Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Best Sunflowers for the Birds

When I have the time to sit back and enjoy what I've created in my garden, one of my favorite things to do is enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds. Growing sunflowers is one of the best ways I have found to draw the feathery visitors in.

Which birds do sunflowers attract?


A variety of birds can be attracted to a garden by growing sunflowers. These include Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, House Finches, Grosbeaks, Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Pine Siskins, to name a few.

Why are sunflower seeds nutritious for birds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in protein, vitamin B-complex, Vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, and Zinc.

Not every sunflower type is the best food source for birds. Ornamental sunflowers, although they come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, produce edible seeds, but they're very small.
If you're looking for sunflower varieties to harvest for nutritional edible seeds for both birds and humans, here are some great choices.


Taller Edible Choices

Mammoth Russian

A favorite of bird lovers for years; single head.Height: 12 to 15 feet

Flower Head Size: 15” Thin shelled, plump, meaty seeds.

Mammoth Gray Stripe

Long blooming sunflower from summer to fall; single head.

Height: 8-12 feet

Flower Head Size: 10-12”

GiganteusBlooms early to late summer; single head, generous seeds.Height: 10 feet

Flower Head Size: 12”

Kong HybridForms a massive wall of foliage. Rapid grower; branching.Height: 8-15 feet

Flower Head Size: 10”

Note: Pinch at 5 feet tall to create a tall, dense hedge.

SunzillaOne of the tallest sunflowers. Very productive with large yellow blooms.

Height: 12 - 16 feet

Flower Head Size: 18-24”

Hopi Black DyeAn old heirloom. Seeds are used by Native Americans for dyeing wool and baskets. 

 Generally single-headed, but is occasionally multi-headed with varying size heads.

Height: 7-11 feet

Flower Head Size: 5 - 13” Seeds are purple to black

And if you need to update your bird feeders to fit the size of sunflower seeds, here are some great ideas:

And if you are just starting to grow sunflowers for the birds, you can start by purchasing seed to get the birds used to an area.


Shorter, Easy-to-Reach Edible Cultivars

The shorter varieties have larger, plumper seeds that were bred for snack use.

Super Snack Mix Hybrid

Height: 5 – 6 feet

Flower Head Size: 10”; single head

Seeds: Huge seeds which are easy to crack open.

Royal Hybrid

Traditional type variety with larger seeds.Height: 7 Feet

Flower Head Size: 8”

Seeds: High seed productivity, grey striped.

Sowing Your Sunflower Seeds

When to Sow

It's a good idea to sow sunflower seeds as early as your weather will allow. The taller varieties need 100+ days from seed to harvest and the shorter varieties need at least 75 days. 

For a longer harvesting season, succession sow several batches of sunflowers over a five to six-week period or sow them indoors earlier as described below.

Sowing the SeedsDirect Sowing into the garden

Sow sunflower seeds in a half-inch deep furrow, 6” apart then cover them with 1/2” to 1" of soil, depending on the seed size. Thin to 2 feet apart when the first true leaves appear. The temperature of the soil should be +70 degrees for good germination.

Since sunflowers have a long taproot, it is advisable to loosen the soil up to one and a half to two feet in depth. Adding compost and manure to the sowing area will promote vigorous growth and meatier seeds.

The soil needs to be well-drained. Soil with poor drainage can stunt a sunflower's growth.

Large Trays for Sunflower Sowing

Indoor Sowing

Sow indoors to get a jump on the season 2-3 weeks before your last expected frost date. Keep moist under strong lights until planting out when all danger of frost has passed. Transplant carefully.

Winter Sowing

If you haven't given winter sowing a try, you will find that winter sowing sunflowers is very easy. See our full winter sowing article by clicking here.

Caring for your Sunflowers as they grow


Full sun. Optimally at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. They LOVE the heat.


Sunflowers benefit from periodic deep waterings. They can withstand hot, dry weather. When the heads first appear, do not overwater since the heads may deform.


2” for water retention.

Wind Protection

Shelter from high winds that can bend and break young stems.


Stake the sunflowers every 12" with soft ties or these great stakes.


When the second set of leaves appear, fertilize the plants with a slow-release fertilizer 8” deep into the soil. Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so a second application mid-season may be necessary.


Protecting the Sunflower Seed Heads

Of course, you can leave your sunflowers in place and naturally feed the birds through the season. If you want to be able to harvest and save some seeds for later feedings or sowings, though, you will need to protect the developing seed heads by wrapping them in cheesecloth, netting or tying paper bags around the stems. 

Allow three weeks to a month drying time before picking them.

When to Harvest

You'll know when it's time to harvest your sunflower seeds when you see the backs of the blooms are brown and the sunflowers are dying back. The seeds should appear plump and somewhat loose at this stage. 

Cut the stalk about one foot below the flower head. Hang the sunflower heads upside down in a dry place until the seeds are completely ripe and dry.

Drying Sunflower Seeds for Later Use

Rinse the seeds, dry thoroughly in a single layer and store in an airtight container.


Growing sunflowers is a great way to not only add beauty to your garden, but to attract some great birds!  Start growing some today!


Where to go next!

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.

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