This past June, when Michaela finished second grade, she brought home her horticulture project for the spring, a brace of sunflower seedlings. She had planted them in a little four-inch pot, and they were doing quite nicely. I brought them into our back yard (somewhat alkaline soil, southern exposure) and planted them about eighteen inches from a five-and-a-half foot high board fence. We watered the plants daily, gave them a tablespoon of plant food in a gallon of water weekly, and were rewarded with some very nice progress almost immediately. By the beginniing of July, both plants exceeded three feet in height, and one of them was even putting out a bud.
By mid-July, the first plant had blossomed into a very respectable sunflower (approximately 7" in diameter) although it grew no higher. The other plant just kept getting taller, putting out more leaves, and FINALLY at the beginning of August, put out a bud. At this time, it became necessary to stake the stalk, because it was just too heavy to remain upright on its own. The blossom on the first flower had by now wasted away, having lost its pollen and its petals, and leaving behind a handsome bed of seeds (well, it’s not quite so handsome now). The second flower far out-performed the first, and while it’s nothing that would get Michaela a guest spot on The Victory Garden, we are all very proud of the flower, and of the family’s achievement in producing it. At its maximum, the plant topped me by half a head, reaching six-and a half-feet. The flower itself was a good thirteen inches in diameter, with a seed cluster that measures eight inches in diameter.
All of which brings us to today. The first flower is long gone. The stalk is dried out, the seed cluster is face-down in the dirt, but evidently still intact. That is, there is no evidence that any of the seeds have actually fallen out. I am still giving the area its accustomed regimen of water and food, so the ground should still be fertile. The second flower, after several weeks of heliotroping, appears to have worn out the necessary fibers in its stalk, and droops listlessly, suspended about three and a half feet from the ground. It still has (tired-looking) petals, and the seed cluster is far less mature than the first flower’s. Whereas the seeds of the first flower have the well-known light-and-dark striped shell, the younger flower’s seeds seem to be individually encased in a fleshy rind. In the newer flower, each seed has a tiny floret attached to its end; I suspect that these were once filled (or covered) with the bright yellow pollen that was dusting the uppermost leaves for the first few days after the blossom opened.
kaylasmom, Michaela, and I would like to harvest at least some of these seeds and continue growing sunflowers, possibly in our front yard; the process has been very rewarding. Unfortunately, I have not the slightest idea how to begin. The Western Garden Book indicates that this species of helianthus can pretty much self-propagate and grow like a weed, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what we’re after (the nasturtiums we have now, while quite attractive, are a bit of a nuisance).
Anybody with experience on the controlled propagation of sunflowers? I have a suspicion that leaving the older flower’s seed cluster face down on the ground, and continuing to water it might result in a patch of these babies appearing next Spring. Is there an accepted “best way” of harvesting the seeds for replanting? Should we avoid removing the seeds from the younger seed cluster until the fleshy rind has matured to hard shell, or does that fleshy rind represent an opportunity for forced sprouting? Is it better to plant the seeds in a pot and transplant them, or to shove them into the dirt now and start hoping?
There’s just so much to learn. I do appreciate any help you can offer us.