The sunflower (helianthus annuus) are cheerful flowers with their yellow petals shining like the sun and their nutritious seeds for snacking.
Many sunflower seeds can come from a single plant due to the massive seed heads. So even if you just start out with a few plants, that is all you need to grow beautiful sunflowers every year.
In this article, you will learn how to harvest and save sunflower seeds that will keep providing you with impressive flowers and seeds to sow each year.
- Related Article: General How to Save Seeds Guide
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Overview of Saving Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are super easy to save, so they are great for beginning your seed saving journey.
In general, you can leave the seeds on the sunflower head to dry. However, many animals (aside from humans) find these seeds tasty, so it may be worth cutting down the flower and hanging it up to dry until it’s time to harvest.
If you’re drying the flower heads somewhere that wildlife can still get to them, try putting them a paper bag on it for protection.
Sunflowers are perfect if you are just starting to save seeds. They are incredibly beginner friendly and you don’t have to do much other than dry them out properly.
Kids love to grow massive sunflowers, so try involving them in saving the seeds too for a fun family activity.
How to Save Sunflower Seeds
Step 1 – Plant and Grow Sunflowers
Grow your sunflowers and ensure that pollinating insects have access to them.
Sunflowers are pollinated by insects, so grow a few in a small area of your garden to encourage pollination. Remember to plant your flowers 6-36 inches apart to give them room to grow.
If you are growing different sunflower varieties together, you may get some cross pollination. If this happens, you may have created your own hybrid for years of enjoyment!
Step 2 – Wait for Sunflowers to Mature
Allow for the seeds to become fully ripe on the stem.
Wait for your sunflowers to start to wilt. This is the sign that the seeds are fully formed and starting to dry out.
Step 3 – Dry the Sunflower Bloom
Cut off the seed heads with a small part of the stem. Hang them up with a nail or peg by the stem with the head facing downwards to dry.
The petals will begin to turn brown. This is completely normal when drying flower heads.
Protect them from animals with a paper bag if necessary. It’s important you use paper and not plastic in this instance as moisture will get trapped in plastic and can cause the seeds to rot.
Step 4 – Harvest Sunflower Seeds
The sunflowers should be ready to harvest when the petals have dried and start to fall. You’ll need to check to see if the seeds are ripe first.
A layer of pollen protects the seeds and you will have to brush this away to see the seeds. You may also want to put a container under the sunflower to catch loose seeds.
Ripe seeds will look plump and feel hard you can start to harvest them. Release the seeds by rubbing them by hand or with another seed head.
I do have to say that de-seeding a sunflower bloom is a lot of fun and satisfying.
It’s best to do this outside as there might be bugs inside the seed heads.
Step 5 – Clean the Sunflower Seeds
This step is optional, depending on how worried you are about cleanliness and what you plan to do with the seeds.
If you intend to eat any of your seeds, it’s best to clean them, but it’s not necessary if you are just going to plant them the next year.
You can wash off your seeds under cool running water and then leave the seeds to dry. Leave them in a single layer on a screen or paper towel, allowing for air circulation to make sure all parts of the seeds dry.
Step 6 – Store the Sunflower Seeds
Once your seeds are completely dry, store them in a paper envelope, plastic bag, or plastic container.If you put them in an airtight container, they will last longer.
Store the container in a cool, dry place until you plan to plant them.
It’s useful to write the year and the sunflower variety on the envelope or bag, so you know what’s in there when you come to plant them next year.
How Long Will Sunflower Seeds Last?
Seeds need cool and dry conditions, so it’s best to store them in your house. Don’t store them outside in the shed where the temperature can fluctuate.
Even if properly stored, sunflower seeds will only last for 1 year, so you’ll have to sow them and harvest new seeds every year.
You can store them in plastic bags or paper seed envelopes, and they can even be stored in the freezer or the fridge. If you’re storing them in the freezer then make sure they are fully dried. Wet seeds can contain moisture that would end up with the seeds splitting open when they freeze.
If you want to eat some of your seeds they will only last in your pantry for around 2-3 months. Storing the seeds in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer will allow the seeds to still be edible.
Can I Save and Grow Hybrid Sunflower Seeds?
Whether you can save and grow hybrid sunflower seeds is a hard question to answer.
If you ask a serious seed saver, they will tell you that it’s never a good idea to save seeds from hybrids. However, some people have had success when using seeds from hybrid plants.
The longevity of these seeds may be an issue, as you may not be able to keep reseeding from them indefinitely.
If you’ve bought organic sunflower seeds from the health store they probably will still be hybrids. You may be able to successfully grow sunflowers from the seeds, but you won’t know how long those seeds have been stored for, and so they may not germinate.
If you buy normal hybrid sunflower seeds for planting with a view to seed saving, then the chances are that the sunflowers you grow from the seeds you save will not be like the one grew the first year.
F1 hybrids combine two different genetic lines that have been bred to enhance certain traits, and then manually cross pollinated.
That’s why you may find that the seeds from one hybrid sunflowers will produce widely different plants. The next generation of seeds from these plants may be different again and keep changing from generation to generation.
The issue with growing from hybrids is the inconsistency. You won’t know how the sunflower will turn out until it grows. If you don’t have any issue with this and you’d like to try it out to see what results you get, then experimenting with seeds from hybrids can be quite interesting.
However, if you’re after more consistent flowers with seeds that you can continue to save, then stick to open pollinated and heirloom varieties.
Final Thoughts on Sunflower Seed Saving
Saving sunflower seeds can be a lot of fun and you can even try making your own hybrids by cross pollinating different varieties!
Saving seeds is an age-old practice that goes back to our earliest farming days. As long as we have been growing plants, we have been saving seeds.
For how-to guides on other fruits and vegetables, check out these articles:
- How to Save Pumpkin Seeds
- How to Save Cucumber Seeds
- How to Save Squash Seeds
If you're saving the seeds to re-plant, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant. Label the container with the variety and the date you harvested. The seed will last for years if stored this way.How do you harvest and cure sunflower seeds? ›
Harvesting sunflower seeds
Cut off stalks 4 inches below heads when outer seeds are mature and inner seeds are approaching maturity. Hang upside down in a warm, well-ventilated area. Cover heads with paper sacks. Wait for seeds to dry out and fully mature.
Store your sunflower seeds in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, sealed tight in an airtight container or resealable bag. They can sit in the kitchen or pantry, or if you want to prolong their shelf life, you can refrigerate them.Can you freeze sunflower seeds to plant next year? ›
Freezing is a great way to store seeds for the long haul. If you're planning on sowing them within a few years, it's probably not going to make a huge difference, though it couldn't hurt. Just be sure: Only freeze seeds that are completely dry.Can I plant sunflower seeds in the fall for next year? ›
While it's not recommended to plant sunflower seeds in late summer or fall due to colder temperatures and shorter days, some varieties may still thrive during this time. However, choosing these varieties carefully is important, and taking additional steps to ensure their success.Should sunflower seeds be soaked or raw? ›
Soaking: Pine nuts, Sunflower seeds, Watermelon seeds and Pumpkin seeds. Pine nuts, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds and pumpkin seeds are all seeds that need to be soaked.Do sunflower seeds need to be refrigerated before planting? ›
Maximilian sunflowers, for instance, will germinate more quickly with six weeks of refrigeration. Your seed package should have instructions for this task if it's required, but generally, you can stratify seeds for thirty days inside the fridge, eight to ten weeks before the final frost.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.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 long do you have to dry sunflower seeds? ›
To Dry Sunflower Seeds
Third, place your sunflower head(s) to dry on a screen in a warm place with lots of airflow, ideally with a fan or two, for at least a week. Sunflowers have a lot of moisture both in the seed and in the head, so it takes longer to dry than you might expect.
'Tie a paper bag over the flower head, cut the stem 12-18 inches below the head, and hang the stem upside down for at least five days,' she says. 'When seeds start falling out of the head easily, they are ready for storing or eating. 'What happens if you harvest sunflower seeds too early? ›
If you harvest too soon, you will have plenty of seeds but small kernels inside. If you wait too long, on the other hand, they may dry out or get harvested by the birds. A few things to look for when determining when to harvest are: Harvest when seeds are plump and developed.What can you do with sunflower heads? ›
Once the flower has faded the sunflower head will have lots of seeds in the centre and these are a great source of food for birds, alternatively you can harvest the seeds and grow them again next year.Where should I store sunflower seeds? ›
Store whole, unhulled sunflower seeds for up to one year in an airtight container. Keep the container at room temperature and away from excess heat, light and moisture to extend the shelf life of the seeds.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.When should I harvest my sunflower seeds? ›
Prepare to harvest the seeds once the sunflower is completely dead. You'll be able to tell when this has occurred once the back of the flower is totally brown and the petals start to fall off. This process usually takes about two to three months from when you first plant the original sunflower seed.How do you get seeds from sunflower heads? ›
Leave the flower head on the stem for at least 2 weeks. Once the petals have faded, cut the flower heads off and store them in a sunny, warm, dry place for another week. Spread a sheet of newspaper on a flat surface, gently rub the seed head and the seeds will fall away easily.