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How to Store and Harvest Sunflower Seeds

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.

Close up of sunflower seeds in the flower head

When is Sunflower Harvest Time?

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

Sunflower ready to be harvested for seeds

Steps to Harvest and Store:

Supplies:
Pruners
Bucket
Twine
Colander
Cardboard box
Paper towels
Storage containers: airtight glass jars or plastic containers with lids
Labels & marker

Close up of a dry sunflower head that is ripe

Directions:

  1. Cut. Using your 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 in Step #5.
  4. Store. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse. Remove any unwanted plant parts or debris and discard. Now 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 container with proper labeling (sunflower variety, date harvested).
Bee collecting pollen from sunflower

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.


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14 Comments

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    • Point down! This gives the seed a head start as the root will emerge from the radicle and head straight down, while the shoot or stem will work toward the sun! Hope this helped!

  1. Do you have to rinse the ones that will be used for planting? They seem clean and dry, so I wasn’t sure how important it is to get wet and then dry again before storing

    • You certainly don’t have to, but rinsing the seeds will remove any traces of dirt or bacteria that may have gathered on the seed while outdoors. Rinsing them for a few seconds and immediately letting them dry will not affect the seeds, as long as you let them completely dry before storing them in an airtight container. It’s up to you, but if you think they look clean, either way is fine. 🙂

  2. I planted 1 seed per small pot, (total 25 small pots) It’s been 3-4 weeks, an none has sprouted. What am I doing wrong? I water it everyday. I wanted to plant them like a seedling, then transfer to the ground. Can you give me advise on what’s the best result to plant the sunflowers. I would like to be ready for the next season.
    Maybe I harvested the sunflowers too early? Please, I need your expert advise.

    • Hi Gina, sunflowers love well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. When growing sunflowers from seed you’ll typically see a sprout within 7 to 10 days, one common problem is planting the seeds too deep. Aim to plant your seeds 1 to 2 inches deep in your soil. Another issue could be overwatering as sunflowers don’t like soggy or wet conditions. Starting seeds can be tricky, check out this video for some great tips and tricks, https://youtu.be/5fhJZvcRY_U.

    • Hi April! Typically, you want to plant your sunflower seeds about 1 inch deep, you can plant a few seeds together and then thin them out when they get about 6 inches tall to a spacing of 6 inches apart.

  3. So happy to find this site. My sunflowers are about 8 feet this year. Have never saved the seeds, and am looking forward to doing this.

    • Hi Sarah, yes, there are some varieties of mammoth sunflowers that have all white seeds. If you google ‘mammoth white seed sunflower’ you’ll find some additional varieties as well as online seed retailers. Happy gardening!

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