Sunflower seeds can be easily collected in the fall and–if properly stored–can be replanted the following spring.
Sunflowers are a bright, cheerful addition to almost any garden. Each sunflower produces a rather large head, filled with seeds. If these seeds are collected right and properly stored they can easily be planted the following spring. Keep in mind, however, that seeds collected from hybrid sunflowers will not necessarily produce the same size plant or the same yield the following year as the parent plant. In order to insure that your sunflowers are exactly the same from year to year you will need to grow heirloom seeds. Does this Spark an idea?
1. Cut the head off of your fully mature sunflower. The head will contain hundreds of seeds. Wait until the back of the head turns a deep yellow or even brown before removing the head. Keep 8 to 12 inches of the stem attached to the head when you remove it. Most heads can be removed with pruning shears, but some varieties of sunflower may require a small saw to remove the head. If you are concerned about birds stealing your seeds before you are ready to harvest, place a paper grocery bag over the head and tie it with a string.
2. Dry the head of your sunflower in a protected area, such as a garage or a basement room. Hang the heads up to dry or simply let them lie on a flat table, face up, until the back of the head turns brown and somewhat papery. Heads should be stored where they are safe from mice and other vermin.
3. Cover a flat table with newspapers and remove the seeds from the heads once the heads are dry. Hold the heads over the newspaper, seeds facing down, and rub the palm of your hand firmly against the seeds until they wiggle free and fall onto the newspaper. Once the first few seeds fall out of the head the rest will be easy to remove.
4. Store the collected seeds in a paper bag (paper lunch bags work well). Close and tape the top of each bag and write the date and variety of sunflower seeds on the bag with a marking pen. Keep the bag in a cool, dark place, safe from mice and other vermin, until the following spring.
5. Fill a a growing tray with potting soil for your sunflower seeds the following spring, approximately six weeks before the final frost for your area. Open the paper bags with your saved sunflower seeds and plant one seed every 2 inches in the growing tray. Press seeds down approximately 1/2 inch with your finger and then cover lightly with potting soil. Water until the soil is damp, but not soggy, and place the tray in a window which gets several hours of direct sunlight each day. Keep the trays warm (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.
6. Dig holes in a sunny location in your garden approximately 3 inches deep and 3 inches in diameter to plant young plants once all possibility of frost has passed for your area. Plants should be 10 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety of sunflower you are growing. Do not damage roots when replanting.
7. Do not fertilize sunflowers unless your soil has virtually no nutrients (pure sand, for example). Fertilize with a light dusting of organic manure or compost if necessary and water well to get the fertilizer to the plant’s roots.