Sunflowers are the embodiment of summer in a plant. Their striking heads have made them popular garden blooms for a long time, and there’s no sign of them going out of fashion any time soon. However, they are large flowers which means their tall, thick stalks are a whole lot of plant, and throwing them away once their blooming season has ended can feel like such a waste.
So, what to do with sunflower stalks? Sunflowers stalks are wonderfully versatile and can be used for many things such as building trellises, bean pole teepees, compost material, to create a shady garden spot, or even eating them for a lunchtime snack. Or, you can offer them up to birds.
It’s time to finally reduce your garden waste and put your sunflower stalks to some good use.
Read on to find out exactly what you can and can’t do with those wonderful sunflower stalks.
What Can You Do With Sunflower Stalks?
There are so many things you can do with your sunflower stalks, such as teepees and beanpoles for your growing vegetables; they also make excellent compost material, but did you know that your sunflower stalks are even edible?
When you think of sunflowers, it’s usually their grand heads that you think of when you want to grow them for more than just their looks.
It’s very common to grow sunflowers to harvest their seeds for food and oil products, but their stalks get forgotten far more than they should.
We’re also living in a society where reducing your waste is more important than ever; this includes the waste produced from planting and growing a beautiful garden.
So finding ways to re-use plants that have reached the end of their lifecycle is a great way to do your part.
Sunflower stalks are well known for being tough but did you know you can use them to create a structure to grow other vegetables on, such as peas and beans.
Climbing vegetable plants that produce lightweight produce can use sunflower stalks as the perfect ladder.
There are two ways you can use sunflower stalks as vegetable supports.
Firstly, by taking spent sunflowers and cutting off the roots and the head.
This leaves you with just the stalk.
You will need to store the stalks somewhere dry to fully dry them out.
Once they are dried, you can tie them together in teepees, ladders or just keep them standing upright, and they provide ample support for your climbing veggies.
The second way you can use sunflower stalks for climbing vegetable plants is when the sunflower is still thriving and well.
Sunflowers make a beautiful and strong living trellis for climbing plants.
Plant the sunflowers in a circular shape, and then plant your pea or bean plants around them.
Your climbing veggies may need a little coaxing to hang on to the sunflowers; in the beginning, this is also common with any climbing frame you use, but once they’ve gotten ahold of a sunflowers stalk, they won’t let go.
A Food Source For Birds
This is an option if you don’t plan on harvesting those delicious sunflower seeds for yourself.
It’s a fairly simple use for a sunflower and its stalk, but you do need somewhere dry and cool to store your sunflowers as they dry out.
You need to cut the sunflower at the base of its stalk once its head starts to lose its petals and naturally dry out.
Then in a shed or garage, you can hang the entire plant upside down to dry it in preparation for the food-scarce winter months.
Once winter arrives and you see your hungry garden birds looking for food, you can push the stalk back into the ground (you may need to stake it or tie it to something sturdy like your fence), and then all you have to do is sit back and watch those hungry birds go to town.
The stalk of the sunflower means this food source will be elevated off the ground, and those sweet birds won’t be as easy targets for predators.
Privacy Fence Or For Garden Shade
Those long, thick, and sturdy stalks, when dried, can make a fabulous garden screen to give you more privacy or to provide more shade coverage in the garden.
Using sturdy, thin wire, you can tie your sunflower stalks tightly together so they can be used similarly to a bamboo screen.
The only downside, if you see it like that, is you will need to grow a lot of sunflowers for a decent-sized screen or shade cover.
Natural Flute Craft
Summers are nothing without children making things out of flowers.
Daisy chains are something we have all tried at one stage or another, but did you know you can make a very simple musical flute from your dried sunflower stalks.
All you have to do is poke a few holes into your stalk, again ensure the stalk is fully dried, and then create some beautiful, natural music with your little ones.
Who doesn’t love a fire during the winter? There’s nothing cozier than a roaring open fire, and dried sunflower stalks make the perfect kindling to get your fire going.
All you’ll need to do is chop up your sunflower stalks once you remove them from your garden and keep them somewhere cool and dry, like a shed or garage, until they. Are fully dried out.
Sunflower stalks make a wonderful addition to a home compost pile. They can be used in a few ways for your compost.
By stamping on the fibrous stalks before using them as a base for your compost pile or you can use them to introduce more oxygen into your compost pile by poking them directly into an existing compost pile.
If neither of those sounds like something you want or need to do, you can also just grind them up into your thriving compost eco-system.
Can You Plant Sunflower Stalks?
Yes and no, whether you can plant your sunflower stalks will be entirely dependant on what type of sunflower you have grown.
If you are growing annuals, once they are cut, you unlikely to be re-plant the stalk.
You can try to pop the stem with its flower head attached into a container of water, and if the stem grows new roots, then it can be re-planting.
If no roots are produced, you won’t be able to re-plant them.
However, if you are growing perennial sunflower species, many of them will be perfect for propagating.
Perennial sunflowers such as the Maximilian Sunflower and the Beach Sunflower can be propagated and transplanted very easily.
You need to ensure you take your cuttings at the appraise stage of the plants blooming cycle.
The best time to take cuttings is during the spring, before any flowers have begun to bloom.
You will also want to make sure that you are taking your cutting from fresh plant growth; this means any part of the plant that is already at least one summer growing season old should be left alone.
Once you have your cutting, you will need to snip off the lower leaves and plant it in a healthy 1:1 mix of sterile growing medium such as sand and peat moss.
Perennial sunflower cuttings can root very successfully without the aid of a rooting hormone.
However, using one will speed up the process.
Once the cuttings have fully rooted, they behave very much like any sunflower.
They severely dislike being transplanted.
You will need to be very delicate with your new rooted plant when moving it from its rooting pot to its forever home.
The whole process of propagating a perennial sunflower cutting should take a few weeks, so you will need all the patience you can muster.
Can You Eat Sunflower Stalks?
Sunflower stalks make a fantastic edible treat, and you can use them in many different ways depending on the maturity of your sunflower plant.
Sprouting sunflower seeds is a fairly simple process and can produce the freshest tasting sprouts perfect for a salad.
There are two ways to grow sunflower sprouts, and which technique you use will be dependant on how much room you have.
Firstly you can sprout sunflower seeds in a quart-sized mason jar.
You start by filling your jar with a 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds (make sure they are of the edible kind first), then fill the jar up with water and top the jar with a square of butter muslin and an elastic band.
You can get mesh sprouting lids to fit your jars now, which can reduce waste.
Once you have secured your draining material to the top of your jar, you will need to rain all the water out and store the drained jar upside down in a bowl or container.
You will need to repeat this rinse/drain twice a day.
You’ll know your sprouts are ready to eat once you can see the sprout tail emerging from the seed.
You can also grow sunflower seeds in a wide, shallow container and cut the very young sprouts once they have grown no more than an inch and a half tall.
Sunflower Salad Leaves
The leaves of a mature sunflower plant make the most amazing cooked salad leaf.
Much like kale leaves, you remove the tough center ribs of the leaf before boiling, sautéing, or frying it.
Young Sunflower Stalk Salad
The stalks of a young sunflower have a taste very similar to celery.
To eat them, you will need to peel their outer layer off before chopping them into bite-size pieces.
They can be added to a salad or used as a dipper for peanut butter or hummus.
You do need to make sure you avoid older sunflower plants as their stalks become very woody in texture as they mature.
Do Sunflowers Stalks Make Good Compost?
Sunflower stalks make a fantastic addition to your compost heap. They can make the perfect base for a brand new compost pile by ‘roughing up’ your freshly cut fibrous sunflower stems and then laying them flat at the bottom of your compost pile container.
You can also use them to introduce more oxygen into your compost heap.
Oxygen is one of the most important factors to consider when you are building a compost heap.
It’s the oxygen levels and airflow that will encourage the microorganisms that turn your food and garden waste into useful compost.
Pushing your sunflower stalks directly into your compost heap can not only create new avenues for oxygen to flow through your compost heap, but any life left in the plant will excrete low levels of oxygen from the stalk and till it completely dies.
Sunflower stalks are a truly underrated part of a common yet popular garden flower.
In our efforts to reduce and reuse as much as we can in our gardens and homes, it’s time to appreciate the sunflower stalk for the multi-purpose pier house that it has always been.