About Me

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Writing about the things I love. My writing work has appeared in hard copy magazines including Green Prints, Twins Magazine, Practical Parenting Magazine, Good Old Days Magazine, The Journal of Court Reporting, and more as well as hundreds of articles in Sunset Hosta Farm's Hosta blog and The Homesteading Village blog.

Friday, June 28, 2019

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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Feeding Bread to Wild Birds


Feeding Bread to Wild Birds

Generally, bread is not safe to feed birds on a regular basis, and the general category of “bread” for this article includes any bread-like product including buns, bagels, crackers, chips, etc.  

Friday, June 21, 2019

Draw in Beneficial Insects

Draw in Beneficial Insects

Attracting beneficial insects to your garden can be as easy as planting the right plants or flowers or a combination of them.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Don't Cut Corners in your Vegetable Garden!

Don't Cut Corners in your Veggie Garden!
You Can Be Frugal and Successful!

There are a lot of ways to cut corners in the garden to save money. Buying garden supplies such as containers, watering cans, etc from a second-hand store is one way. Building your own raised garden beds or trellises is another.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tomatoes - Determinate vs. Indeterminate

Tomatoes - Determinate or Indeterminate?

What are the basic differences between a determinate tomato plant and an indeterminate tomato plant and which one is right for your garden?  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Grow Milkweed for the Monarchs

Growing Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies

The first time I saw a Monarch butterfly up close in my garden, I was completely awestruck by its grace and beauty. Their bright orange wings and solid black borders make the Monarch butterfly one of the most recognizable butterflies. And they are, without a doubt, little migrating miracles.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Growing Spinach - Homesteading 101

Spinach is a cool-weather quick-growing annual related to Beets and Swiss Chard. Spinach has high amounts of carotenoids, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium. It is one of the healthiest salad choices you can make.

The Basics

Height: 6" to 3' Width: 3" to 15"

Savory Spinach. Dark green crinkled leaves. It grows flatter compared to other Spinach. It tends to be more cold-hardy and becomes sweet and crispy after a frost.

Flat-Leaf Spinach. Grows more upright and easier to wash.

Semi-Savory. A hybrid between the two. Leaves aren't as crinkled or as smooth.

Starting Seeds of Spinach

Seed Depth: 1/2" deep

Seed Spacing: 2" apart, thin seedlings to 4-5" apart. Mature 10-12".

Days to Germinate: 1 week at 60 degrees.

Days to Harvest: 20-30 days for baby greens.
35-45 days mature leaves.

Seed Longevity: 1-3 years.

Sowing Indoors:
Spring: Sow seeds 3-4 weeks before your last average frost date. Transplant out as soon as seedlings are easily handled. Note that spinach doesn't always transplant well.

Sowing Outdoors:
Spring: Direct sow in the ground or a container as soon as the soil can be worked. Succession sow every 2 weeks until mid-May. Covering with a shade net or row cover will hasten germination.

Fall: Direct sow in the ground or container 6 weeks before your first average frost date.

Salad Spinner

Winter Sowing:

If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat. This method is especially good for sowing herbs and greens. 

Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of a milk jug during the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in Spring.

For a detailed article all about Winter Sowing, click here.

salad tongs

Growing Spinach Plants

Growing Temperature: 41 - 75 degrees. Survives light frosts.

Plant Spacing: 5" to harvest small or 8-12" for mature leaves.

Container Size: Spinach has a deep taproot. The pot must be 12" deep.

Sun/Shade: Full sun to part shade.

Soil: Well-drained, sandy soil rich in organic matter.

Watering: Water consistently for the best flavor. Water stress will cause Spinach to bolt early.

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Since greens are such a fast-growing crop, as long as they are grown in rich soil there may be little need for further fertilization. 

That said, a liquid balanced fertilizer when the seedlings are 4" tall will give your greens a boost and carry them through their short season. After the temperatures warm, though, the leaves of Spinach will turn bitter and no amount of fertilizer will help at that point.

Too much nitrogen gives Spinach a metallic flavor.

Salad Lunch Container

Growing Tips

When the Spinach plant is about to bolt, pull the entire plant to harvest before the leaves become bitter.

Shade the plant at temperatures over 80 degrees.

Cut the entire plant an inch above ground level to encourage the plant to regrow another crop of leaves.

Harvesting Spinach

Harvest anytime Spinach is large enough to eat. Harvest young outer leaves to allow centers to grow larger and keep producing which also will delay bolting.

Using Spinach

Use fresh spinach for salads.

Chop fresh Spinach to add to chilis, soups or sauces two minutes before serving.

Sauteed Spinach, Spinach Dip, Spinach Salads, Creamed Spinach.

Storing Spinach For Later Use

Spinach loses its nutritional quality quickly after harvest, so harvest right before processing.
Although tender green-leafed plants, like lettuce, cannot be preserved well, the thicker leafed greens can be preserved.

Clean and pat dry. Bundle stems lightly, place on a paper towel (to absorb moisture) and wrap in a plastic bag. Keeps in refrigerator for 10 days.

Freezing for Later Use in Chili, Soups, Sauces, and Casseroles.

Steam or saute' leaves, chop them and store in freezer bags.

Puree with water and freeze into ice cube trays.
Clean and dry the leaves and store in quart size freezer bags.

Frozen leaves will keep for 6 months.

Blanching the leaves for two minutes first will extend freezer storage to 14 months.


To read the other articles in our Growing Your Greens series, click on the name below:

Mustard Greens
Swiss Chard

Check out our other great gardening articles: Click Here

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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