Sunflowers for Wildlife

Doves, quail, pheasants, turkeys and numerous song birds will use your sunflower fields in late summer, fall and winter.

Variety

  • Wildlife prefer the small black-seeded varieties of sunflower. 
  • The seed most commonly raised for wildlife in Missouri is Peredovick. This variety generally requires 110 to 120 days to mature. It grows to 6 feet tall and produces seed weighing nearly 30 pounds per bushel.

Field location and size

  • For best wildlife utilization of sunflower plantings, the field should be located close to permanent winter cover.
  • The field should be at least five acres in size to insure that there will be seed available throughout the winter months.
  • Fields are more attractive to mourning doves if a pond with bare ground around the edges is nearby. Doves also prefer tree or shrub rows nearby for roosting. A dead tree or two near the field will also be used as a perch by the doves before they come in to feed.
  • Sunflowers will grow on a wide variety of soils but fail to thrive in poorly drained wet soils.

Field preparation

  • Prepare a good seedbed by plowing and disking. If crop residues or weeds are not a problem, disking is adequate to prepare the seedbed. At this time, the fertilizer and a herbicide can be incorporated.
  • Fertilizer will promote earlier flowering and increase yields. Fertilizer should be applied at the rate of 200 pounds of 12-12-12 or equivalent per acre.

Planting

  • The best success with planting is achieved with a corn planter. Use the medium flat plates for sunflowers planted in rows. Plant at the rate of 5 to 6 pounds of seed per acre. One seed every 12 to 16 inches in the row will allow good growth. Seed should be planted in moist soil at a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches. If a drill is not available, the seed can be hand broadcast. Care should be taken to seed lightly, however. A dense seeding will result in plant competition and the production of fewer seeds for wildlife.
  • Sunflower seedlings can tolerate frost, so late April plantings are possible. For seedheads that are mature prior to the dove season, it is best to plant before May 1st. Planting as late as early July is also possible. Good success has been seen in years of adequate moisture with sunflowers planted after wheat is harvested. A no-till planter works well for this type of planting.

Weed Control

  • Although a pre-plant herbicide is not necessary, it will help control grassy weed competition. This will create bare soil between the rows which is necessary to attract doves. Herbicides such as Treflan, Amiben, Toban, or Eptam will help control grassy weeds. Follow the label for application rates and instructions.
  • Mechanical control will also help create the needed bare soil conditions. Light harrowing can be used soon after planting to control early weeds, but should not be done once the sunflowers start to emerge.
  • Once the sunflowers have reached the "four to six" leaf stage, they have developed a strong root system and can be harrowed or rotary hoed for weed control. Later cultivation with inter-row implements should be shallow to avoid damaging the sunflower's fibrous root system.
  • Once the sunflowers reach 12 inches in height, the root system has spread out enough that cultivation will do more damage than good. Also, the sunflowers will effectively out-compete weeds as they reach a height that is too tall for cultivation.
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