How to Grow Sunflowers & Harvest Sunflower Seeds

As summer nears its end, sunflower season begins! Learn how to grow sunflowers and harvest sunflower seeds with our guide to these garden favorites.

By Shelley Wigglesworth

Aug 03 2022


How to Grow Sunflowers

Photo Credit : Pixabay

There are over fifty types of sunflowers—most of which reach their full potential in the late summer months. Each summer, young and old New Englanders alike look forward to enjoying these bright and simple blooms, which are able to add a punch of happiness to any garden. Learn how to grow sunflowers, how to harvest sunflower seeds, and about different types of sunflowers with our guide to these easy garden favorites!

How to grow sunflowers
How to Grow Sunflowers
Photo Credit : Pixabay

How to Grow Sunflowers

Sunflowers are perhaps some of the easiest flowers to grow—simply plant each seed a few inches into the ground and water occasionally in the spring. Sunflower seeds will thrive in most soil types and are often inadvertently seeded by the birds and mammals that eat them. As long as they receive full sun, these flowers will do well with very little care at all.

History of Growing Sunflowers

Native to the Americas, the sunflower has long been a symbol of happiness, vitality, long life, and good luck. For centuries, Native Americans cultivated sunflowers for a variety of purposes: sunflower seeds were used as a food source and in bread recipes, while seed oil was extracted and used in cooking and medical remedies. A number of dyes and paints can also be made from the flower’s parts.

Benefits of Growing Sunflowers

It goes without saying that sunflowers are beautiful to look at, and it’s well known that they’re a source of food for both humans and animals, but they have one other significant and lesser-known benefit too: sunflowers have the ability to remove toxins such as lead, arsenic, and uranium from contaminated soil and wetland areas. In fact, sunflowers were used after the Fukushima nuclear disaster to help extract dangerous toxins from the soil.

Types of Sunflowers: Cultivated vs. Wild

Cultivated sunflowers produce a single stem with a large seed head, while wild sunflowers develop branched stems with small heads and even smaller seeds. In the over fifty types of sunflowers, petal colors can range from pinkish or brownish hues to all shades of yellow and orange. Some varieties can even have striped petals!

Types of Sunflower Seeds

There are two types of sunflower seeds: black seeds and striped seeds. The black seeds are higher in oil content and are often used to make oil, while striped seeds are typically used as food for humans and animals. Despite their differences, both seeds share the same flavor.

How to grow sunflowers
How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds
Photo Credit : Pixabay

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

When the back of a sunflower’s flower head turns from green to brown and becomes dry, seeds are usually ready to be harvested.

To harvest, cut the head off the plant a few inches below the flower and remove the seeds with your fingers or a small tool, such as a butter knife. You can also cut the flower heads early—before it turns brown and before the birds start to eat the seeds—though the seeds will not be dry enough to eat at this point.

If you do cut the heads off a bit early, just follow the same cutting directions as outlined above, then hang the heads upside down in a dry place that is safe from pests until the head is dry and brown. At this point, the seeds should become loose from the head and can be easily removed.

Any sunflower heads not harvested for personal use can be saved and used to feed hungry birds in the winter!

For an additional seed-harvesting method, check out How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds.

A Few Fun Sunflower Varieties to Try:

  • Towering Mammoth – A giant sunflower with stems up to fifteen feet tall and heads as large as dinner plates! Towering Mammoths produce great seeds for eating.
  • Sunbeam (or Vincent Van Gogh Sunflowers)– These sunflowers can grow up to five feet tall and produce golden-yellow flowers that are about five inches wide.
  • Teddy Bear – Although these flowers only grow up to three feet tall, they sport very impressive blooms that are golden and fluffy.

Do you grow sunflowers in your garden? What’s your favorite variety?

This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated. 

New England Sunflower Farm & Maze Guide