Sunflowers are one of the most distinguished and hardy flowers in North America. These cheery flowers are easy to grow, pleasant to look at, and produce an abundance of seeds. One of the joys of growing a sunflower is collecting its seeds. The process of harvesting sunflower seeds is very simple.
Sunflower seeds can be harvested in the fall after the flower has matured. There are several indicators that the flower has aged enough and is ready for seed collection. The back of the flower head will turn brown and dry, most of the yellow petals will have fallen off, and the seeds will be plump with black and white stripes. Climate will determine readiness. The time for seed harvesting is usually anywhere from September to mid-October. When the sunflower is ready to harvest, simply snip the flower off of the plant. You can shake the flower or rub your hand across the flower head to release the seeds. Rubbing the flower head with a towel may be desired to prevent scratches or blisters on your hands. Store the seeds in a cool dry place until you’re ready to use them. Be sure to harvest the sunflower seeds when they’re ready. If the seeds are left outside too long, they’ll start to fall to the ground. Birds and other animals will enjoy them before you get a chance to.
If you notice birds attacking the sunflower before the seeds are ready to harvest, you may cut the sunflower head early and allow it to dry inside. Be careful not to cut it down too early before the seeds have had a chance to mature. Make sure the back of the sunflower head has turned yellow to light brown and the seeds look ready. The sunflower head can be hung or placed on a tray in a cool dry place such as a garage or a shed. Allow it to dry for several weeks until the seeds are ready and fall off easily. If outside maturity is desired, you can put a paper bag over the sunflower head to help prevent the birds from taking the seeds.
One large sunflower will produce plenty of seeds. The seeds may be roasted for a tasty and nutritious snack, saved in an envelope in a cool dry place for planting in the spring, or you can use them to feed the birds over the winter. Sunflower seeds are simple to harvest and easy to enjoy.
University of Illinois Extension: Harvesting & Handling Sunflowers
Flower Gardening Made Easy: How to harvest sunflower seeds
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