How to save sunflower seeds? | Home for the Harvest (2023)

Saving sunflower seeds is a wonderful gardening project for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.

To save sunflower seeds, cut the flower heads off the plants when the outer petals fall off. Dry the whole heads by hanging them upside down or placing them on a flat surface for a couple of weeks. Harvest sunflower seeds by hand, by rubbing one head against another, or with a bucket topped with hardware cloth. Dry the individual seeds in a single layer on a screen or another dry surface before storing them.

Read on to learn all about how to save sunflower seeds!

How to save sunflower seeds? | Home for the Harvest (1)

In this article, we'll cover hide

Introduction to saving sunflower seeds

Planting sunflowers for seed saving

Choose an open-pollinated variety

Companion planting for seed saving

Choosing sunflowers to harvest seeds from

How to save seeds from sunflower plants?

Storing sunflower seeds

Introduction to saving sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are easy to collect and store for planting next year. Just let the flowers go to seed, then harvest the seeds and keep them in a cool, dry place.

Saving sunflower seeds is a great way to get free seeds for your garden, and it’s also a fun project for kids. If you have a sunflower patch in your garden, you can save money by harvesting your sunflower seeds.

Sunflowers are in the Asteraceae family (Aster family), which also includes lettuce, zinnias, and many other favorites. Sunflowers of one variety easily cross with those of other sunflower varieties.

Planting sunflowers for seed saving

To ensure a large quantity of viable seed that is genetically diverse, plant at least 12 sunflowers of one variety.

Sunflowers are outcrossers and some are obligate crossers. Different varieties of these outbreeding plants readily cross to create new child varieties. If you do want to cross two varieties, they can be planted next to each other. You can develop your own backyard sunflower varieties this way!

Isolating a single variety by distance requires a minimum of 1000 feet (300 m), and is unreasonable in most home gardens. It is not uncommon for commercial seed producers to isolate varieties by 10,000 feet (3,000 m). A good solution for home gardeners is to bag the sunflower heads and hand-pollinate the flowers to prevent cross-pollination.

Choose an open-pollinated variety

Make certain the sunflower breed you choose is open-pollinated. These types are usually self-incompatible and are pollinated by insects. Even if you were to isolate seeds from hybrids (F1 crosses), they would not be true to type.

Here are some great open-pollinated sunflower varieties:

  • Autumn beauty sunflower
  • Lemon queen sunflower
  • Mammoth sunflower
  • Teddy bear sunflower
  • Skyscraper sunflower
  • Black oil sunflower
  • Velvet queen sunflower

Most types of sunflowers (except florist sunflowers) are perfect for saving seeds and home seed production. If you’re growing more than one variety, you can put large bags over the flower heads to minimize the chances of cross-pollination.

Companion planting for seed saving

Sunflowers are excellent companions for many garden vegetables. Some good crops to plant alongside sunflower include:

  • Cucumbers
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Zucchini

Sunflowers are also great for providing shade and windbreaks in the garden. They can be used to protect more delicate plants like lettuce from the harsh afternoon sun. Here is a big list of companion plants for sunflowers.

Growing sunflowers for seed saving

To grow sunflowers plants for seed saving, start with high-quality seeds. Make sure to buy them from a reputable seed company.

Plant sunflower seeds in well-draining soil after all danger of frost has passed. Sunflowers do best in full sun, but they will tolerate partial shade.

Try to plant lots of sunflowers. You’ll want to save seeds from a minimum of 6 plants, but hopefully more like 12-20 plants in a home setting. Seed savers working to preserve genetic diversity may wish to harvest sunflower seeds from 100+ different plants.

Water sunflower plants regularly, especially during periods of drought. Mulch around the plants to help keep the roots cool and moist.

Fertilize sunflowers in the spring and summer with a balanced organic fertilizer. Be careful not to over-fertilize with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, as this can encourage leaf growth at the expense of flower development.

To encourage large, healthy sunflower plants, thin out the seedlings so that they are spaced 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm) apart. You can transplant the seedlings to other areas of the garden or give them away to friends.

Isolating one variety

If you will be isolating a variety by covering each head with a bag, be sure to cover each flower bud before it opens to prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers. You can use a fabric bag or a piece of insect netting tied around the stem with twine. Tuck a cotton ball or some batting around the stem to block any entrance pathways for insects.

Each sunflower head is actually made up of thousands of small individual flowers. The flowers around the outside bloom first and the flowers in the very center of the sunflower heads bloom last. Each flower is open for only a couple of days, but it can take 1-3 weeks for all the flowers to bloom.

Hand-pollinate the flowers daily while they are blooming. Carefully remove the covers off of two adjacent flower heads and rub the flower heads against each other. Try to do this at a time of day when there aren’t many pollinators around to sneak in and pollinate while you do your hand pollination. You may have to do this daily for 10-14 days until they are ready to harvest.

Choosing sunflowers to harvest seeds from

Choose sunflowers that are healthy to save seeds from. The plants should be strong and stable and the flowers beautiful or rich in sunflower seeds for the birds.

Try to save seeds from 10-15 of the best flowers. For branching sunflower varieties that have multiple heads, save seeds from the first (usually largest) head. Harvesting sunflower seeds is usually most successful if you save the best seeds from multiple plants rather than all the seeds from a single head.

“Different varieties may have black, striped, mottled, potted, white, or gray seeds, and some wild varieties have small, hairy seeds.”

The Manual of Seed Saving: Harvesting, Storing, and Sowing Techniques for Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits, by Andrea Heistinger

How to save seeds from sunflower plants?

Here’s how to save sunflower seeds:

1. Let the flowers bloom and go to seed. They are not ready to harvest until all of the flowers in the central disk have bloomed.

2. Cut the heads off the stalks when the outer petals fall off. Put a mesh bag or old pantyhose over the flower if you intend to let it dry a bit on the stalk.

3. Dry the heads by hanging them upside down or placing them with the seeds up on a flat surface. Be sure to choose a spot with good air circulation (and protected from birds, mice, and other hungry critters). If you must hang them somewhere critters might access them, put a paper bag over the head before hanging it. Drying the heads usually takes about 2-3 weeks.

4. When the seeds are dry and not at all soft, harvest sunflower seeds from the flower head. You can use your hands (with gloves) to break up the flower head and free the seeds, or rub one head against the other. If you’re collecting lots of seeds, you can rub the heads over a bucket topped with half-inch hardware cloth.

5. Continue drying the seeds once they have been removed from the flower head. Spread them out in a single layer on a screen or dry flat surface in an area with good air circulation. Ideal temperatures for drying sunflower seeds are 75°F-85°F (25°C-30°C). It usually takes a minimum of a week for sunflower seeds to dry.

6. Collect sunflower seeds that are the biggest, most plump seeds for planting next spring. The remaining seeds can be put in bird feeders or used to make yummy roasted sunflower seeds. You can even make your own sunflower oil with a blender

Storing sunflower seeds

Wait until the loose seeds are completely dry before storing them. The classic sunflower seed “dryness test” is that the seeds should crack and break when bent.

Store sunflower seeds in a labeled package like a brown paper bag. Make sure to include not only the cultivar name but also the date that the seed was harvested.

The sunflower seeds should then be placed in an airtight container (glass jar, plastic bag) for the longest storage life. Here are some suitable containers for storing small amounts of dry sunflower seeds:

  • Glass mason jars (good for about 5 years)
  • Polyethylene bags like Ziploc freezer bags (good for about 2 years)
  • Polyester food storage containers (good for about 2 years)
  • Paper envelopes (good for 6-12 months)

Source: Seed Processing and Storage: Principles and Practices of Seed Harvesting, Processing, and Storage, by J. H. McCormack

Properly stored sunflower seeds can remain viable for 5+ years. To extend storage life, store sunflower seeds in the refrigerator. I use a Ziploc freezer bag with some rice inside placed in the crisper drawer. If storing for more than two years, a sealed glass jar is a better option.

Share this article with friends!






How to save sunflower seeds? | Home for the Harvest? ›

After a sunflower has flowered its seeds can be harvested for planting again the following year. A single seed planted in the spring can produce many seeds in the autumn and these can be extracted from the seed head once a sunflower has dried out.

Can I use the seeds from my sunflower to grow more? ›

After a sunflower has flowered its seeds can be harvested for planting again the following year. A single seed planted in the spring can produce many seeds in the autumn and these can be extracted from the seed head once a sunflower has dried out.

Can you store sunflower seeds in a Mason jar? ›

Choose the biggest seeds to save. (The rest can be roasted) Put the dried seeds in an airtight container and label with the variety and date. Sunflower seeds stored in a mason jar will stay viable for about five years. They can also be stored in a Ziploc bag or paper envelope but won't retain viability for as long.

How long to air dry sunflower seeds? ›

💭 When to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

When the sunflower is ready, cut the stem about 1 foot below the head. At this point, I use some twine to hang my sunflowers upside down in a warm dry place for about 5 days.

How do you dry and season sunflower seeds? ›

If a salty sunflower seed is desired, soak the seeds in a salt solution (2 teaspoons or more salt per quart of water) for 24 hours before drying. Wash the seeds carefully to remove the clinging fiber. Dry the seeds in a dehydrator at 115°-120°F until crisp or in the oven at 150°F for 1-2 hours, stirring frequently.

Can you wait too long to harvest sunflower seeds? ›

Harvesting Sunflowers at the Right Time

For example, if you're planning on harvesting a sunflower for its seeds and you wait too long to harvest it, the seeds may be so dried out that you can't even roast them!

At what point do you harvest sunflower seeds? ›

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).

What month are sunflowers harvested? ›

Sunflower seeds are usually harvested from mid-September to early October, but look for other signs, such as brown petals on the flower, loose seeds and a drooping flower head.

How do you collect and store sunflower seeds? ›

Seed harvesting

Spread a sheet of newspaper on a flat surface, gently rub the seed head and the seeds will fall away easily. Collect them in an envelope or paper bag and store in a dry, cool, dark place until spring when they will be ready to sow and grow once more.

What happens if you plant too many sunflower seeds together? ›

If you plant closer, you might get taller stalks but smaller heads. If you plant farther apart, the seed head may be larger, but possibly too heavy for the stalk to bear. If you have limited space, Tom recommends sowing in a small clump that will eventually be thinned to one plant.

How many seeds do you put in a hole for sunflowers? ›

Sowing into the ground

Sunflowers sown outside often grow into sturdier plants, but they're more vulnerable to pests. Choose your sunniest spot, and water first if it's dry. Make a hole about 2cm (1”) deep, drop two sunflower seeds in and cover with more soil.

Can you store flower seeds in ziplock bag? ›

Once you've found a way to keep your seeds cool, you'll need to find a way to keep them dry. Mason jars and other glass containers are great options for seed storage so long as they are sealable. Ziplock bags, freezer bags and other plastic containers are also great options.

How do you preserve sunflowers for keepsake? ›

Hang the sunflower up to dry in a dark, dry place.

Tie yarn or kitchen twine to the bottom of the stem. You can bundle them in threes, but the heads shouldn't touch. Pick a dark, dry place to hang them, such as an unused cabinet, a closet, or an attic. You can also set the flowers in a vase to dry.

Why seeds stored in jars not become a plant? ›

In jar A, the seed did not get water. This shows that if any condition is missing, the seed will not grow into new plants. So air, water, and sunlight are the conditions necessary for germination.

What temperature do you dry sunflower seeds? ›

Sunflower seeds usually are left on the flower to dry. The flower may have to be wrapped with cheesecloth to prevent the birds from eating the seeds. Seeds may be dried in the sun or in a dehydrator at 100ºF. Higher temperature affects the flavor.

What month do you plant sunflower seeds? ›

When to Plant Sunflowers. Plant seeds after the danger of spring frost has passed and the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees. This will be between March and May, depending on where you live.

Will dry roasted sunflower seeds grow? ›

It is not possible to grow plants from roasted sunflower seeds, but you can grow it from sunflowers in bird seed, as long as the outer shell is present.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. An Powlowski

Last Updated: 09/10/2023

Views: 6470

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. An Powlowski

Birthday: 1992-09-29

Address: Apt. 994 8891 Orval Hill, Brittnyburgh, AZ 41023-0398

Phone: +26417467956738

Job: District Marketing Strategist

Hobby: Embroidery, Bodybuilding, Motor sports, Amateur radio, Wood carving, Whittling, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Prof. An Powlowski, I am a charming, helpful, attractive, good, graceful, thoughtful, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.