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Sunflower Planting Tips

Tuesday, April 1, 2003
filed under: Hybrid Selection/Planting

Don’t lose yields to a poor stand

The 2002 sunflower survey coordinated by the National Sunflower Association showed that growers in the High Plains lost hundreds of pounds of yield due to poor stand establishment. Poor stand establishment was a close second to drought as the number one yield robber.

Sunflowers will compensate if you have both even emergence and plant spacing in your field in spite of having several thousand less plants. However, fields that have plants emerging for several weeks with skips and doubles can decrease yields by 400 to 500 lbs/acre. Some tips from NSA Production Coordinator Max Dietrich to help establish a better sunflower stand:

Sunflower Planting Dates

North Dakota State University sunflower planting date studies at Carrington and Langdon indicate oil percent is highest in early planted (May 10-20) sunflower. Test weight is also higher when planted early. Seed yield at Carrington was highest when planted May 20-30. Earlier planting, (May 15), usually allows for earlier maturity and hopefully warmer harvest weather.

The optimal window for planting sunflower in southwest North Dakota appears to be May 20-24, according to results of a planting study conducted by the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center, Dickinson, N.D.

General recommendations for sunflower planting in South Dakota is mid May to early June. South Dakota State University research indicates that oil is generally more affected by late planting than yield. Oil content generally begins to decline in sunflower planted after June 15, and yield generally begins to drop in sunflower planted late June.

Sunflower can be planted in Kansas from early May to late June, according to the Kansas State University Extension Service. Generally, irrigated sunflower is planted in May and dryland sunflower during the first three weeks of June, according to KSU. Early plantings often result in larger seed size and higher oil, but they encounter more insect problems, and may require treatment. Conversely, late June and early July plantings are prone to smaller seed and lower oil, but fewer insect problems.

Planter Adjustments

Your planter is like a machine gun. It has to shoot out 13.5 seeds/second, if you have an eight row planter seeding 20,000 seeds at 5 mph. Sunflower seeds have more variation than most other seeds. That is why it is so important to clean and adjust your planter before planting your sunflowers. Also use the recommended plates, fingers and air pressure to help avoid skips, doubles. Run your planter at recommended speeds.

Seeding Depth

Sunflower seed needs to be planted at depth of 1.5 to 2.5 inches. Percent emergence will decrease as planting depth increases especially for smaller seed sizes. If rain is received and a crust is formed, deep seeded plants will have a particularly difficult time breaking through the crust. Harrowing the crust before the emerging seedlings reach to within one half inch of the soil surface will improve emergence.

Furrow Closing

Sunflower needs to have excellent seed to soil contact. Because sunflowers have a woody hull, closure of the furrow becomes more important than for corn and most other crops.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature needs to be at 50° or more at seed depth (1.5 to 2.5 inches). Planting sunflower seed into cold soils may cause seed to go into dormancy and can delay germination.

Early-Season Pest Control

Insects like wire worms and cutworms can drastically reduce stands. Use approved chemicals to control insects. Satisfactory weed control early is also essential. Use labeled products and apply them as recommended. Know the field’s weed history and control accordingly.

Replanting Sunflower

A number of sunflower fields each spring are planted late or replanted. The many reasons for this include: extremely cold or dry conditions, wind erosion, insects (cutworm), diseases, hail and frost.

When planting sunflower late (generally after June 10 in the Northern Plains) it’s suggested to plant early maturing hybrids, says Duane Berglund, NDSU extension agronomist. Selection of short season sunflowers will increase the chance of reaching maturity in the northern areas of North Dakota and Minnesota. Planting of confection sunflower in the Northern Plains is discouraged in June.

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