If we convinced you to add sunflowers to your garden this year (read 13 Sunflower Varieties To Brighten Up the Garden if you need more convincing), then you might be wondering what to do with them at the end of the season.
While you could simply cut them down and add them to the compost pile, there are so many uses for this quintessential summer flower that that seems almost criminal. But first, you have to harvest them in order to store properly for future use. Here’s how.
When to Harvest Sunflower Seeds
Sunflowers bloom through the summer and even into the autumn months, depending upon where you live. At the end of your sunflower season, keep an eye on your flowers to determine when the right time is for harvesting. Signs your sunflowers are ready:
• The foliage has died back completely
• The backs of the flowerheads are brown
• The seeds are plump and somewhat loose
Materials Needed to Harvest & Store Sunflower Seeds
- Cardboard box
- Paper towels
- Storage containers
- Labels & marker
How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds
- Cut. Using sharp pruners, cut the stalks of each flower head about one foot below the bloom. Wear gloves — the stalks can be a bit prickly! Place them in a large container that catches any seeds that fall out in the process. Some may be ready to harvest right now — if so, go to Step #3. If not, continue to Step #2. Are you sunflowers ready to harvest, but you’re not? Tie paper bags around the seedheads in the garden to keep the birds from harvesting for you.
- Dry. Bundle your sunflowers together with twine in bunches, then hang them upside down in a warm and dry area for 4-5 days. To keep pesky birds from eating your seeds before you have a chance to harvest them, hang them to dry indoors.
- Remove Seeds. Grab a 5-gallon bucket and your sunflower heads, and rub the surface of the seedhead over the bucket. The seeds will fall right out. You’ll also get other bits and pieces like petals and dried plant bits, but you’ll take care of that next.
- Remove Debris. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Remove any unwanted plant parts or debris and discard them.
- Store. Finally, line a cardboard box with paper towels or newspaper, and spread the seeds evenly in a single layer, leaving space between each seed. Allow to dry out overnight before storing in an airtight glass or plastic container with lids with proper labeling (sunflower variety, date harvested).
Congratulations! You’ve successfully harvested and stored your sunflower seeds for future use. From snacking to baking, creating suet cakes for birds over the winter, or replanting into next year’s garden, sunflowers are easy and fun to grow and harvest — get the family involved, as it’s an ideal project for children to learn the soup-to-nuts (or seeds) entire lifecycle of a plant.