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5 Tips for Growing and Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers are one of the easiest flowers to grow in the garden. For this reason, they took the top spot in the Top 5 Easiest Plants for Kids to Grow. Sunflowers are a beautiful addition to a summer flower garden and are helpful with attracting pollinators to the garden. Many of us have memories of planting sunflowers when we were young; the stems seemed to shoot up before our eyes. Bring some of that magic into your garden by growing sunflowers. If you choose the right sunflower variety, you get the added benefit of harvesting delicious sunflower seeds.

yellow sunflower in the garden

Here are 5 tips for growing and harvesting your own sunflower seeds:

1. Sunflowers are simple to grow.

Sunflowers aren’t picky about the soil. Sunflowers tolerate rocky and sandy soils; to be sure though, sunflowers grown in rich soil will grow taller and fuller than those that aren’t. Sunflowers are easily grown from seed. If you do transplant, don’t wait too long as sunflowers get rootbound quickly and don’t always recover well. Space large sunflower plants 2-3 feet apart. If the plants are too close to each other, the heads will be smaller.

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2. Choose the correct variety.

Confection varieties are grown for edible seeds. There are two main types of confectionvarieties: “tall” types and “short” types:

Tall confection types typically produce the most seeds, but seeds may be smaller sized. Varieties include “Giganteus”, “Mammoth Gray Stripe”, “Mammoth Russian”, and “Titan”. You can tell from the names these are going to be big flowers!

Short varieties are (obviously) shorter and they normally have fewer seeds per head, but the seeds are larger. Varieties include “Royal Hybrid”, “Snack Seed”, and “Super Snack Mix”.

red sunflower

3. Harvest at the right time.

Growing sunflowers is easy, but knowing when to harvest the seeds isn’t. If you harvest too soon, you will have plenty of seeds but small kernels inside. If you wait too long, on the other hand, they may dry out or get harvested by the birds. A few things to look for when determining when to harvest are:

  • Harvest when seeds are plump and developed.
  • Harvest when flower petals begin to dry out and fall off.
  • Harvest when the back of flower turns from green to yellow (if you are cutting the stem off to dry).
  • Harvest when the back of the flower is brown (if you are letting seeds dry with the stem intact).

4. Choose a method for collecting seeds. 

One method is to let seeds develop on the stem, harvesting them when they begin to loosen. This method usually requires you to cover the heads with netting or paper bags to protect the seeds from being eaten by birds. Loosen seeds by hand to remove them from the head. Let seeds dry out before storing them. Another method is to harvest the head when outer seeds are mature and the inner seeds begin to ripen. Cut off the stalk about 4 inches below the head, and hang upside down in a warm area covered in a paper sack until seeds mature.

5. Enjoy your harvest!

After collecting the seeds, you can eat them right away, roast them with a little salt, or save some to plant for next season. The nice thing about growing sunflower seeds is you will probably have enough seeds to do all three! Once dry, you can store sunflower seeds for 2-3 months in a sealed container, or up to a year if kept in the freezer.


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up close photo of sunflower on the top and on the bottom child smelling the sunflower
up close shot of a yellow sunflower

About the Author:

Angela Judd

Angela Judd is an avid vegetable, flower and fruit tree gardener. A mother of five children, she enjoys growing and preparing food from the garden for her family. She is a certified Master Gardener. She shares inspiration and tips to help home gardeners successfully grow their own garden on growinginthegarden.com. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

22 Comments

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  1. I never wanted to take the time to read your posts/articles. Sheeesh am I glad I have been now! 😀 Always great information!! Thank you!!

  2. Mahalo for sharing these tips. I wasn’t sure if sunflowers would be good for my 6yr old daughter to plant in our hot Hawaii weather. But they were perfect and seemed to do well in our garden. We didn’t know how to harvest the seeds until we read your article. Now we have lots of seeds to keep and share with others.

    • Hi Shaunte, that is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing with us, we are so pleased we could help you harvest your seeds. What a great experience for your daughter. Happy Gardening!

  3. Thank you for the instructions on how to Harvest Sunflower Seeds. I am looking forward to collecting seeds from the first ever sunflower in my garden. I was shown a picture of the flower it came from. It promises to be a giant! I am hoping!

  4. Hi! So I harvested my first sunflower. The back was all yellow and brown. When I bit into several of them, I found the meaty seed part inside was all dried up? Did I wait too long? Advice is appreciated!

  5. Thank you for your article I’ve never grown sunflowers before this year and now I know how to pick them. I have a question is there a better sunflower to plant for the birds?

    • Hi Sheila, some suggest that black oil sunflower seeds are ideal for feeding birds because they contain the highest percentage of oil (40 percent) and have the thinnest hulls, making them the easiest for birds to crack open and the most nutritious. Happy gardening!

  6. I started growing sunflowers last year and managed to her some to 7ft inches, I e already started this years ones and already so tall, but reading your article, I will be able to harvest my seeds this year as I didnt last year, thankyou 🌻❤

  7. Hi, I have a question, time sensitive. First off, I grew one sunflower this year that actually stayed alive. I guess this one made up for lost time lol. It is a monster. Measuring from my deck it is almost 14 ft. I am moving in 8 days and I don’t think it will be ready for harvesting 😓 I want to take it with, want can I do to take it and finish maturing? I’m not roasting just saving for planting. Just cut it , put it in a bag and hang upside down?

    Thanks in advance.
    Michelle

    • Hi Michelle that sounds like a beautiful sunflower! You can try to propagate the sunflower if you’d like to take it with you. Below we’ve outlined some of the steps to do so.

      -First, cut 4-6 inch long stems. Try to take it from the side shoots instead of the central stock. It is best if you can find stems with healthy leaves and no flowers or buds.
      – Cut the stem where it attaches to the main stem, then cut off the lower set of leaves.
      – Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the stem as well.
      – Then, dust the bottom, leafless part of the stem with a rooting hormone, and plant in a pot with a half sand, half peat moss mixture.
      – Place in a mostly shady location and cover with a large plastic bag to help retain moisture.
      – Keep a close eye on the plant, and check for roots in about 3 weeks.

      We recommend gathering as many cuttings as possible to increase your chances of success.

  8. Hiya – we just harvested our seeds, but we failed to hang them by the stock for a few days. So we have A LOT of white seeds. Can we still dry them out so that we can use them for seeds for next year?
    I ordered my seeds through Cheerios, and 2 of our plants grew to 16 feet!! Amazing!!
    Thanks!!

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