Photo: How to lure pollinators with sunflowers

Sunflowers are rich sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees, bumblebees and other wild bee species, butterflies and other beneficial insects. (Credit: Nick Grapsy via Flickr)

Your garden is bee and butterfly-friendly. You've made a bee bath, a bumblebee house and count birds in your backyard. What's left?

I quizzed Mark from West Coast Seeds about the benefits of growing sunflowers!

All garden sunflowers are descended from the Central American Helianthus annuus.

Conventional plant breeding allows for selection of height, flower size and colour, and size or oil content of seeds. Russian mammoth and giganteus grow ten feet tall or more in a single season, with a stem more like a tree trunk. Each flower head "face" is actually individual florets tightly packed into a spiral pattern. Each pollinated floret produces a single sunflower seed. Really big sunflowers produce hundreds of seeds!

Which pollinators like sunflowers?

Sunflowers' height makes them beacons for pollinators, rich sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees, bumblebees and other wild bee species, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Planting sunflowers in your food garden lures the most important insects and will improve pollination for a host of fruits and vegetables.

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When should I plant sunflowers?

Wait until the ground warms up in the spring before sowing the seeds (West Coasters start planting in April and May). This will allow each plant to anchor roots in the soil.

Get kids involved! The seeds are big — easy for tiny hands. Push each seed two centimetres (one inch) into the soil. Big varieties need to be spaced three to five feet apart, but tiny ones will grow one foot apart (or one plant per three-gallon container).

Note: Sunflowers started in containers sometimes have root growth interrupted and may not develop a sturdy anchor for staying upright in stormy weather.

How much space do I need?

Not all sunflowers are tall. Choose dwarf varieties, like music box (grows a few feet) for raised beds or in large containers, like half-barrels. For small spaces, choose tiny suntastic, which reaches about 30 centimetres (12 inches) tall, doesn't produce edible sunflower seeds, but adds colour to patio containers.

How will I know when to harvest sunflower seeds?

Seeds are ready to harvest when birds make frequent visits. Seeds from large sunflower species contain a substantial amount of oil — much loved by chickadees!

Love birds? Leave the flower in the garden as a natural fall and winter bird feeder.

Where will you plant sunflowers?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

March 22, 2016

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Apr 10, 2016
7:38 PM

Thanks for the great tips Lindsay. I have some built up planters on the patio for my garlic and I was looking for something to plant beside the cucumbers. Now I know! I’ll enlist Taylor to help me plant them.

Apr 10, 2016
4:56 PM

I plan on planting about 200 sunflowers along our south facing tree line. Higher varieties in the back and shorter in the front. I can’t wait.

Apr 10, 2016
2:30 PM

What’s the ideal type of soil for sunflowers? I haven’t had luck growing sunflowers but am willing to try again.

Apr 10, 2016
12:17 PM

What a great giveaway! We all need to do our part in saving the bees, and planting sunflower seeds is a beautiful way to help :) Hope I win!

Apr 10, 2016
10:40 AM

I have the perfect spot for a big sunflower! We used to have a grapevine with flowing bees everywhere. I just had my first son so I removed the vine for his sake and didn’t realize that they were on the decline. I’m looking to grow my garden in other ways to bring them back!

We are also doing an earth day event promoting David suzuki’s campaign for monarch milkweed and will be handing out sample sizes to people along with info.

So excited to support this quest!

Apr 10, 2016
6:48 AM

I love sunflowers, such happy plants!

Apr 09, 2016
7:39 PM

Found this very interesting. I love my sunflowers. 🌻

Apr 08, 2016
3:24 PM

sunflowers grow great — even in areas with a very short summer (Northern Ontario). we sow directly in the ground after May, and we use the flat trays from nurseries (the ones with the holes)- to keep those naughty squirrels from enjoying the seeds before they have a chance to grow. we take them off once the plant reaches a few centimetres. by September the bees are having a great time!

Apr 05, 2016
2:52 AM

Not sure if this is the right place to post, but David has inspired me even before I new it. I’m 35 now and have grown up with him in my house hold as well in my education. He has brought to my attention what being Canadain means and in such away no one can. Governments have changed, people have changed all not in David’s favour but he still fighting for what his dream is. It has taken me 35 years to see this but not going to lie I do work in the oil field. I do see every day what we are doing to are land, I want to change. We need to change. David keep inspiring me:)

Apr 05, 2016
12:12 AM

Great information, Lindsey! As an avid farmer I always tend to plant several sunflowers (my garden is on my roof) in the center of my garden. Sunflowers, being such strong pollinate “magnets”, help tremendously with the growth of my other plants. Not to mention — they are so beautiful. Thank you for the great information — sadly, my last sunflowers wilted so i was looking for information how to prevent that from happening. Thanks for clarifying it for me! As a rubbish removal company owner i urged everyone to go greener — the planting of sunflowers somewhere in your vicinity is a great way to start! Cheers!

Apr 04, 2016
4:42 PM

I think sunflowers are wonderful and am going to look for more varieties this year!

Apr 04, 2016
7:27 AM

I replant sunflowers that start to grow from seeds that have spilled from the birdfeeder. The bees, goldfinches and chickadees love them.

Apr 02, 2016
12:32 PM

The answer I needed! I’ve only a wee bit of clay soil and was debating the right thing to plant this year, high maintenance chard and lettuce (obviously useful) or aesthetically pleasing bugs, colour, and birds. Sunflowers are useful to other critters and myself!

Thank you!

Apr 02, 2016
7:14 AM

My daughter and I just purchased three different kinds of sunflower seeds. We live in Nova Scotia, so we won’t plant them until end of May. Last year I planted some nasturtium seeds and we had a lot of bees coming to the flowers.

Apr 02, 2016
7:03 AM

Where we live, in Calgary, I’ve had trouble buying seeds that produce edible results. I’ve found only seeds that grow ornamental plants. Thanks to my sister in Manitoba I’ve obtained seeds that are supposed to produce some food. That’s what I plan to plant this year.

Mar 31, 2016
5:40 PM

Every year I plant sunflower seeds close to my vegetable garden. I like to try different spots around the yard, last year didn’t turn out well so this year I will plant them at the outer edge of my garden.

Mar 31, 2016
5:25 PM

I would love to plant some on my balcony :)

Mar 31, 2016
1:25 PM

I plant sunflowers in our garden every year, but this year each of my 4 boys will have their own gardens and I will let them choose what they want to plant. My mom did that with me when I was a child, and it inspired a love of growing and gardening. I hope it inspires my children as it did me. My 7 year old has requested that his garden be sunflowers and pepper plants so I would use the seeds for his first garden! 😃

Mar 28, 2016
12:05 PM

Want to break guineas world record for biggest bee have. Want to shatter record. Hopefully I can become a pioneer and this amazing idea will trend. Now I know what flower I’m planting:) thanks David!!!

Mar 28, 2016
9:58 AM

Planting Sunflowars is a great idea for our workplace grass patch. We have leaving a wide area wild for the benefit of bees, butterflies and rodents. We have been getting complaints so I hope that sunflowers will beautify that area enough to warrant something else than complaints.

Mar 27, 2016
8:49 PM

I have grown sunflowers every year

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