South County Sunflower Blooms
Have you noticed the hundreds of acres of sunflowers growing throughout south Santa Clara County right now?
By: Greg Bozzo
Posted July 27,2023
These flowers are being grown particularly for seed production, which means that once they are harvested, the seeds will be marketed and distributed to be grown for cut-flowers. Some of the fields have already hit their peak color, others are at max flower now, and there are still some that have yet to even flower, so expect more throughout August!
This year, the south county is seeing more cut-flower sunflower fields than ever before, and it’s because of the many acres of food-related sunflowers in the Sacramento Valley – near Interstates 5 and 505. Most of these crops are grown for oil and other food related items, so we’re providing the separation required to prevent unwanted cross-pollination across these two types of sunflowers.
The flowers currently growing in south county are a culmination of years of research to get what the plant breeders were looking for – color, size, stem strength, particular traits to help the flowers thrive during shipping, and characteristics that help resist disease to lower chemical use in the field. Many of these long-term experiments take place right outside the offices and laboratories at some of the world's leading plant research and development companies located in and around Gilroy. Drive down the beautiful Hecker Pass highway just west of Gilroy and you can see many meticulously maintained flower test plots of plants such as Gerber Daisy, Pansies and Marigolds. There are also test sites in Hollister, San Juan, Watsonville and Salinas. Some of these experiments will one day end up mass produced and available in seed packets, at farmers markets and florists shops and in garden centers.
South County sunflower fields consist of separately planted male and female rows. Once farmers determine that enough of the female flowers have been pollinated, the males will be chopped down. The remaining rows, now turned downward and unattractive, will continue to be irrigated for optimal seed development. Around mid-September, the remaining plants will be cut down and left into wind-rows to dry before seeds are collected by combines. To add some perspective, the average yield of this crop is about 6,000 seeds per pound, and there are about 300 pounds per acre of plants. If 10 acres yield over 10 million seeds, imagine the sheer production of the 50, 75 and 100+ acre fields around Gilroy. This year alone, south county farmers will produce hundreds of millions of sunflower seeds that will end up as cut flowers!
As always, remember to be respectful if you are viewing flowers, and know that you are on private property. Please refrain from walking in the fields as the drip irrigation is very delicate, and a farmer's crop is their livelihood. If you love looking at rows of garlic, blossoming cherry trees, fields of corn, rows of tomato plants and hillsides of cattle chomping on grass, thank your local farmer and rancher!