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Dead Sunflowers - How to Harvest the Seeds

Updated on March 1, 2012
Sunflowers I grew with my younger son in Texas.  We love sunflowers!
Sunflowers I grew with my younger son in Texas. We love sunflowers! | Source
One of our sunflowers.
One of our sunflowers. | Source
These are surprisingly easy to grow!
These are surprisingly easy to grow! | Source

How to deal with a heavy, dying sunflower

Growing Sunflowers through to the Seed Stage

Sunflowers get so heavy toward the end of their life cycle, and some people don't know what to do exactly to deal with them. This hub is to share my experiences with growing then harvesting seeds from sunflowers and what the different options are for using them.

After thoroughly enjoying the show that a sunflower garden puts on for all to see, the fun still isn't over even when the flower dies. Actually, in these latest years I am doing good if the little birds in our area have left much of the flower at all, they are so eager to get to the seeds! This is not true just of sunflowers either. Birds like all kinds of flower seeds, and when my garden is feeding creatures like birds and butterflies, then I am a happy gardener!

It seems the birds know what flowers are even in their early stages of producing seeds in their seed heads. I like to give the flowers a chance to fully bloom at least before they start getting pecked at.

Lets jump forward to the end of summer or fall even, depending on when your sunflower bloomed. The petals are likely falling off, dying and shrivelling. You will notice the seed head seem to get heavier and heavier and be hanging down, or about to pull the whole stalk down. The plant looks very dead or almost, but it is just focusing all its energy on the seed production.

The seeds get harder and drier over time, and this is when you have some options to consider.

1. You can leave the whole thing alone, and let nature take its course. The birds will love you for this and if you have squirrels in the area, they will come around as well!

2. You can stake the sunflower stalk if you have not already, to let it keep on drying naturally outdoors. This way you are letting nature take its course but also allowing for the seeds to dry better than if the whole plant fell over face down in the dirt or grass, etc.

3. You can cut off the seed head with some of the stem attached. Find a large brown paper bag, and you are going to let it dry in there, or there is an even better choice. While holding the flower head upside down in the bag, gather the bag around the stem at the top of the bag, and using a rubber band or string, kind of secure the bag around the stem. I use a large rubber band, and use that to hang from some wooden pegs on a cute shelf in the room off the kitchen.

*Do not use a plastic bag for this process. The paper bag allows for the flower to breathe and not mold with any moisture. There is more moisture than you would think, and oils in the seeds.

Step 3 allows for the plant to keep following its natural process, and catches any falling seeds. Checking this every so often allows it to get more air and allows to see the progress.

You can use the seeds for a variety of different things.

1. Use them for a personal snack! Very healthy and you harvested food from your own garden, something more and more people want to do.

2. You can use them for your garden the next year! Plant even more beautiful sunflowers the next season and share with family and friends.

3. Use these as personal bird feed in the winter months when the birds can really benefit from it.

4. Use them for a combination of the above ideas if you have lots of seeds! Everyone wins!

I usually save them for the next year to grow more sunflowers and share some with the birds. The sunflower is a lovely, life giving plant that keeps on sharing its wealth long after it is seemingly dead. I just love sunflowers, and I hope that my experiences might be of help to you.

If you have never grown sunflowers, you need to know that they are surprisingly easy to grow, in my experience! You get a lot of return for your efforts, they are just such a joy. The only thing that might be something to consider is that they may need to be staked. That way they won't blow down in a storm or high winds. They can get top heavy especially towards the end. Once you grow them once, you can then have a steady supply for future years of more and more flowers.


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    • profile image

      Mags 18 months ago

      I got four huge sunflowers didn't even plant them one has had a huge flower and about twenty at least small flowers looks really nice

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Thelma, thank you very much for stopping by, and I am glad you like my sunflower picture! I took that long ago, and it wasn't with that great of a camera. I think the lighting must have been right, etc, and I love it too. Have a great day.

      Hi Stephanie, Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Your experience echos mine in that I get some birds and other things that want my sunflower seeds before I can harvest them! I think sunflowers are among the most happy and fun seeds to plant because they bring such happiness to the garden like you said. I love that others grow them as well, I wish I could see yours! Have a great day.

      Hello Jackie, so glad others like sunflower seeds as much as I do! Thank you for your comment, and for stopping by and reading. Have a great day.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello The Lyricwriter, thanks so much. I notice sunflowers growing wherever they are, whenever my neighbors or others plant them. They just stand out so much. I think its amazing the amount of seeds thy put out, and the bulk of each seed sometimes. Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate it. Have a good day.

      Hello Kimberly, I love to plant them also, but need to grow more than I have in the past because the natural wildlife around here love the seeds too much! I can't blame them, they are a good source of food for them. A few years back I learned about growing a butterfly, bee and bird garden, and these are one of the must haves of course. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Sharn, isn't it fun growing sunflowers? I love to grow them! Yes, I think you did get lucky with that big one, that is wonderful! It like a huge amazing thing, sunflowers are. They grow so fast, and are almost like a little tree sometimes.

      They bring such sunshine to the garden, and they also bring food for snacks for people, or animals like birds and squirrels, etc. They all love it. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Have a great week.

    • profile image

      sharn. 5 years ago

      I grew sunflowers for the first time this summer just gone (in Australia) and must have got lucky because the biggest of mine the flower head measured 25cm, without petals. Some from the same pack of seeds and planted within a couple weeks later only got to about 1cm wide though!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very good, I love sunflowers and yours are beautiful!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      What beautiful big sunflowers! I love the pictures. I have grown some sunflowers before, but it was due to the birds dropping seeds from the feeder. I am going to really "try" to grow some in better location this year. Yours are beautiful, great information too! Voted up and useful. Have a great day!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      I love growing sunflowers for the birds. Usually, I plan to save some of the flower heads for winter, but often the birds will get most of the seeds before we can cut the heads. I love your photographs of sunflowers - they capture the happy look of the flowers so perfectly! Good suggestions, too, about storing the seed heads in a paper bag.

      Voted up and shared!

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 6 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      The top picture in your hub is really beautiful! Great photography!!

    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

      Great info. I grow sunflowers every year. The birds do love them, all types. Great hub. Voted up.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 6 years ago from West Virginia

      Voted up, useful, and interesting my friend. I always wondered how they would get all those seeds. I live in West Virginia and I remember being a young kid and the neighbors had a few of them. They would grow pretty tall as well. There is a lot of benefits to the seeds. We can learn how to not waste them from this article. Great hub. Have a good one.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Bianca, thanks for your visit to my hub. I think the only time a sunflower seed can go bad is if it gets too damp and then moldy when you are drying it. This can happen in a plastic bag or if there is no air circulation around the area where the seeds grow. I don't know how many years after a seed has been drying, that it gets too old to plant. I know other seeds can get past the point of being able to germinate if too old. These ones are pretty tough though I think overall.

      As for the picture, thank you! I got lucky I think maybe everything was just right the light, etc. It was with my older point and shoot digital camera I believe it was a Hewlett Packard that my husband got for me. It took some great pictures and was a handy little thing while it lasted. I wore it out.

      So happy you stopped by and left a comment and voted, thank you. Have a great day.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Arlene, I would try planting some really good sunflower seeds in a different location perhaps, and that might help with better sunflowers. There are so many different varieties to choose from. I have grown smaller ones before.

      I agree with you in regards to the squirrels! In fact, they do damage to my garden also, as do the rabbits. I just noticed that they will come up even on my deck, and pull a sunflower head down to their level and eat away! I hope your next sunflowers turn out lovely. We got the seeds for the flowers you see here just at a local Walmart a few years ago.

      Thanks for your visit and comment and vote. Have a nice day. :)

    • biancaalice profile image

      biancaalice 6 years ago from Southern California

      I wouldn't of known this if i didn't read it. I thought seeds couldn't die or go bad. Plus, great sunflower picture, you must have an excellent camera.

      Voted up & interesting!

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      Entertaining gardening Hub with lots of information. Those sunflowers pictured look so impressive. When I tried growing mine (I'm in California), they were so puny. Maybe I will try it again, now that I have your Hub as reference. I don't mind feeding the birds. As far as squirrels are concerned, they are merely rats with long tails to me. They do a lot of damage to my garden. Take a bite out of the fruit or veggies and leave the rest to rot. Voted up and everything else. Bookmarked.