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When to Harvest Sunflowers

When you’ve spent all season planting sunflowers and just want to enjoy some beautiful flowers or their delicious seeds, it’s important to know how to actually harvest them, too.

Figuring out when to harvest sunflowers is pretty easy once you know what you’re doing! You can become an expert sunflower harvester in no time.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to harvest sunflowers successfully!

A field of sunflowers. Knowing when to harvest sunflowers means you'll get the most enjoyment, whether for flowers or seeds!

Harvesting for Seeds vs Flowers

Yes, sunflower harvesting techniques do vary based on whether you’d like to harvest the sunflower for its seeds or for the actual flower itself.

Generally speaking, there are noticeable differences in when to harvest sunflowers based on what you’d like to get out of them.

Some of these factors that are different include how long you wait to harvest the sunflower as well as what exact method you employ to harvest them.


Harvesting Sunflowers at the Right Time

A woman looking at sunflower.

The main reason why it’s important to harvest sunflowers at the correct time is that when you harvest sunflowers determines how long you get to enjoy them.

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!

In an even worse scenario, if you wait too long to harvest, animals may have come and eaten all the sunflower seeds before you have a chance to grab them.

Additionally, waiting too long to harvest sunflowers for its flower causes similar problems.

Specifically, sunflowers that are harvested for the flower tend to lose their petals about a week after harvesting. This means that if you harvest them too late in their growing cycle, you might get to enjoy them for even less time than expected.

A florist working with cut sunflowers.

On the other hand, though, you’ll want to refrain from harvesting sunflowers too early just to avoid these pitfalls. If you don’t wait long enough to harvest a sunflower for its seeds, the seeds won’t have grown big enough, and they won’t have enough meat.

All in all, figuring out when to harvest sunflowers is a delicate balance of timing!


When to Harvest Sunflowers

A field of sunflowers.

Now we’ll talk about how to get the timing just right for harvesting sunflowers, first for use as cut flowers, and then for enjoying their seeds.

Harvesting Sunflowers for Floral Use

When harvesting the flower itself, cut the sunflower from its stem just as the petals have started to open.

This means that they should not have opened up all the way. In addition, the face of the sunflower will not yet be completely exposed.

While the exact time of day that you plan on harvesting sunflowers may not seem particularly important, it can actually determine how long your flowers will stay fresh once they’re harvested.

Specifically, you should be sure to cut the flower at the beginning of the day or in the evening.

If you harvest them in the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak, the sunflowers will be wilted because of the heat and they’ll last for a shorter amount of time once harvested.

How Do I Remove the Sunflower from Its Stalk?

For the most precise method that won’t damage the rest of the plant, use scissors or pruning shears to cut the sunflower off of the stalk.

If you’re hoping to display the flower, cut it off the stalk at least 24 inches below the flower itself.

You should also be sure to cut the flower at a 45-degree angle so that its stem will absorb water as effectively as possible.

If you’re just concerned about harvesting a sunflower for its seeds, you don’t have to remove it quite as far down the stalk.

Instead, you can cut off the sunflower approximately one foot down the stalk.

Person cutting a sunflower that's lost its petals.

Harvesting Sunflowers for Seeds

To harvest the seeds, you should wait much longer in the sunflower’s growing cycle.

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.

To preserve the seeds, you can also harvest the sunflower shortly before it turns brown and just hang it up to dry indoors.


Where Should I Store My Harvested Sunflowers?

An arrangement of sunflowers.

Before you display your harvested sunflower, you’re going to want to condition it!

Conditioning involves putting the harvested sunflower stem first into a container of hot water and then placing them somewhere where they’ll receive indirect light for 24 hours.

After conditioning your flowers, refresh them with warm water on a regular basis for the entire lifespan of the harvested flower.

If you really want to go the extra mile in keeping your sunflowers healthy and fresh, you can add some flower preservative or just a little bit of bleach to the water. Doing this will help cut down on bacteria growth that could harm the flower.

Sunflowers will generally keep for seven to ten days if you follow these instructions on caring for them.

Closeup of sunflowers.

How Do I Prepare My Harvested Sunflower Seeds?

While it may seem counterintuitive, the process for preparing harvested sunflower seeds actually begins right before harvesting sunflowers!

First of all, if you want to maximize the number of seeds that you can harvest, tie a paper bag around the head of the sunflower. This technique will prevent birds and other animals from grabbing seeds, and it will also make sure that no seeds fall on the ground during the harvesting process.

Once dealing with harvested sunflower seeds, you’ll have to first separate the seeds from the sunflower head.

Dried sunflower heads/

You may want gloves for this part of the process, but they’re not absolutely necessary.

Just apply a little bit of pressure to the sunflower bloom with your hands and rub until the seeds start to come off. For this step, you may also want to place a bucket or pan under your work area to catch all the seeds.

Throughout removing the sunflower seeds, you might find that some sunflower petals are coming off with the sunflower seeds. If this happens, just give your sunflower mixture a quick rinse and then run it through a strainer. Then you’ll be left with just seeds!

Finally, prepare your seeds based on their intended outcome, whether that’s soaking and roasting them immediately for eating or drying them to be re-planted the next season.

Closeup of a sunflower.

How Do I Store My Harvested Sunflower Seeds?

If you’re planning on keeping your sunflower seeds in order to plant them next season, make sure to store them properly.

Keep your seeds in an airtight jar or similar container. You can either stick them in the freezer or keep them in a location that’s cool and dark.

Your seeds will last up to one year in the freezer and approximately two or three months in a pantry or similar location.

When you’re ready to plant again, just take out your seeds and get them up to room temperature. Now you’ll be able to grow and harvest sunflowers all over again!


Learning When to Harvest Sunflowers

A woman picking sunflowers in a field.

With a little practice and learning, harvesting sunflowers can become second nature! Keeping these questions in mind will help you to be an expert in sunflower harvesting in no time.

If you want to learn more about growing and planting different sunflower varieties, check out our Sunflowers page.