bee forage

Lemon queen sunflowers for pollinators

I haven’t planted sunflowers in many years, but one of my goals this year is to plant a row of Lemon Queens. Lemon Queen is an open-pollinated heirloom variety that provides ample nectar and pollen. It is widely known to attract an amazing variety of pollinators, including many types of bees and butterflies.

Sunflowers are good for many types of pollinators. Pixabay photo.

Sunflowers are good for many types of pollinators. Pixabay photo.

Lemon Queen sunflowers grow six to ten feet tall and produce blooms 10 to 12 inches across from mid-summer into fall. They do best in well-drained soil in full sun throughout USDA hardiness zones 3-9. The plants have a central stalk with several side stalks that each produce a flower. The blooms have lemon yellow petals and chocolate-colored centers.

For the last several years, Lemon Queen has been the flower of choice for the Great Sunflower Project, a citizen science project that is accumulating data on bee populations across the country. carries the seeds from a number of different vendors. You can scroll through the list and choose between just a few seeds or seeds by the pound, depending on what you have in mind. Personally, I’m thinking of buying the quarter-pound and then passing them around to my friends. I’m not being altruistic, here—I’m hoping my bees can steal back the nectar.

If any of you decide to plant Lemon Queens, let me know. I’d like to compare notes or photos with anyone doing the same.

See a large seed selection here, including organically grown ones: Lemon Queen Sunflowers

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  • Last winter 2013-14 we bought bird seed for helping the wild birds through winter. There were sunflower seeds in that stuff. We had some wood pigeons and turtle doves foraging where we put out the bird seeds. These both were messy eaters. The result of their visits were masses and masses of sunflowers last summer. In the past when I have actually planted sunflower seeds to get sunflowers in the garden I didn’t have an eighth of the succes as when the birds did it and they didn’t even cover the seeds!, guess everyone helps everyone in my little bit of paradise.

  • Thanks for showing us these, I think I’ll plant some with my Mexican Sunflowers in our butterfly garden. The Mexican Sunflowers are beautiful and attract a large number of butterflies but I’ve yet to see the Honey Bees work them. You can also get the Lemon Queens from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
    They are a little pricier but it’s a really awesome independent company.

    Thanks again.

  • When buying sunflower seeds, you might want to look for organic ones. I just ordered some from one of the places at Amazon, then realized I should make sure that the seeds hadn’t been treated with neonics. When I’m planting flowers for pollinators, I sure don’t want to take a chance that they are systemically poisoned.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Tom in Ellensburg just ordered lemon queen seeds. I hope that we will have irrigation water. There is almost no snow in our mountains!

    • Tom,

      It approached 70 yesterday in my backyard. The bees were out in masses, acting like it was July. Scary when you think about it. Zero snow this year.

  • Last year I heard about the Great Sunflower Project and ordered a big bunch of Lemon Queen seeds, also to share with my beekeeper club. When the time came to plant, however, I went looking for instructions on how to keep notes on the pollinator observations. I expected a chart where one would list the time of day of observation, the length of time of observation, the number and type of pollinators observed, the date, the weather, etc. The information they requested was something like, ‘Oh, just go walk around and see if you see any pollinators and let us know how many you see.” Being a scientist myself, I know that isn’t a way to collect any meaningful data. I did plant some Lemon Queens and they are lovely, and I did see some honey bees on them, but more bumbles. Did I miss something? Are they better-organized than I think?

    • Lyn,

      I heard that observation periods were 20 minutes long at set times of the day, but I did not participate myself so I don’t know first hand. However, I did participate in Bumble Watch and I was totally disappointed. They say on their website that bumble bee experts would verify your i.d.s within a day or two. I submitted some photos, and heard nothing. I kept going back to the site and nothing. So finally, about six months later, I wrote to them and complained, at which point they verified my identifications and asked me if I had any other problems. But I stopped sending photos after that.

      That’s one reason I said if anyone wants to send me photos of bees on the Lemon Queens. I can post them here for everyone to see. I can’t guarantee a positive i.d., but at least we could enjoy looking at the pictures and, among all of us, maybe figure out what they are. I know people who can help.

  • I will be planting a numer of varieties of sunflowers this summer to see what will do best in my area. Lemon queens are among them and I will definitely keep you updated. Boulder, MT

  • Rusty, I planted the mammoth sunflowers last year and drew lots of pollinators. Our bees were on them and this also provided feed for the birds this winter. I may give lemon queen a try.

    Also, thank you for all the work you did on the plants for bees. I missed entering info from our area but plan to try again if you repeat this project. Do you mind if I share this info with our local bee club?


    • Brenda,

      Please do share the lists with your local bee club. Also, you can send me your plant info any time. I’m keeping a list for an update I will do in the future.

  • Rusty,

    I am planting several varieties of sunflowers including black oil, lemon queen, and some evening sun and giant Americans because the kids liked them. I have started germinating a bunch indoors to get an early start and will sow the rest of the seeds in mid-March to hopefully avoid the last frost.

  • I have read that Lemon Queen is the favorite sunflower of the bee. I plan to plant that and some buckweat. Thank you for providing a source of purchase.


  • Hi Rusty,

    I am doing a bit of research on what varieties of annual sunflowers are best for honey bees, and have discovered that some have been hybridized to not produce pollen. These are the varieties used in the cut flower industry and apparently not attractive to bees. I can’t seem to find where you mentioned other varieties that you had tried in addition to the Lemon Queen, and I am wondering if you might have new information on additional varieties that are most attractive to honey bees and native bees?

    And how are your dahlias doing?

    • Ellen,

      So funny, just this morning I was thinking of writing to you because my dahlias are doing great. I waited a long time to plant them because we had so many frosty mornings this year. I think it was the end of May when they finally went in. But I got my first bloom this past week and the rest are getting ready to pop open.

      I don’t believe I ever determined the best sunflowers for bees. I knew about the Lemon Queens, but the only others I planted were in seed mixes. Last year I had quite a few leafcutters and bumbles interested in those random varieties, but unfortunately I don’t know what they were.

  • Just re-read your post on Lemon Queen sunflowers. I bought a boatload of seeds late fall for this spring planting. Started round one indoors in March and hardened them off the first weeks of April. Got weather lucky is an understatement. Rounds 2, 3, and 4 were planted two weeks apart. First-round is just now starting to flower and of course, the bumblebees have just now discovered them. If you are still interested in photos and or notes let me know. I have a hundred or two planted and growing well.

  • How delightful to find this study finding that sunflowers also help bee health!

    “We discovered that sunflower (Helianthus annuus) pollen dramatically and consistently reduced a protozoan pathogen (Crithidia bombi) infection in bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) and also reduced a microsporidian pathogen (Nosema ceranae) of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), indicating the potential for broad anti-parasitic effects. In a field survey, bumble bees from farms with more sunflower area had lower Crithidia infection rates. Given consistent effects of sunflower in reducing pathogens, planting sunflower in agroecosystems and native habitat may provide a simple solution to reduce disease and improve the health of economically and ecologically important pollinators.”

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