If you are planning to harvest sunflower seeds from your garden, it’s important to collect them when they are mature and viable. There are telltale signs to watch for with sunflowers that indicate maturity. It’s best to watch and wait before cutting them down and collecting the seed. Learn how to harvest sunflower seeds, so that you will have the most success in your seed gathering efforts.
We grow pollenless sunflowers as cut flowers at our flower farm. Mixed among those pollenless sunflowers are sunflowers with pollen.
How exactly they arrived in amongst the pollenless blooms is a mystery. However I was certainly glad to have them.
I absolutely love to gather seed, and am on a mission to get some seed from those pollenless sunflowers as well.
We planted a large sunflower patch mid summer, with intentions of a large fall harvest. The flowers were glorious and bloomed in profusion.
However we had planted too many at once, and they bloomed quickly and intensely.
Harvesting the sunflowers from this patch was way too much to keep up with. So we let some of the blooming sunflowers go to seed, with intention of harvesting any seed that was produced to plant sunflowers next season.
With our fingers crossed, we allowed to sunflowers to grow on, and watched how they transformed over the next several months.
Planted mid July, some flowers were harvested as cut flowers when they bloomed in mid September. The rest were allowed to go to seed and were harvested approximately two months later.
When To Harvest Sunflower Seeds
It’s important to look for signs of maturity on the sunflowers post bloom to determine when is the best time to harvest them for sunflower seeds.
Different sunflowers will have different maturity dates. A general rule of thumb however is to look for signs of maturity on sunflowers at approximately two months from pollination.
Pollination occurs while a sunflower is blooming.
For our pollenless sunflowers, this occurred at approximately day 65 and continued for several weeks. Fast forward several months and that took us to late October.
So we watched and waited for these signs indicating that the sunflower heads were mature.
Signs of maturity of sunflower heads include:
- a nodding sunflower head
- central disc florets which easily fall or wipe off
- yellowing at the back of the sunflower head
- and possibly some lose seeds
Let’s review these in more detail.
How Do I Know When Sunflower Seeds Are Ready To Harvest?
Sunflower seeds are ready harvest when the sunflower heads show these signs of maturity.
A Nodding Sunflower Head
This change in appearance of the flower head starts to occur right after blooming. The sunflower starts to nod and will continue this drooping behaviour as it gets heavy and fills with seed.
Just before harvest the sunflower head will have a significant downward tilt.
Central Disc Florets Rub Off With Ease
The tiny flowers that make up the sunflower’s central disc are called disc florets. They develop throughout the pollination stage and fill the centre of the sunflower as they grow.
As the sunflower ages, these tiny disc florets eventually fall off. When the sunflower head is mature, it is very easy to wipe the flowers off the face of the sunflower.
Yellowing Of The Sunflower Head
At the back of the sunflower where it attaches to the stem, you will see a gradual yellowing of the tissue in this area. The sunflower goes from green to a light yellow colour at the back of the sunflower head as it matures.
At maturity the colour changes from yellow to brown. Sunflowers can be harvested when they are yellow. This is considered to be a mature state for harvest.
You may also see some brown spots, which are a sign of maturity as well.
As the sunflower heads mature and the seeds also mature, some of the seeds may become loose and fall onto the ground. If the seeds come off readily, the sunflower seeds are definitely ready for harvesting.
I notice that the birds tend to find these loose seeds as they are foraging, and feast on the sunflowers right there in the field.
As well, take care when harvesting, as you may shake some of the seeds out of the head if they are very loose.
What Month Are Sunflowers Harvested?
Sunflowers are harvested generally several months from when they bloom.
Therefore the month in which sunflowers are harvested will depend on a number of factors.
The variety of the sunflower will determine blooming time. Some sunflowers can bloom in several months, while others can take much longer.
Planting time is another determinant. Planting time will determine blooming time.
The month that sunflowers are harvested will depend therefore on the type of sunflowers planted and the time of planting. The weather can also come into play.
Harvest The Sunflowers
When the sunflowers are mature, they are ready to be harvested. It’s important to harvest and get the mature seeds into storage before the garden critters begin to eat them.
If the sunflowers still have a bit more maturing to do, you can still harvest them when they are just about ready, and hang them for several weeks to complete the maturation process.
The harvest is quite easy, and involves only several steps:
- Remove the central disc flowers from the face of the sunflower. You can do this right in the garden with your hand. It’s much neater to do this step outside.
- Cut the stem approximately six inches below the sunflower head to remove it from the stalk.
- Cut any leaves from the stem and from the back of the sunflower.
Now it’s time to dry out the sunflower head before harvesting the seed.
Drying Sunflower Heads
After the sunflower heads are harvested it is time to hang them to dry. This process can take several weeks to a month to dry them out well.
Drying sunflower heads makes it much easier to harvest the sunflower seeds. After drying, they can literally just fall out of the sunflower head with minimal effort on your part.
If you don’t have time to wait however, you can skip this step. The sunflowers seeds are mature if you harvested them at the right stage, and can be collected from the sunflower head at any point post harvest.
How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds From A Sunflower
Harvesting the seeds from the sunflower heads is relatively easy.
Depending on the size of the actual sunflower, you may want to divide the flower up if it is fairly large. If it is a small to medium sized sunflower, then there is no need to break it up.
How Do You Get The Seeds Out Of Sunflowers?
- Work the sunflower seeds with your fingers to loosen them up.
- I like to hold the sunflower head over a container or bowl, and allow the seeds to fall into the container.
- As soon as you get a few seeds loosened and out of the head, it will be easier to work the rest out.
- Keep wiggling them with your fingers until they drop out.
- It can get a little bit messy, as sometimes the seeds and chaff can fly out of the container. Retrieve any rogue seeds, and the rest can be cleaned up once the activity is over.
- Keep rubbing the seeds and working them out of the sunflower head until they have all been removed.
- Depending on the type of sunflowers, there may be some, or even many empty seeds. Our pollenless sunflowers did produce some seed, and some varieties produced a lot more than others.
Some varieties of our pollenless sunflowers only produced one or two seeds in a whole sunflower head. Some sunflowers did not produce any. And some were full, so it was well worth the effort in my opinion.
Why Are Some Sunflower Seeds Empty?
Some sunflower seeds are empty because they did not have a chance to be fertilized. So no seed was produced.
In order for a seed to form pollen has to come into contact with one of the disc florets, which is attached to an ovary where the seed will be produced.
We rely on the bees to spread the pollen and fertilize the flowers. For our pollenless sunflowers, there was not much pollen to spread around.
Granted, pollenless sunflowers sometimes do produce a small amount of pollen. And as well, we also had a few pollen producing sunflowers in the garden.
That is the reason that we were able to get some seed. However we had many empty seeds as well which needed to be discarded.
Can You Harvest Sunflower Seeds From Cut Flowers?
A lot of people ask if they can harvest seeds from cut sunflowers.
Sunflowers that have been cut early as cut flowers will not be able to produce mature seed. In order to get mature seed from any flower, the flower and seeds have to mature on the plant before they are harvested. Therefore you will not be able to harvest viable seeds from sunflowers that have been cut early in their blooming stage for cut flowers.
Drying Sunflower Seeds
After harvesting the sunflower seeds, sort through them and remove any empty seed and chaff.
Spread the seeds out on a clean dry pan or plate to allow them to dry.
Chances are the seeds may feel pretty dry if they have just been removed from a dried sunflower head. There may still be some moisture there however, and it’s important to dry them out before you store them away.
Allow them to dry for at least twenty four hours.
I like to move them around a bit while they are drying, just to uncover any surfaces that may be buried and need exposure to the air for drying.
After the seeds have dried they are ready to be stored.
How To Store Sunflower Seeds
After the sunflower seeds are dried, they can safely be stored away in a clean container.
I often use paper envelopes or small Kraft paper bags. Paper will help to wick away any moisture and help to keep the seeds dry.
You an also use any type of container that you have available, as long as it’s dry.
Storing in a mason jar is an attractive way to store your seeds and display them at the same tome. If you plan to gift some seeds, a mason jar makes a wonderful presentation. Add a label and you are good to go.
Label The Storage Containers
Label the storage containers or envelopes with the names of the seeds and the date harvested.
Keep the seeds in a dry place and cool location for best storage options.
What To Do With Sunflower Seeds After Harvest
There are a number of different options for sunflower seeds that you have harvested from your garden.
Save Them For Planting
Sunflower seeds can be stored away safely for planting out next season.
Sunflowers are annual flowers, so make sure to plant out after the risk of all frost has passed.
Although we start most of our flower seeds indoors in winter, our sunflower seeds are planted into the ground only.
Our very best results have been obtained by direct sowing our sunflower seeds rather than transplanting seedlings that have been grown indoors.
We have tried it both ways. Our transplanted sunflowers are usually small and weaker than the sturdy direct sown sunflowers. We have learned this from experience.
Save Some For The Birds
We will most definitely be saving some seeds for the overwintering birds.
Drying the seeds and saving them for a time later in the season when food is scarce is great for the birds.
Save Some For Gift Giving
Some of my most favourite and heartfelt gifts to give have been gifts from the garden. I love to share both flowers and seeds.
To dress up your seeds put them in small Kraft envelopes or mason jars with a label.
Seeds are truly a gift of love.
Save Some For Eating
If you have enough seeds, save some for eating.
There are many creative ways to consume your sunflower seeds. They are also nutritious, so consider adding a few to your diet if you are able to eat them.
Have you tried to harvest sunflower seeds from sunflowers grown in your garden? Be sure to leave a comment below to share your experience!