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When and How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

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Are you growing sunflowers (helianthus annuus) in your yard or garden and wondering how to harvest the seed head with those delicious sunflower seeds? Look no further! Learning how to harvest sunflower’s edible seeds is easy and so much fun for adults and kids alike, and it can give you plenty of seeds for next year’s garden. 

Sunflower seeds are a nutritious snack that can be harvested from some types of sunflowers. They grow in many conditions but will require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight (hence the name, sunflowers), and each plant grow a large flower head that can be harvested with very little effort. If you’ve grown sunflower plants this season and are ready to harvest a bounty of seeds, then read on for just how easy it is to harvest those mature sunflower heads. 

sunflower close up view of seeds

Growing Sunflowers in the Garden

The summer harvesting season is upon us, when the fruits of our labors are finally producing their last. At least for the summer season. 

Sunflower seeds remain one of the most fascinating harvests from the garden, and you can read my either of my full posts on growing various varieties of sunflower:

I love growing sunflowers because while tomatoes can grow haphazard and beans the same, there is complete order in sunflower seeds. These beautiful flowers are perfect for a variety of uses including cut flowers, seeds for eating, and also seeds for saving to grow the following year. In the seed head itself, there isn’t usually a lost millimeter of space between seeds that are ready to harvest, and this makes them lovely and fun to work with!

These leggy flowers also give gardens a vertical height that can be a great way to provide a bit of shade for lettuces and other greens, as well as a support for pole beans. So not only do they bring beauty but functionality as well. But once you’ve grown sunflowers, how do you know when to harvest sunflower seeds? 

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When to harvest sunflower seeds

When to harvest sunflowers? This was such a mystery to me our first year. In fact, the sunflowers we had growing in our garden had been started in my son’s preschool class, so I had no idea what variety we were working with or how getting seeds even worked. 

But patience is the name of the game when it comes to sunflowers. Though they may seem finished growing, stretching their long stalks up to 8 feet in the air, you want to wait until the flower itself seems to be dying. You’ll notice this around the heads of your sunflowers first. 

A good indication that the head of the flower may be ready for harvest is to notice the petals beginning to wilt and fade, the seeds themselves will become more visible and filled out, as you can see below. Wait for harvest time until the seeds dry out just enough so you can see their color change to the tan seed color we all know (bag of roasted sunflower seeds, anyone?).  You can also see the tiny disc flowers that are “on top” of each seed, and they will turn brown, dying as the seeds ripen.

harvest sunflower seeds
Fully developed sunflower head

Also be on the watch for birds and other garden intruders who may also want to harvest sunflower seeds too. They’re tasty to more than just people! If your drying sunflower heads are attracting attention from birds, but you aren’t quite ready to cut and harvest, place a paper bag over the top of your sunflower head secured with a twist tie to keep the birds at bay. This is a quick fix to give you more time. 

Sunflower Seed Harvesting Supplies

​You won’t need much, but here are some helpful items to have on hand when harvesting sunflower seeds at home:

  • Newspaper or other protection for tables
  • Cookie sheet (helpful for containing the seeds)
  • Plastic bag or other airtight storage container
  • Garden knife or old pruners

Once you have your supplies in place, you’re ready to harvest those seeds!

harvest sunflower seeds

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

When you’re ready to harvest the seeds, follow these simple steps:

  1. Cut the sunflower blooms from the stalk using a sharp knife or pruners. You can leave the entire stalk in the ground or cut it closer to the soil and let the roots continue to break down and feed the organisms in the soil. 
  2. The next step is to prepare to remove the seeds. Removing seeds can be done indoors or out, but if you choose indoors, line your table with newspaper for easy clean up. This is also a great job for little gardeners and helpers. Girly Gardener loved helping with this task. 
  3. To remove the seeds, bend the flower head back slightly (think ice cube tray flexing) and then begin pressing the rows of seeds to pop them out. Once you get started, you’ll quickly find your rhythm. (See my video from my youtube channel at the bottom of the post for how to do this.) Use the side of your thumb to push the seeds out of the flower head, and have the cookie sheet under the flower to catch the falling seeds. 
  4. Once the flower head is empty, gather up the seeds and set them aside for roasting or storing.
  5. Optional: Cut up remaining flower head and place in your compost pile.  

Once your seeds are harvested, you have several options for how to use them. Dry sunflower seeds for use in the garden the following year or for putting in a bird seed mix or suet cake. You can also eat the raw or roasted sunflower seeds using the recipes provided below. 

Eating your Sunflower Seeds

The sunflower seeds you harvest can certainly be shelled and eaten raw. Raw sunflower seeds are widely available on the market these days, and the ones you grow at home are just as delicious because you grew them!

You can also choose to roast your sunflower seeds for a longer shelf life. Here’s my recipe for Easy Roasted Sunflower Seeds which is a great way to eat these nutritious seeds. I even throw in some fun, tasty variations for the sunflower seed rebels out there, and you can find all of those details in the post.

Also feel free to use your seeds in a creative recipe, like this Sunflower Seed Brittle from The Yummy Life or creating your very own sunflower butter. The possibilities are endless!

How to Store Sunflower Seeds

For raw sunflower seeds, the easiest way is to store seeds in an airtight container in a dark, cool pantry or cabinet. For longer shelf life, place the seeds in a glass jar and refrigerate. 

If you know you won’t eat the seeds very quickly, you can also freeze them for long-term storage. Sunflower seeds, like other nuts and seeds, will certainly let you know when they are no longer good due to the oil contained within the seed. Sunflower seeds that are no longer good will have a rancid smell and “off” taste if they have spoiled. So take care to eat them up! 

Sunflower seeds are a wonderful source of vitamin E and are simply fabulous in so many dishes including my Lightened Up Broccoli Salad, so be sure to check it out and use up that harvest you worked so hard for. 

Sunflowers bring beauty to the garden with their majestic flowers and their height is a wonderful vertical touch to any garden or flower bed. I’d love to know if you have grown or harvested sunflowers! Do you have a favorite variety? Enjoy this harvest season and happy gardening!

Interested in learning how to start your own vegetable garden at home? Click here to get my FREE email course with 5 lessons on how to start a garden. This free course will help you decide where to place your garden, what type of garden suits your space, and how to know what to plant. It’s perfect for beginners or even those who are just looking for some fresh gardening re-inspiration. Check it out and share with friends who are interested in growing food at home as well! 

Yield: Various

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds on wood counter

Learn how to harvest sunflower seeds from flowers you have grown in your home garden or flower bed. Harvest the seeds from sunflowers isn't difficult; in fact, it's so much fun!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost Free

Materials

  • Fresh sunflower heads
  • Sharp knife or pruners
  • Newspaper or towel
  • Colander

Instructions

  1. Cut the flower head from the stalk, and prepare to remove the seeds. Removing seeds can be done indoors or out, but if you choose indoors, line your table with newspaper for easy clean up. This is also a great job for little gardeners and helpers. Girly Gardener loved helping with this task.
  2. Bend the flower head back slightly (think ice cube tray flexing) and then begin pressing the rows of seeds to pop them out. Once you get started, you'll quickly find your rhythm. (See my video at the bottom of the post for how to do this.)                                                                                                     
  3. Once the flower head is empty, gather up the seeds and set them aside for roasting or storing.

Notes

Be sure you have grown (or purchased) a variety of sunflowers that have seeds large enough for harvesting for consumption.

Sunflower seeds can also be harvested and saved for planting the next year.

Pamela Barrett

Saturday 16th of April 2022

Can the seeds be planted again?

Courtney

Monday 18th of April 2022

Hi Pamela! If you let them dry out on the heads of the sunflower, then store them, they can be grown the next year. Hope this helps!

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