Did you grow sunflowers this year? Learn how to save sunflower seeds. Use them in bird seed, for your garden next year, or even for your own snacks.
How to Save Sunflower Seeds
I grow sunflowers along the south side of the house. My father-in-law, who passed away a few years ago, started the tradition of growing sunflowers along this side of the house, and I continue growing them in his memory. Many of the sunflowers that grew in that space this year germinated on their own accord; we have “volunteers” every season growing among the azalea, rhododendron and other foundation plants.
I don’t care where sunflowers choose to grow, as long as they grow! I love their cheerful faces. I love how as they develop, they turn to face the sun, then “freeze” like children playing statues, forever turning their cheerful countenance to the sky. I love how they attract bees and other pollinators when they bloom, and then flocks of goldfinches when the seeds develop. Genghis Khan kitty loves the goldfinches too. His “room”, our guest bedroom where he sleeps at night (with the door closed so he doesn’t fight with our other indoor cat, Pierre), has two windows facing south. The sunflowers crowd against the window glass and on a good day, Genghis presses his nose to the glass, his face only inches away from the unsuspecting goldfinches on the other side of the window. It makes me wonder how well birds can see; if they only knew how close to the jaws of death they come when they perch on top of the sunflowers…
At this time of year, though, the sunflowers are finished. Most are well past their prime; a few have a flower here or there, but most are dead, gray-brown nodding stalks. Some stalks toppled to the ground under the weight of the heavy flower heads, scattering seeds among the mulch in the foundation plantings, the source of those previously mentioned ‘volunteers.’ Others continue standing sentinel to greet the fall.
Learn how to save sunflower seeds. Here are three ways to dry and use sunflower seeds:
- Leave them where they are for the birds: This is actually my preferred option, but one that’s not always practical. You can simply let the seeds dry right on the stalk. The birds will find them, or the seeds will fall to the ground where mourning doves will peck them up along with other creatures. And if you’re very lucky, a few will survive the winter to grow again next year.
- Cut off the flower heads on stalks and hang them up as natural bird feeders: Take a pair of pruning shears and cut off the flower heads, leaving at least a foot or more of the thick stem attached to the head. Tie twine or string to the stem, and hang them upside down from tree branches in your yard. Birds and squirrels well find and consume the seeds.
- Dry the seeds to plant again next year: You’ll need a dry, warm space to hasten the process. A garage or shed works well. Spread newspapers on the garage or shed floor. Cut the sunflower seed heads off and cut off any greenery or petals left attached to the head. Place the seed heads on the newspaper. As they dry, seeds will fall out; the newspaper makes it easier to collect them. You may need to use a stick or screwdriver to poke the seeds out if they don’t fall out naturally.
I always remove the entire sunflower plant and toss it into the woods, but I have 17 acres to play with and that’s plenty of space to let nature compost the stalks back to the earth. If you live in a suburban environment, you might want to cut up the stalks and bag them for the trash. You can compost them if the plants were healthy before they finished blooming, but sunflower stems are thick, tough and fibrous, and do not compost down easily. I’ve found them to be about as easy to compost as tree branches; a wood chipper comes in handy at this time of year!
I’ve saved sunflowers seeds to plant in next year’s garden. I’ve also filled my bird feeder with home grown, organic seeds. I don’t like to let anything go to waste, and sunflowers are one of the most generous plants in nature. Save seeds from your sunflowers this year and enjoy them again next year, too.
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