Last updated on December 14th, 2021
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One of my favourite plants to grow in the garden are sunflowers. As well as being enjoyable to grow, it is equally as enjoyable to harvest the thousands of seeds, these have many uses, from eating them yourself to feeding them to the birds over winter when they need them most.
If you are growing sunflowers (whether for the seeds or just for fun), knowing when and how to collect sunflower seeds is well worth knowing. Timing is important so you can collect your seeds before the birds or squirrels dig in, or you can leave them a little longer if you don’t mind sharing the seeds, but in this guide I will explain what I do with my sunflowers when collecting their seeds.
When is the best time to harvest sunflower seeds?
When you look at sunflowers, you may assume that you can pick the seeds out at any time. However, like everything in nature, there is always a perfect time for harvesting. You don’t want to harvest them too early as the seeds will not be ready or have formed their hard shell properly to get the distinctive black and white striped shell that many varieties have, although some varieties do only have white shells.
So when should you harvest them? Ideally around October is usually the right time of year to be harvesting sunflowers. The back of the heads will turn brown as will the petals, another sign that there ready is that the head will start to wilt. Finally, the seeds should easily fall out if you rub your fingers over them.
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How to harvest them a little earlier to protect them from birds and squirrels
If they are not quite ready but you are experiencing issues with birds and squirrels taking the seeds, you can cut the flower head off and put a paper bag around them and then leave them to dry out in a garage or shed for another week or two will be okay.
If you have more sunflowers than you need, you can also cut one of the heads off and leave it on the ground for the squirrels and birds and they might leave the other ones alone. This is what I usually do.
Harvesting the sunflower seeds
Sunflowers take about 80-120 days to fully mature and you need to act before they completely dry out. There are various methods you can use to harvest your seeds but the most common ones include these steps:
Allowing the seeds to fully ripen before detaching the head from the stem. When the seeds are fully ripe, cut off the head ensuring to leave a little stem so you can grip the head securely.
Remove the top layer that consists of tiny blossoms by rubbing your fingers over them (as shown above) to reveal the seeds that you can simply remove by rubbing your hands over them, as shown below. Let the seeds dry and store them in an airtight container and they will last a long time.
Alternatively, you could harvest a little bit earlier when 1/3 of the seeds in the centre are left to mature. In this method, one cuts off the head ensuring to leave a longer stem (10cm) attached and wraps the sunflower in a paper bag to prevent wildlife from accessing them. Suspend the heads in a well-ventilated area and wait for them to dry for a week or two.
How to store sunflower seeds
It is crucial to let your sunflower seeds dry before storage to lower the moisture content and prevent them from starting to rot. If you are storing seeds for replanting, make sure you store them in a clean container located in a well-ventilated area.
You can also store them in the refrigerator or freeze them if you want to store them for longer periods without worrying about them going bad.
Those storing sunflower seeds for a snack should roast them once they dry. By roasting, the seeds will be able to last for a long time and should be kept in an airtight container to prevent them from turning bad.
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How long do sunflowers take to mature fully?
Currently, there are over 70 varieties of sunflower and they have a bit of difference in terms of the time taken to mature. The difference is not too large because on average it takes about 80-95 days for both dwarf and the giant variety to mature but much longer before they are at their best in flower or are ready to harvest.
What is the ideal time to sow sunflowers?
Planting sunflowers can be very enjoyable and easy to do because they are typically low-maintenance plants and germinate easily if grown from seed. It is best to sow the seeds around April or May in small 9cm pots indoors, once the risk of frost is not an issue (usually around the end of May) you can plant them outdoors.
If you buy sunflowers in pots, just remember they are tender plants so don’t plant outdoors until the risk of frost has passed.
Do sunflower seeds go bad?
Yes, sunflower seeds do go bad whether they are simply dried or roasted. However, you can elongate their shelf life by storing them in good conditions. Clean, dry airtight jars or containers are recommended together with refrigeration for seeds intended for planting. You can also freeze sunflower seeds.
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