrate on developing big, healthy flowers. If they are “snacking” sunflowers, they’ll probably only have one flower per plant, but it will be large.

Sunflower plants with a single large flowerhead can become top-heavy, so you might need to stake them with bamboo canes or wooden poles. This is especially important if you live in an area where there is a lot of wind.

Once the seeds in the sunflowers begin to mature, you’ll probably need to cover the flower heads with a bag to keep out the birds. It’s normal for the flower heads to tip down as they mature. You’ll know the seeds are ready to harvest when the back of the flowers turn from green to brown. At that point, you can leave the flowers on the stalks, or you can cut them off and put them in a dry location with good ventilation to finish drying.

When the seeds are completely dry, you can rub them loose from the flower head with your hand. You might want to wear a clean garden glove while you do that. You can eat the seeds raw or roast them.

If you want to grow sunflowers again next year, you can save and plant some of the seeds — unroasted, of course — directly into the garden once your garden soil is warm. Plant them about 1 inch deep in a place where they’ll get full sun. You’ll want to thin your seedlings to about 1 or 2 feet apart once they are a few inches tall. After that, give them good care throughout the summer.

If your sunflowers turn out to be smaller sunflowers, they’ll still have fun blossoms that attract pollinators to your garden. Once the seeds mature, you’ll be able to watch birds visit the flowers to collect the seeds.

Question: I sprayed my apple tree last month to keep out the worms. How many more times should I spray it?

Answer: How frequently you spray your apple tree will depend on the product you use. Some residential products last 14 days, while others are effective for only five or seven days. Read the product label carefully to find the information about how often you’ll need to spray. Then, use your calendar to help you remember to do your spraying on time.

While you’re reading the label, also look for information about how many days before harvesting your apples you should stop spraying your tree. The preharvest interval can be different from one product to another. If you have more than one apple tree, keep in mind that different apple varieties won’t necessarily be ready to harvest at the same time.

For more information about dealing with pests and diseases with your fruits, vegetables, lawns and landscapes in general, visit where you can subscribe to free email advisories with up-to-date information about what’s happening in yards and gardens, what you can do about it, when you should do it and what you can use.

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