Sunflower Gardening Helps Bees in Several Ways

The Great Sunflower Project needs gardeners to plant sunflower seeds and to spend a few minutes of time observing bee activity in their gardens.

It’s time to join hands with other gardeners involved in The Great Sunflower Project and plant Lemon Queen sunflower seeds in your garden.

This simple act will help honeybees in two ways: it will provide an important food source and it will help collect information about bee populations across the country.

I wrote about The Great Sunflower Project last year after reading about it in Sunset Magazine. Gretchen LeBuhn, AKA The Queen Bee,  is an associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University and the founder of this national effort to get home gardeners to help track bee activity in their backyards.

The Lemon Queen sunflower (Helianthus Annuus) is the project’s flower of choice. You can find these sunflower seeds at your local nursery, purchase them from The Great Sunflower Project or look from them at your neighborhood Target or Wal-Mart. Be sure to purchase the annual (not perennial) variety and wait to plant until night time temperatures stay above 55 degrees.

Lemon Queen features lemony-yellow petals surrounding a dark brown center. These sunflowers are easy to grow if planted in well-drained soil in a sunny spot in the garden. Not only is this a beautiful flower for your garden, but the sunflowers are an excellent source of pollen, the sole source of protein for bees.

Some of the data collected from gardeners during last year’s project was recently released and Gretchen shared the results.

She wrote that one of the goals of the Sunflower Project is to find out if urban gardens are attracting enough bees to pollinate plants.

“To my great surprise, in looking at the data, we find similar rates of bee visits in rural, suburban and urban gardens,” she wrote.

Urban gardeners who thought bee activity had fallen off the chart should be encouraged by these results.

This data was collected by gardeners who planted Lemon Queen sunflowers and then observed bee activity on the flowers in their gardens. Gardeners timed how long it took for them to see 3 bees land on their sunflowers. The mean time for urban gardeners was about 9 minutes.

Participating in a research project like this is a win-win-win. Bees benefit by all the extra sunflowers being planted, gardeners benefit by being able to attract more bees to their gardens and The Great Sunflower Project benefits by having more volunteer researchers gather important information about bees and their habitats.

Please write a comment here to let me know you’re joining The Great Sunflower Project. I’d like to send you a personal note of thanks on behalf of all the bees who will benefit from your efforts.


 

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Comments

It’s very baffling – what’s been going on with honey bees of late. I sure hope they make a comeback. Winnie the Pooh would be greatly concerned!

Are Lemon Queen sunflowers esp. good for bees? I’ve got a few other kinds of sunflowers to plant this year.

I’ve been participating in the project for the past couple of years. It’s alot of fun & it gives you another reason to sit & admire whats going on in your garden! I didn’t realize how many different bees I had. I look forward to doing it again this year.

Hi Susan…and thanks for your comment–and for planting sunflowers! Please plant as many as you’d like in your garden, but if you want to participate in the Great Sunflower Project, it’s preferred that you plant Lemon Queen. Everyone planting the same variety helps with the data collection because other sunflower varieties have different amounts of nectar and some varieties have been bred to have no pollen. I hope you’ll sign up to participate in the project!

Hi Jodi,
Thank you so much for spreading the word about the Great Sunflower Project. The observations are rolling in thanks in part to folks like you who are spreading the word. We’ve just released the new 2011 Great Sunflower Project calendar and it’s a beauty.
Best,

Freddy B
Outreach Director, The Great Sunflower Project

I just purchased seeds from Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and as a gift, they sent me a packet of Lemon Queen sunflower seeds! It wasn’t until I started researching what sunflowers were good for that I came across this project. I am excited to get started!

I raise honey bees in New Mexico and I enjoyed your article very much I’m looking for sun flowers that attract honey bees I grow other varieties but they attract the bumblebees more. would like information on ordering the Sun or lemons sunflowers

The one plant that is a guaranteed bumblebee magnet in my garden is bee balm (the purple variety). It attracts all bees, but that’s where the most bumblebees congregate.

Renee’s Garden offers Lemon Queen sunflower seeds, but you can find them through other seed companies, too. Any native sunflowers would also be a good addition to your garden.

Thanks for asking about plants that bees like–it’s important for gardeners to help them as much as we can!

–Jodi

Almost any type of sunflower attracts bees. Since 2008 I have planted anywhere from 700 to 1,000 sunflowers, of vario0us varieties. Bees love Mammoth sunflowers, lemon queen, autumn beauty, skyscraper … I have never planted a sunflower bees don’t like. This year I planted a lot of black oil sunflowers, as black oil sunflower seeds are a great and nutritious treat for horses.

Thanks for your comment,Tom. I have to say–that’s a lot of sunflowers you’ve planted!

You’re right. Bees love sunflowers and so do birds, especially the black oil sunflowers you mentioned.

Please keep on plantin’ to help our most important pollinators!

Regards,
Jodi

Is there any reason why the lemon queen was chosen over other sunflower varieties? Just curious…

I would like to plant a half mile row of sunflowers along a creek that cuts through the middle of my farm in northwest Ohio. What type of sunflower do you recommend? Thank you for your time.

Thanks for your question–I think when the program first started, the project organizers selected one kind of sunflower, that was easy to grow just about anywhere, so they could gather data for that one type of plant to analyze across the board. The program has evolved quite a bit over the years with other kinds of pollinator plants and data.

If you want to learn more: http://www.greatsunflower.org/

Thanks again for your interest!

Regards,
Jodi

Hi Michael:

Thanks for getting in touch–I appreciate your question.

To answer your question, it takes a question: What’s your purpose for planting sunflowers? Your answer makes a difference in the type of sunflowers to plant because there are so many!

Do you want to grow to harvest sunflower seeds for eating? For feeding birds and squirrels? Grow sunflowers to attract pollinators? Grow different types for bouquets to sell at the farmer’s market?

Once you know your purpose (or purposes) I’d recommend getting in touch with the county extension office or master gardeners to find out which are the best sunflower varieties to grow in your area. Their recommendations will also help guide you to a gorgeous crop this summer.

Best wishes,
Jodi

Just for the bees and to look nice.

Please let me know what you decide to plant–and I’d love to see pictures of the sunflowers in full bloom!

Thanks again for getting in touch,
Jodi

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