Are Sunflowers Bad For The Soil

Sunflower crops can benefit the soil in many ways.

Sunflowers are not bad for the soil in which they grow. In fact, in most cases these bright and beautiful flowers actually return the macronutrients they take from the soil. Sunflowers also reduce pest problems such as corn borer and soybean cyst nematoid, and they may help clean up soil that’s been contaminated by exposure to nuclear power leaks. Does this Spark an idea?

Macronutrients

Sunflower stovers return nutrients to the soil.

All plants need certain macronutrients to grow; sunflowers require nitrogen, phosphate and potash. A study published in the Alternative Field Crops Manual concludes that the demands of a sunflower crop on soil macronutrients are not as great as corn, wheat or potato. Furthermore, most of the nutrients taken from the soil are returned with the sunflower stover, the dried stalks and leaves of the spent crop.

Pests

Sunflower crops can solve certain pest problems.

Sunflowers can also enhance soil by solving certain pest problems. For example, adding sunflowers to an existing crop rotation can eradicate problems such as corn borer, a pest to grain crops in general and maize in particular. Sunflowers also significantly reduce problems with soybean cyst nematode, a small parasitic roundworm that can destroy crops by attacking the roots of soybeans.

Decontamination

Sunflowers are thought to decontaminate the soil.

The most startling positive impact of sunflowers on soil, however, was much-discussed in 2011 when a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency group recommended that sunflowers be planted around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to decontaminate the soil. While the recommendation is steeped in controversy, the theory is that the sunflowers will remove radioactive cesium from the soil. There is an historical precedent for this idea. After the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, both sunflowers and rape blossoms were planted to cleanse the soil.

Growing

More than a bouquet of blooms, sunflowers are considered for crops.

Like most plants, sunflowers fare better in healthy, well-drained soil. Sunflowers are adaptable and can grow in less than ideal conditions, although they may bear smaller flowers and have shorter stalks. While many gardeners grow these bright blooms for their appearance, they’re becoming an important agricultural crop for both oilseed and birdseed use. Because sunflowers have a shorter growing season than many other crops, and can tolerate fairly dry soil, they’re looked upon with interest by farmers seeking to diversify their crop rotation.