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.

73 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

    • 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.

  19. I have been growing successfully for years without any advice, but this year I began to wonder if I’ve been missing any details. It seemed pretty straight forward.
    In the spring I make sure the soil is tilled deep with natural fertalizer. Preping the soil is essential for tall hardy plants and plump seeds in my opinion.
    My question is concerning the Harvest:
    Could it be beneficial to cut the stalk low or just pull it up by the roots and hang them upside down to dry?
    This harvesting method works for other plants, as the remaing nutrients in the stalk is forced by gravity to fall toward the flower head. Would this method work for sunflowers?
    Going to try it with one regardless and see what happens. Seems like it could work.

    • I’ve not heard of that before. The head and neck is normally so dry when you harvest them that I’m not sure any nutrients could still get through. It may be worth a try though!

  20. I saved all the seed from my Moulin Rouge Sunflowers last year, and planted them this year, however the first bud to show is yellow, why is this please?.i didnt grow any yellow ones last year for them to cross pollinate.

  21. I grew my first sunflowers in November 2017, and now harvesting seeds from 18 giant sunflower heads for eating and re-planting. My 4 yo and 6yo have loved the entire process. I was amazed how big some of these sunflowers grew, in height and flower size (dinner plates!). One sunflower harvested 260grams of seed! Everything has amazed me about this spectacular flower, especially seeing one particular stalk after being beheaded, has grown 2 more small sunflowers! Does this happen? Has anyone else experienced thus before?

    • Yes, there are quite a few multi-headed varieties of Sunflowers. We have quite a few listed on the site which come in multiple colours.

      • Thanks for your reply. I was going to hack them all back after beheading, but after seeing two more flowers pop up I’ll leave them in case the others start reflowering. I assume these other flowers won’t have seeds that can be harvested since they are so little?

  22. Hi, after I de head them what do i do with the stalk in the ground still? Remove it or leave it and continue to water?

    • You can leave it. There’s not much point in continuing to water unless it has some other heads on it that have not yet bloomed.

  23. I grew my sundlowers last March 25, 2018 and it’s my first time. Are my sunflowers’ seeds ready to harvest when they turned black? It’s the beginning of rainy season here in the Philippines and I am worried that my seeds will rot. Thank you.

    • Yes, I’d try and harvest them before the rainy season. If it is a black seeded variety they are probably ready.

  24. I harvested my sunflowers and let them dry for 4 or 5 days. I went to try and remove the seeds today and a bunch of worms started coming out. Is this normal? Can I still harvest the seeds?

  25. Hello, I live in Las Vegas and had a random sunflower grow after the summer months it ended up being 11 1/2 feet tall and had a head on it about 18 inches wide. It was fully bloomed with flowers around it and then we got a frost. It was not wilted I had to cut it down very sad moment LOL. My question is I wanted to use the seeds on it. ( this is the biggest one I’ve ever had in over four years) It was not wilting yet and I don’t think it was indeed mature enough do you know anywhere I can find if there’s any seeds on there that I can use for my next year‘s harvest ? I would really appreciate any help. I can send you pictures of the head trying to dry out however it’s been very cold. Thank you in advance Heather schneiberg

    • Have a look at the seeds in the centre, if they feel round and full, they’ll probably be good to use for the next year.

  26. Hi New to the sunflower growing scene as I haven’t grown them since I was eleven!
    I planted seeds from my organic health shop in three different locations in my garden. In the sunniest and best drained soil spot, four thrived beautifully and I have about fifteen heads. I cut two of the heads off as they were drooping and the seeds were dropping into the ground so I thought they must be ready to harvest.
    But just reading the blog i wonder if I cut them too early. They still have tiny florets on each seed which rub off easy and the back of the sunflower is still green.
    What do you think? I would just like to know so that I don’t cut the others too early – maybe I should put netting over the heads to catch the seeds?
    Thanks for your advice 🙂

    • You might be fine if the seeds are whole. I normally wait until the back of the head yellows a bit just to be sure unless it is wet to stop mould developing.

  27. I planted red/chocolate colored sunflowers last year and harvested all the seeds. I planted a row of atleast 40 plants with the same seeds i harvested this year and they are all blooming yellow….why?

    • It was probably an F1 Hybrid which are a cross of two varieties and means the seeds you plant in the first year are consistent in their appearance but subsequent offspring revert to their ancestor’s appearance.

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