Learn how to harvest a sunflower with my unique method that uses the whole plant. Sunflower heads, stalks, leaves, even the roots. I grew two types of sunflowers in my garden this year: dwarf sunflowers that are roughly my height and then massive sunflowers that grew something like 15 feet tall! They’re huge.
I love growing sunflowers just for the fun and beauty of the plant itself. We are not actually big on eating sunflower seeds but they are always a part of my garden.
These sunflowers are intended for my chicken feed and treats this winter. When the snow is flying, I’ll throw one of these heads out and my chickens will have a ball picking it apart. It makes a good winter feed supplement that’s super easy.
You would use this same process for saving seeds to roast and eat instead.
Harvesting the entire plant.
This year I managed to use the entire plant.
- The heads are dried for the chickens this winter.
- The leaves are chopped and piled back on the garden bed for mulch.
- The stalks are being dried to use in the garden next year for supports.
- The roots are left in the ground to rot and add nutrients and biology to the soil.
It all gets used. (Although my idea for using the stalks didn’t work out so hot. I’ve got more on that below.)
If you’ve got giant sunflowers like I had this year, chop them down first. Then cut the heads off and harvest the rest of the plant. These sunflower stalks were like small trees! They were so hard I used a reciprocating saw to chop the stalks at ground level. The roots stayed in the ground. Your stalks may or may not need power tools.
What to Do with the Rest of the Sunflower Plant?
While sunflowers are most commonly grown for their seeds, no part of the plant will go to waste here.
I did a youtube video showing how I harvest every part of the plant. Check out our youtube channel here.
The sunflower stalks are heavy and solid, so I’m going to dry them over the winter and hopefully use them as garden stakes next year.
Editing to add. Well, after the stalks drying for about a month I realized my idea was not going to work. The stalks lost a lot of strength as they dried. They ended up hollow and really were not very strong. So….. scratch my idea for using them as supports. Next time I’ll just use a chipper, chip them up for the compost.
I also collected the leaves and plant refuse, piling it on the ground. I then mowed through it with my push lawnmower, gathered up the bits, and spread it around as mulch over the surface of the soil where my sunflowers grew. You could also just throw it in your compost bin.
I even left the stumps in the soil. The roots and stumps will be soft by next spring – I want them to break down, adding microbes and other good stuff to the soil. This is a brand-new garden, so it can use all of the help it can get! I’m planting green beans in this section next year, so if there are stumps left over, I’ll just plant around them. No big deal.
How to harvest a sunflower and make use of the entire plant. Not just the seed head. Think outside the box on how the plant can be used, making use of every part.
Protecting Sunflowers from Birds
If you notice that birds are getting to your sunflowers before you harvest. You need to something to protect the heads…. now! Sometimes I’ll I notice that the bluejays found our sunflowers. Once birds discover sunflowers, they will wipe them out quickly. (They will feast on them! I know from experience.) As soon as you see birds around, cover the sunflower heads.
Here’s another video showing how I protected my sunflower heads.
(Opens in our Youtube Channel, Subscribe while you are there!)
When I was in Colorado I would just tie a plastic grocery sack loosely around the flower, so the birds can’t get through to the seeds. Now that I’m in TN the moisture is a problem. Here I’d use a cloth sack, some nylon, even a pillow case. Mesh bags may seem like they’d work but the birds can pick through the mesh unless it is tiny mesh.
If you have chipmunks, squirrels, or other pests around, I don’t know that a plastic bag would stop them. I use it for protecting my sunflowers from birds. But if you have a lot of rain or humidity where you live, a plastic bag could collect moisture. If you’re worried about that, just use a cloth bag, mesh bag, or even an old pillowcase instead. You just want to cover the heads to keep out the birds.
When to Harvest Sunflowers
So when should you harvest your sunflowers? When the flower heads droop downward and the back stem starts turning a brown color, the seeds have ripened and you know it’s time to harvest your sunflowers.
Again your climate will determine some of this. I actually had some of my heads rotting just because I waited too long. Once the heads droop the water collects in there. (something we NEVER had to worry about in Co). So be aware of your rainfall issues and if it is too wet don’t wait too long.
Another thing to watch is the blooms on the sunflower seeds. You’ll notice all of the little buds from the blooms still on top of the seeds. This is right on the face of the sunflower. These blooms cover the seeds. After the blooms fade is when the seeds develop. The sunflower is actually composed of many many tiny blooms. Each bloom becomes a sunflower seed.
If the buds of the blooms are still there, that is okay as long as they are easy to rub off. If they stick then you might want to wait a little longer to harvest. If they easily rub off go ahead and cut the head and rub off the blooms. Just roll your fingers through and rub it off, instead of waiting for that residue to come off by itself. This allows the seeds to dry even better.
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