Starting a sunflower u-pick

Want to entice more customers to your agritourism business? A well-placed field of bright, cheery sunflowers could be a magnet to your property. Sunflowers planted to bloom from late summer to early fall will help bring in customers before they’re in the mood to buy pumpkins or apples. The pictures visitors take and post on social media can also mean free advertising for your farm.

Tom Ford is an extension commercial horticulture educator at Penn State University. He says sunflowers will grow anywhere in the United States – as long as you have 50-to-60 days in your growing season and good soils.

"Good drainage is probably the biggest key as far as with the soils. They tend to be heavy feeders, so we’re always going to recommend soil tests, bring up the soil to the optimal pH as well as making sure you have good phosphorous and potash levels in the soil," says Ford. "We typically look at nitrogen as far as fueling the growth and providing the key for a successful sunflower crop."

There are a lot of sunflower varieties, colors, and plant heights to choose from. Ford says varieties that get five-to-six-feet tall have huge flowers but are probably a bit much for most consumers to pick themselves. However, he notes planting these giant bloomers close together could work in your favor.

"Because that way you’re not going to get the growth height out of them. If you look at the flower size, we’re typically looking at a 4”-6” range. So, if we plant them a little closer together, we’re probably going to yield about a 4”-4.5” flower," he says. "That crowding will also keep the stem length to something like a 4’-4.5’ range as far as height."