When to harvest sunflower seeds – for eating, planting and bird feed

Know when to harvest sunflower seeds to store, plant and nourish wildlife

Sunflowers growing in a summer garden behind a sunlit fence
(Image credit: GettyImages)

Learning when to harvest sunflower seeds is fun and hugely satisfying. Nutritious – not just for wildlife and birds but us too – they are delicious toasted and great for topping salads, bread and stir fry. 

Why harvest sunflower seeds? Packed closely together in the center of each cheery flower head, these stripy seeds are rich in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Not only that, but they can also help to lower inflammation and combat the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Besides boosting our well-being, these nibs of goodness are the perfect for feeding for birds in winter and other wildlife, providing valuable energy to help nourish them through the cold, lean months ahead. 

Of course, another reason for collecting seeds is to re-sow for a dazzling floral display the following year. Whatever your reason, our expert tips will help you know when to harvest sunflower seeds.

When to harvest sunflower seeds

The majestic jewels of any summer garden, growing sunflowers can offer so much more than just their sunny yellow blooms. Inside the circle of golden petals is a dense head of seeds and once these ripen, they can be dried and saved for many different purposes.

What’s more, saving the seed is much easier than you may first think. It’s also oddly satisfying too but the key to a successful harvest lies in the timing.

Three months after sowing

‘Edible sunflowers will mature in about 3 months or more after sowing,’ say the team at Burpee (opens in new tab). ‘To harvest the seeds, cut the heads off after the stalks are quite dry but before fall or winter rains come.' 

When the flower heads droop

'Check the flower heads for maturity to see if the florets in the center of the flower disk have shrivelled and the back of the flower head is turning yellow, or the head is starting to droop.’

When the blooms are brown

‘Once your sunflowers have died back completely and the backs of the blooms are brown, it’s time to harvest.,’ says Amanda Shepard at American Meadows (opens in new tab)

Once the seeds are loose

‘You’ll also notice the seeds are plump and somewhat loose. Cut the stalk with sharp scissors or pruners, about one foot down from the flower head, and place in a container that can catch any loose seeds.’

What month are sunflower seeds harvested?

Sunflower seeds are usually harvested from mid-September to early October, but look for other signs, such as brown petals on the flower, loose seeds and a drooping flower head.

Jill Morgan
Jill Morgan

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Gardeningetc.com. Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens.