Saving Sunflower Seeds: How to Harvest and Save Sunflower Seeds


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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. 

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: