Follow the Sun

Sunflowers are in bloom at Biltmore Estates
By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Jul 23, 2014

Visitors to the Biltmore Estate may think they are following a yellow brick road as they leave the house and head toward the winery.

But as tourists pull off the side of the road to get a closer look, they can see a row of sunflowers that reaches almost a mile long. As their name suggests, sunflowers follow the sun as it moves across the sky. These beautiful flowers have bloomed for about six years at Biltmore Estate from July through Labor Day.

Curt Horn, grounds maintenance supervisor at Biltmore, and his team have put a lot of time into planting of the several acres of sunflowers. There are six acres in the strip that stretches three-fourths of a mile and the planting is spread out over several months so visitors will have a chance to enjoy them during the busiest months — July through September.

The first blooms start to appear 60 days after the flowers are planted and they peak for about 10 to 14 days before they need to be moved down and replanted. If visitors don’t get a chance to see the current blooms, the next batch should be blooming around Labor Day.

Each year Horn’s team develops a planting schedule, rotating crops to keep the soil from being depleted. This year they will plant 10 acres of sunflowers — staggered in May, June, and July for extended blooms; 25 acres of corn; 18 acres of soybeans; 16 acres of wheat; 14 acres of legumes; and two acres of millet.

“To get some early color this year, we planted four acres of canola,” he said.

Canola, which also produces a light yellow bloom, can only be planted in the same soil once every three years. Horn said the canola oil was used on the grounds for biofuel.

Besides serving as a visual treat, the flowers provide gourmet meals for the diverse wildlife that lives on the estate.

“These flowers are great summer forage for deer and also an important source of food for mourning doves, song birds, and migrating birds,” Horn said.

Horn and his crew are responsible for the Wildlife Management Program as well. They make sure that the wildlife has food and places to nest. In fact, out of 300 acres of crop fields, some 136 acres are designated for wildlife feeding.

Some of the wildlife plantings are easy to see, such as the planting on Amblers Trail that starts at the Lagoon and meanders up the hill toward Biltmore House. Corn, soybeans, clover, and prairie grass make excellent meals for the deer, rabbit, and turkeys commonly seen in these areas.

Native warm season grasses and wild flowers are planted for nesting habitats. One great place to see this is along Pony Road from the service road brick bridge towards the river.

Along the River Road by the Equestrian Center, five large fields feed wildlife such as deer, turkeys, squirrels, beavers, other small mammals, and dozens of bird species. Crops include radishes, canola, soybeans, corn, and sorghum.  Several smaller areas up the river are also planted with corn — equestrians frequently see wildlife dining on the corn.

“George Vanderbilt treasured Biltmore’s wildlife and worked hard to protect it. We are continuing that legacy by providing food and habitat as an integral part of keeping Biltmore’s 8,000 acres healthy,” Horn said.

To plan your visit to The Biltmore House, visit