In most of the country, it’s time to start gearing up for planting a bee-friendly garden. For very little effort, you can create beautiful habitat for native bees and abundant forage for honey bees. Sunflowers, of course, are the perfect start and, ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers are our preferred variety for making your bee observations. The reason we have a single variety of sunflower that we recommend is to make sure that we are comparing apples to apples! Some varieties of sunflower have no pollen so they will be less attractive and provide less food for bees. Others have more or less nectar. By having everyone use the same flower, we can be sure that differences from one yard to the next aren’t simply differences among sunflower varieties.
If you are ready to order some seeds, you can find low-cost and beautiful sunflower seeds at one of our partners, Renee’s Garden Seeds. Check out their site here . Renee has offered to pass a long a portion of her proceeds to the Great Sunflower Project for all orders that use Coupon Code FR225A. Anyone can use this code- even people who aren’t buying sunflowers!
Plant sunflower seeds outdoors directly into a sunny spot in your garden when the day and night-time temperatures stay above 50 degrees. Plant indoors if it’s still too cold in your area, so you’ll have a running start later in the season. Sunflowers germinate fairly quickly, so you should see them sprouting up in a week to 10 days if conditions are warm enough, but if your initial sowing comes up unevenly, fill in with new seeds right away as seedlings catch up easily. Make sure they’re well watered, and for best growing conditions, thin them out to at least 12 inches apart.
Here in San Francisco, we’re planting sunflowers in stages so that we’ll have blooms to observe throughout the summer and so that bees will have sunflower pollen to forage as long as possible this year. We put some starts in at a new community garden in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. This new community garden sprouted up alongside a recycling center bordering Golden Gate Park. If you live in the area, please come by and have a look! It’s a great place to learn about native plants and pollinator plants, and to see veggies growing.
Some other good choices for your pollinator garden this year might be California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), Echinacea (E. purpurea), Bee Balm (Monarda), Tickseed (Coreopsis) and Cosmos. We’d love to have more data on bee visits from these plants.
Renee also has a great page on sunflower planting tips, and even shows a giant sunflower in bloom. The giant sunflower might be a bit too tall for bee observing, but it’s pretty impressive! Check out 17-foot ‘Sunzilla’ here.
So get those seed packets! Now’s the time to prepare and plant ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. And if you are lucky enough to live where sunflowers are already blooming, take 15 minutes and send us your count. We’ve already received our first counts of 2012!