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How to Grow Black Oil Sunflowers in Your Summer Garden

Why You Should Consider Growing Black Oil Sunflowers

Black oil sunflowers have many uses besides just ornamental in the garden or cut flower arrangements. If you have ever purchased bird seed, the little black sunflower kernels in that seed are black oil sunflower seeds. They can be fed to chickens, birds and squirrels. These sunflowers are a versatile plant that can serve many purposes.

They are extremely easy to grow and require little maintenance. They are drought resistant and can tolerate extreme summer heat. A quick watering a few times a week when there is no rain is sufficient for these plants.

They attract beneficial insects like bees. The honey bee, wood bee and yellow jacket love fresh black oil sunflower blooms. It's not uncommon to always see a bee or two working on the blooms on a sunny, early summer day.

These sunflowers are compact in size so they are great for smaller spaces. Only reaching a height of approximately 4', they are an excellent choice for use as a shade providing canopy for plants that grow lower to the ground like squash and lettuce that will need a break from the mid-day sun. Their leaves are fairly large and multiple plants can be grown together without risking overcrowding.

Black oil sunflowers also have an interesting ability to produce more than one head on each plant. These so called extra heads will be smaller than the main one. With the added benefit of multiple flowers comes the benefit of extra sunflower seeds.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds


How to Plant Sunflowers

These sunflowers are extremely easy to plant. The first thing that needs to be done is breaking up the soil in the early spring. Adding organic matter to the soil at this point will ensure that the sunflowers have enough nutrients to grow to their full potential and have healthy blooms for seeds.

Once the soil is broken and all threats of frost have passed, the seeds can be sown into the dirt. This is an extremely easy process that only takes a few minutes to do. You can "toss" the seeds around the area or drop them individually if you want to control exactly where the plants come up. Once the area is seeded, rake gently with a garden rake just enough to cover the seeds to keep the birds and animals from eating them off the ground. Once the seeding and covering is finished, give the area a nice drink of water to set the seeds in place and to keep any that are close to the surface from blowing away.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Black oil sunflower with multiple blooms bagged with netting for collecting seeds as they fall out.

Black oil sunflower with multiple blooms bagged with netting for collecting seeds as they fall out.

How to Harvest Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

As the summer progresses and the sunflowers have bloomed, you will notice that some of the heads will start to droop. This is a sign that the seeds are almost ready for harvest. There will be little yellow flowers, one flower for each seed, on the head of the sunflower. When these little flowers wilt, and you can see the seeds inside, it's time to harvest them.

You can either cut the head off and allow it to hang to dry and the seeds to fall out or you can tie a bag to the head of the sunflower to catch the falling seeds. The seeds will easily fall out of the sunflower head. If they feel a bit damp to the touch, you'll want to keep them in the open air until they are completely dry.

At that point, the seeds can be used for bird food or chicken snacks. You can also save some of the seed for next year's crop of black oil sunflowers. It's a very economical way of gardening that also ensures that only the best strain of a plant is sown year after year.

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Certified Organic Black Oil Sunflower Seeds


Choosing the Seed to Plant a Sunflower Garden

Black oil sunflower seeds are easier to find than you may think. Finding seed packets at your local lawn and garden center for these plants may be a challenge, but there is an easy solution. As long as the seed hasn't been roasted and isn't old, you can actually use seed that is marketed as bird seed to start your own sunflower patch.

These beautiful sunflowers that are in my chicken garden were planted from a couple of hand fulls of black oil sunflower seeds that were marketed as bird seed. If you purchase bird seed on a regular basis, this is an extremely cost effective way of starting your own sunflower patch. Not only will you be able to enjoy the beauty of the sunflower for weeks in the late spring and early summer, you'll also have the benefit of enjoying the collected seed to feed chickens, birds and the neighborhood squirrels through the fall and winter.


Helena Ricketts (author) from Indiana on March 23, 2017: yes, humans can eat them. I grow them for their beauty in the garden and as a supplement to my chickens. Talking about people eating them never crossed my mind and I think you have brought up a very good point. I have no idea if they would be good for sprouting but it would never hurt to try it! on March 22, 2017:

Are these not edible for humans? I noticed you didn't sat that so I was wondering if there was a reason? Also arw these good for sprouting?

Tom on June 12, 2015:

Black oil sunflower seeds are an excellent snack for horses as well

Helena Ricketts (author) from Indiana on July 30, 2012:

Hi Maddie! The squirrels are ruthless here too. I always wrap the heads in mosquito netting to protect them from birds once the seeds start to come in nicely and it seems to help with the squirrels too. I think the green camouflages them a bit. Having long, colorful, shiny ribbons that are able to blow in the breeze and a few pinwheels are good deterrents for animals in the garden too. I didn't do those this year but in years past I have and it works really well.

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on July 30, 2012:

I love sunflowers, and I grew them as a kid, but the squirrels kept coming along and breaking the heads off. I think they were planted too close to a fence, making it easy for the squirrels. Do you have any tips for avoiding or deterring pests?

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