Boy, last year it was the Easter freeze and this year we have the floods. I guess about the only thing you can say about any crop year is that it will be different. This too shall pass and at some point we will get a crop in.
Thank goodness we are not still farming with M Farmalls and A John Deeres with 6-foot drag-type disks! It sure hard, however, for farmers who lost wheat crops to floods or do not know when the water will go down to plant crops.
I get calls each year about planting sunflowers for dove hunting. Bob Scott and some of his co-workers at the University of Arkansas have published a fact sheet — FSA2150/Sunflowers Grown for Dove Hunting — that tells you about anything you need to know. They have put a section on sunflower weed control into the MP 44. You can get both publications at any county Extension office in Arkansas.
Now is the time to plant so the sunflowers have plenty of time to mature and attract the birds before the season opens.
I recommend the black oilseed hybrid sunflowers over the open pollinated types. I do not think the doves care which type you plant, but the hybrids grow much more aggressively and compete with weeds better.
In addition, they make much larger heads and are prettier in bloom. There were several times when I grew them that I would drive up to a plot and there would be someone, surrounded by dinner plate-sized flowers, having his or her picture taken.
Readers want to know where the hybrid seed can be purchased. In the past I have recommended James Taylor and a lot of folks have purchased seed from him. James has moved and is now at Jimmy Sanders, Inc., at McCrory, Ark. He is still shipping seed and has both the conventional and Clearfield hybrid sunflowers.
I do not intend to slight anyone else selling the hybrid seed; I have no vested interest. I just know this is one place for sure where you can get them.
There are several keys to growing a successful crop. The first one is not to plant them too thick — usually about 4 to 5 pounds of seed per acre on the black oilseed types.
You need to plant them in rows because it is hard to get the seeding rate low enough with a drill. Most who prefer drilling them plant the open pollinated types due to lower seed costs. I planted in 30-inch rows because that was the row spacing on the planter I had and I tried to plant two to three seeds per foot.
They should look about like a stand of corn when they emerge — one to two plants per foot. The main drawback to planting thicker or drilling the hybrids is seed cost and the heads will be smaller. The doves do not care if the heads are smaller if you do not mind the seed cost.
I applied mixed fertilizer prior to planting and top-dressed with nitrogen when the plants were 6 to 12 inches tall.
Weed control is always an issue. Grass control is easy, but broadleaf weed control is more difficult. The best herbicide programs seem to be Treflan or Prowl applied preplant incorporated followed by Spartan immediately after planting or a Dual-Spartan tank-mix applied immediately after planting. Do not apply Spartan after the sunflowers begin to crack the ground — severe injury can occur if rain falls shortly afterward.
In Clearfield sunflowers you can use Beyond, but that does not provide a huge advantage over conventional systems. Beyond is mainly a grass herbicide, but there are several ways to control grasses in either system.
My recommendation is to use the same preplant and pre-emergence program in the Clearfield hybrids as you would in conventional sunflowers. Planting early helps get the jump on broadleaf weeds and it really helps if you can cultivate them. Good luck and get the fact sheet.