Harvesting

Things you’ll need:

  • Secateurs
  • Labels
  • Pencil
  • Envelopes

Harvesting annual sunflowers is quite important if you intend to grow another crop the following year. It is quite easy to tell when a sunflower is ready to harvest because the flower head should have wilted facing down and the back of the head turns a yellow or brown colour. You don’t want to leave them in this state for too long because if you have some wet weather they can be susceptible to mould and if you have some warm weather they can dry out quickly and the seeds can fall on the floor and be lost or eaten.

You’ll need to chop the head off the plant using some secateurs or strong scissors about 6 inches down the from the top of the stem. You can leave the head of your plant in a well ventilated and dry place to dry out for up to a week before you extract the seeds. This will make the seeds hard and easy to remove.

If you are growing different varieties of sunflowers it is a pretty good idea to label your drying heads as they can tend to look quite similar at this stage. You might also want to make a note if they had grown to a certain size or had a rather striking colour which you liked so you know which seeds in particular you would like to grow the following year.

To collect the sunflower’s seeds you need to first brush off all the mature disc florets from the face of the sunflower head with your fingers.
Harvesting SunflowersWith the seeds now exposed press your thumb down firmly and move it in a circular motion and they will eventually come loose and start to drop out. Once you have created a gap they will start dropping out more easily.
Harvesting Sunflower Seeds
If you are harvesting your seeds to save for future generations of sunflowers then the seeds you want to concentrate on collecting are the larger ones from around the edge. The seeds in the centre tend to be smaller and would not have such as good yield.


Place your newly harvested seeds into paper envelopes not forgetting to note the variety and keep in a dry location. Do not put your seeds in a plastic bags. When you feel your seeds have completely dried you can place your envelopes into an air tight container until you need them to plant the following spring.

50 thoughts on “Harvesting

  1. I have a small patch of sunflowers, but had to yank a bunch so my other flowers in the butterfly garden could be seen and get some sun so I gave those to the neighbor. I have grown them for a few years now, but was never able to collect any seeds as the finches and sparrows ate them fast as they can. I wonder how anyone can harvest the seeds when birds eat them so fast!

    • once the flower petals dry up and start dropping off, place a paper bag over the flower head, or alternatively invest in some bird netting

  2. Hello all that are sunflower savvy! I am wanting to grow a lot of sunflowers so that I can save money for my wedding. My wedding will be Sep. 5th of 2015. My ? is, when do I need to plant them so they are ready to be cut for my wedding? Thank you.

    • You probably want to be planting them around April/May time. I’d plant plenty to try and ensure you get some in full bloom just when you need them.

  3. Bees have finished pollinating . Plant is 7′ tall . The head is so heavy it is drooping over. When do I see the black seeds or do I have to do something else. This is my first year. The plant came up all by itself either by bird or inculcate we put down

  4. I get a lot of ants under the leaves of the sunflower I read where you mix water, dawn dish soap in a spray bottle and it keeps bugs off your out door plants, it is not working what do you suggest?

    • That should work for aphids, but for ants you might need to look for a specific ant killing solution from your local store.

    • It may create flowers off other stems but the same flower won’t reflower again. Sometimes they do fold over and close in on themselves after they’ve bloomed. This just makes it a bit trickier to get at the seeds.

      • Hi, I just noticed that one of my dwarf sunflowers closed in on itself. Do I cut it off? Leave it alone? It’s my first time growing them so I am completely lost.

  5. Can you harvest when flower heads are wet. We just got a lot of rain recently. Or should I leave them on stalks until they are able to dry out?

  6. if there isn’t any bees in my area do you think i should even try to grow a sunflower?? Also this might be a really weird question but when you want to grow sunflowers do i grow the sunflowers that are bought to eat or maybe people actually sell seeds to only grow idk please please please please help me out i need to grow these for a science project.

    • No, you’ll need to buy the whole untreated seeds that are intended for planting. Bees are not the only insects that pollinate sunflowers so give it a go!

  7. i have 7 huge sunflower plants and they are almost ready to harvest but one of the branchs broke and the seeds are still white what could i do to ripen them .

    • If it is a variety that has white seeds then you might be alright. But if they are immature seeds, then there isn’t much you can do to make them fully develop now unfortunately.

  8. When harvesting the flower heads, how much or how long do I need to cut off? Do I chop it off starting from the back of the flower or the whole stem of it? How many centimetres do you reckon? It’s my first time growing a sunflower and I’m loving it! It looks beautiful in my family’s vegetable garden.

  9. Hello,
    I wonder if you can advise when I should plant my sunflower seed to get full blossom heads by 5th of August, our wedding day. Thank you for your help! Your page is really useful!

    • It really depends on the weather we get this year and the variety you choose. To have the best possible chance, I’d plant a few seeds every week between the end of March and the beginning of June.

  10. OK so here’s the deal my sunflowers I planted in huge pot are thriving they are 3 weeks old and I’m shocked at the rapid growth unfortunately the ones in the ground are not I planted same day same soil same watering and same attentive loving care but the ones in the ground arnt thriving as well I’ve staked some mesh netting to assure my cat doesn’t do her business there could that be the problem

    • The difference could just be the temperature of the soil. Often sunflowers in the ground can take a little longer to get going.

  11. Hello
    My mother started 3 sunflowers for me last year, they were like my children! lol and man did they flourish! I was so happy because i have a black thumb and this was my first time ever having sunflowers. When it came time to harvest i had no clue how to preserve the seeds. I apparently made the cardinal sin when i (yup) put them in a zip lock bad. I just pulled the bag out and the seeds are beyond wet??? How do you think i should proceed? Dry them in the sun, use a blow dryer lol? Or should i just buy new seeds and start from scratch? HELP……
    Thank you so much
    Sarah

    • I’m sorry to say I expect they won’t be viable at all now. I think you’re going to have to invest in some fresh new seeds.

    • I know it is late to help you now, but I would still try planting. Sunflowers are perennials originally found in the US. This means that the seeds fall out of the plant then lay outside over a wet or winter like season, exposed to all the elements. The ones that make a proper connection with the soil, will then sprout and grow in the proper season. Seeds are pretty hardy things when you think about it. I generally dry mine thoroughly then freeze them, but that is far from the only method. Truthfully in nature they may not be very dry at all when winter comes, yet they will regrow in spring.

  12. I live in tropical North Qld where sunflowers will grow most of the year. How long do I have to keep the dry seeds b4 I can plant them?

    • They don’t necessarily need to dry out in order to germinate. They are just normally dried to keep them for longer periods of time.

  13. This is my first sunflower attempt. My son brought home a seedling in a plastic cup from school in June. It’s now approx 12′ tall! The flower has just now formed – i can’t wait to see how big it’s going to be!! My question is: once I’ve harvested the seeds (assuming i can even reach them!), do i cut the remainder of the stalk down or let it die on its own? Thank you!

    • Yes, you can cut it down if you like. It won’t grow again after it’s finished making its flower. It will just turn into a woody stalk.

  14. Had an incredibly HUGE sunflower (among many other smaller ones) this year. Wanted to save the seeds but chippies, mice etc. started to eat the seed head away. I cut off the head, put it in some water, & now realize I should have just covered the head to protect it while still on the plant. What should I do now to keep the seeds viable? Seeds appear to be plump but not hardened.

    • Yes, it is best to protected the head rather than cut it. The head will need drying out now to try and get the seeds ready for preserving for next year, don’t let them grow any mould. Only time will tell on their viability but it is worth a try.

  15. my daughter had fresh sunflowers for her wedding.was wondering if there is anyway to dry them to get the seeds?Looks like the were cut as soon as they bloomed.Can I still put a brown bag over them and get seeds?

  16. Hi, my mammoth sunflower is 12 feet tall; and, although I have grown sunflowers before, this one is the tallest I’ve ever had so far! However, some of the others are not doing as well as this one. Some have turned brown leaves dried up around them at the top, but others look as if they are developing although two heads are much smaller. However upon taking a closer look I’ve noticed some have ants look like invading them. My question is could this be causing them to get dark or mildew causing them to get dark; although, I have not been watering them from the top. I have seen some white webbing but thought it was spider webbing could this be a different type of weapon of an insect causing them to get dark and look rotten?

  17. Hello,
    I was delighted to find your site because I’m in need of a sunflower genie.
    You may recall that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in the Ukraine 3 years ago.
    An Australian journalist and photographer salvaged a sunflower head from the site and brought it back to Australia via quarantine where they were grown. They then offered these seeds to family and friends of those killed in the crash. I didn’t lose anyone but had written to the families of the victims and wrote about what happened on my blog and the need to standup against terrorism and hate of any kind.
    So, I put my hat in the ring not expecting any but then a package arrived in the mail. I was too nervous to plant them last year but finally got my act together a few months ago. The first flower was more like a daisy and what you’d call the runt of the litter. The next two are better. One has started to wilt and the other is still in full bloom. I’m going to have a look at the wilting one and probably put a stocking over its head tomorrow. My daughter has some expired ballet tights.
    If you would like to read about the sunflowers, here’s a link to my post: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/sunflower-a-christmas-miracle/
    I would appreciate any tips, although this post covers things very well.
    Thanks very much!
    xx Rowena

  18. Hi i just want to ask something regarding with my sunfloweer head. We got it from a flower garden a man gave it to us. I was wondering if i can get the seed while its not completely dry? Or i still have to wait and let the cutted sunflower head to dry? Thank you so much. Your a big help

    • If it has already been cut you don’t necessarily have to wait until it is completely dried out. It is probably best though.

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