Beneficial Insects
Composting
Fertilize & Mulch
Garden Plans
Garden Pests
Lawn Management
Quick Tips
Specialty Gardens
Field of sunflowers

Wisconsin Native Sunflowers

Native sunflowers have much to recommend them:

  Great for cut flowers
  Seeds are edible
  Sunflower seeds limit weeds
  Attracts pollinators including bees, butterflies and birds
  Sunflower roots help with contaminated soil

With bright blooms that go from mid-summer to early fall, sunflowers say “summer” like no other plant. Native sunflowers are perennial plants with a large daisy-like flower face.

Sunflowers are able to take heavy metals from contaminated soil in a way that’s completely natural and un-harmful to the soil and its surrounding ecosystems. They’re called phytoremediators.

Planting Sunflowers

White butterfly on sunflower

  It’s best to sow sunflower seeds directly into the garden after the danger of spring frost has passed any time after soils have warmed to at least 50°F.

  In Wisconsin, this will fall between April and mid-June.

  Sunflowers dislike having their roots disturbed, direct-sowing is much better than instead of transplanting.

Sunflower Plant Care

  While the plant is small, water around the root zone, about 3 to 4 inches from the plant. To protect the plant, it may help to put snail or slug bait around the stem.

  Once the plant is established, water deeply though infrequently to encourage deep rooting. Unless the weather is exceptionally wet or dry, water once a week with several gallons of water.

  Feed plants only sparingly; over fertilization can cause stems to break in the fall. You can add diluted fertilizer into the water, though avoid getting the fertilizer near the plant’s base; it may help to build a moat in a circle around the plant about 18 inches out.

  Sunflowers dislike having their roots disturbed, direct-sowing is much better than instead of transplanting.

  Tall species and cultivars require support. Bamboo stakes are a good choice for any plant that has a strong, single stem and needs support for a short period of time.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

How to pick sunflower seeds

  Let the flower dry on or off the stem until the back of the head turns brown, the foliage turns yellow, the petals die down, and the seeds look plump and somewhat loose.

  Once the plant is established, water deeply though infrequently to encourage deep rooting. Unless the weather is exceptionally wet or dry, water once a week with several gallons of water.

  With sharp scissors or pruners, cut the head off the plant (about 6 inches below the flower head). Place in a container to catch loose seeds.

  Lie the sunflower head on a flat, clean surface and grab a bowl to hold the seeds.

To remove the seeds, simply rub your hand over the seeded area and pull them off the plant or you can use a fork. Another way to remove them is to rub the head of the sunflower across an old washboard or something similar. Just grip the head and rub it across the board as if you were washing clothes.

  If you are going to harvest the seeds for roasting, you can cover the flowers with a light fabric (such as cheesecloth) and a rubber band to protect the heads from the birds.

  Alternatively, you can cut the flower head early and hang the heads upside down until the seeds are dry; hang indoors or in a place that’s safe from birds and mice.

  Rinse sunflower seeds before laying them out to dry for several hours or overnight.

  If you’re saving seeds to replant, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.

  To remove the seeds, simply rub your hand over the seeded area and pull them off the plant or you can use a fork. Another way to remove them is to rub the head of the sunflower across an old washboard or something similar. Just grip the head and rub it across the board as if you were washing clothes.

Wisconsin Native Sunflower Species

Ox Eye Sunflower

Ox Eye Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides Height: 3-6 feet
Bloom: Summer
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 3,4, 5
Soil: Clay,Loam, Sand
Moisture: Dry, Medium,Moist
Color: Yellow

Woodland Sunflower

Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus strumosus Height: 3-5 feet
Bloom: Late Summer/Fall
Sun: Full Sun,Part Sun
Zones: 3,4,5
Soil : Loam,Sand
Moisture: Dry,Medium
Color: Yellow

Showy Sunflower

Showy Sunflower, Helianthus laetiflorus Height: 3-6 feet
Bloom: Late Summer/Fall
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 4,5
Soil: Clay,Loam,Sand
Moisture: Dry,Medium
Color: Yellow

Western Sunflower

Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis Height: 2-3 feet
Bloom: Late Summer/Fall
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 3,4,5
Soil: Loam,Sand
Moisture: Dry,Medium
Color: Yellow

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Native Berry Shrubs
 Lovely Native Phlox
 Use Eggshells For Your Plants
 How to Use Banana Peels in Your Garden

Bees flying footer graphic