An autumn tip for your sunflowers in Buffalo, and two tips for spring

sunflower in Amherst NYThe sunflower is wonderful in so many ways. If you’re not growing them now, there are many reasons why you should consider growing sunflowers next year.

  • They have beautiful flowers.
  • Sunflowers grow rapidly and reach a magnificent height.
  • They offer food for people and wildlife.
  • They blossom from summer to fall.
  • You start sunflowers from seed, so they’re cheap.
  • They’re  easy to grow.

Here’s one tip that you can use now, and two more tips for growing sunflowers next year.sunflower closeup in Buffalo NY area

Sunflower tip #1: Protect sunflower seeds from wildlife.

Many people enjoy watching squirrels tumble over the huge sunflower heads to get at the seeds, but other people want to eat the seeds themselves.

I fall into the second category. Unfortunately, the squirrels and birds beat me to the harvest every time. The problem is that the animals are happy to eat the seeds just as the florets are beginning to fall off, and the seeds aren’t ripe enough for me yet. In the photo above right, you can see the florets still attached to the seeds.

netting on sunflower in Buffalo NYThis year I took action. When the florets were ready to fall off, I covered the seed head with netting and secured it in place with twist ties.

I used some tulle I had on hand, which you can see in the photo at left. It’s delicate and got ripped (or was torn open by the squirrels), though I did salvage some seeds before the squirrels ate everything.

What I’m trying now is cheesecloth. I covered the cheesecloth with a double layer of tulle. I topped it all with a paper bag. (I read that you may have to replace the bag if it rains.) I’m sure a squirrel can chew or claw through any of these layers, but if I slow down the squirrels enough, perhaps they’ll lose interest.

The idea is not only to keep the animals out, but to catch any seeds that might loosen and fall as they ripen. Using only the tulle, the animals got in, but the netting remained in place and did catch many seeds.

To secure the netting and bag, I reused twist ties from bread bags, connecting several twist ties together to make one long twist tie.

Sunflower tip #2: Prolong the blossoming season by staggering the planting of your sunflowers.bee on sunflower in Amherst NY

Plant some sunflower seeds, wait a week, then plant another batch. If you plant several batches, you’ll have flowers from summer to fall.

Several of my sunflowers are done, but several more have almost-ripe seeds, and a final batch is just going to seed.

Sunflower tip #3: Protect sunflower seedlings.

I have a problem with rabbits in my yard. They like to chomp down everything in the spring, and I’ve lost young sunflower plants to them in the past.

This year I didn’t lose a single sunflower seedling because I protected the seedlings with tomato cages laced with yarn. A tomato cage isn’t enough to discourage a rabbit, but the yarn made it difficult for the rabbit to get at the tender plant. yarn around tomato cage in Buffalo NY area

I simply tied the end of the yarn to the tomato cage and looped the yarn over and under the horizontal circles of the cage. Then I wove the yarn sideways inbetween the vertical strands of yarn, tying it here and there to keep it in place.

For good measure, I sprayed the yarn with rabbit repellent, alternating between a commercial spray and a homemade spray made from hot peppers.

I left this cage in place, but you can remove the cage when you think the stem is thick enough and woody enough to be unappealing to rabbits.

Fun bonus: See more great photos of sunflowers at Garden Walk, Garden Talk.


Photos in this article by Connie Oswald Stofko.

6 Comments on “An autumn tip for your sunflowers in Buffalo, and two tips for spring

  1. Try small zip ties to secure the fence ends. Value has bags of 100 on their dollar tables. Clip the excess if you don’t like the look.

  2. Yes Hardware cloth is a metal mesh. The openings come in a couple of different sizes. I us the 1/2 inch mesh (19 ga. so it would have much smaller openings than chicken wire and much stiffer.

    I cut strips from the roll the length I need to go around the plant with 3 or 4 inches clearance from the base of the plant so there is growing room and about 8 inches high which would be about 12 rows of squares more or less depending on the plant. I form it into a circular shape around the plant and secure the two ends with a couple of pieces of wire. You could also use twist ties or even chenille craft stems. If you use twist ties, use several together for strength.

  3. Penny,
    Thanks so much for this new information. I had never even heard of hardware cloth. It seems to be a stiff metal mesh with hole larger than in a window screen but smaller than in a fence.

    Do you use a rectangle of hardware cloth to form your cage, or do you somehow weave strips of it?

  4. I gorw mostly plants that are rabbit and deer resistent but I do have more of a problem with voles that come into the yard from the meadow behind me.

    To deter critters such as rabbits and voles from eating your seedlings and young plants, make a circular cage out of strips of hardware cloth available on rolls at your local hardware store or home improvement store. Place the cage around the plant or seedling and push it down into the soil several inches surrounding the plant and at least 5 or 6 inches above the soil line. This will protect your young plants and as it grows and fills out the hardware cloth will be hidden by the plants foilage so it doesn’t even need to be removed.

    Hardware cloth come in small 5ft. rolls as well as larger rolls and in green plastic coated as well as uncoated aluminum. You will need a pair of wire cutters or needle nose pliers to cut the hardware cloth but it will save the frustration of losing plants.

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