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When and How to Harvest Sunflower Heads

Updated: Oct 25, 2023



Anyone who has gardened knows it can initially be difficult to figure out how and when to harvest the various garden products. The time to harvest sunflower heads are no exception. I, Marie, love growing the large mammoth variety and roasting them up for year-round snacks once they have dried. Plus the sunflowers are so pretty growing in my garden.

A large mammoth sunflower with a bumblebee in the center. When and how to harvest sunflowers.

Sunflower with Bumblebee

The difficulty with sunflowers is that if you pick them too early the seeds will be immature but if you pick them too late the birds will pilfer all of your hard-earned seeds. One trick is to cover the heads with a cheesecloth or a paper bag until they are ready. Be sure that whatever you use allows for ventilation to reduce molding issues. I tend to watch the sunflowers closely as the season comes to a close, opting not to cover them. If I lose a few seeds or even entire heads to the birds I am rewarded knowing the birds in my yard are well-fed.

Determining when to harvest sunflowers. Yellow is ready, green is not.

Yellow on the left and ready to pick. Green on the right and still needs more time.

When to Harvest Sunflower Heads

When the heads hang over and the back of the sunflower head turns yellow it is time to pick the flower head. If the birds have begun to pick out the seeds it is another indicator that the sunflower is most likely ready to harvest. Birds have a great instinct for knowing when the seeds are ripe.

Marie and Emmaline loading a wagon with ripe harvested sunflower heads.

transport gently to avoid losing seeds

How to Harvest Sunflower Heads

Cut the stalk anywhere from 4-12 inches from the head and find a dry pest-free area to allow them to dry for a few weeks. I use the wire racks in my greenhouse but you can also hang them. The important thing is to have good air circulation so there is no spoilage.

Tumble dried harvested sunflower heads with golf balls in a cement mixer to extract the seeds.

Tumble with golf balls to remove the seeds.

Once the back of the head is completely dried and browned it is time to remove the seeds. I have done this with a butter knife or a spoon but my current favorite way is to throw them in the cement mixer with a couple of golf balls for 5-15 minutes and come back and scoop out my seeds.

Collect your harvested sunflower seeds and prepare them for a brine and roasting.

Collect your seeds

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