Even if you confess to knowing very little about horticulture and flowers, you could almost certainly recognize a sunflower when you see one.
In fact, sunflowers may be one of the most recognizable flowers in the world with their sun-like appearance that puts a smile on anyone who sees them.
Any garden and yard can benefit from these popular and attractive flowers.
With their bright yellow blooms and tall, stately stems, they stand out, often heads and shoulders, above other plants in the garden, immediately catching your attention.
While sunflowers are frequently cultivated for their aesthetic appeal, providing us with enjoyment through their beauty, many cultivate the flower for its seeds. The seeds can be used to feed pets, wildlife, and even enjoy for yourself.
As well as the seeds, the flowers themselves can also be harvested and dried for use in floral arrangements, wreaths, or other decorative projects.
Luckily, harvesting and drying sunflower heads is a simple process that can be done with just a few tools and some basic knowledge.
In today’s post, we are going to guide you through the process of harvesting and drying sunflower heads.
This guide covers everything from how to know when the seeds are ready to harvest to what you can do with them after.
With the simple steps below, you will soon be able to harvest and dry sunflower heads easily and add them as a beautiful touch to your home decor.
Why Should You Dry Sunflower Seeds And Heads?
There are numerous reasons why drying sunflower seeds and heads is important. When it comes to drying sunflower seeds, it’s a critical step for the preparation of being consumed or stored.
Here are some reasons why you should dry sunflower seeds:
- Preservation – Drying sunflower seeds helps to prevent them from spoiling or rotting due to excess moisture. When seeds are properly dried, they can be stored for long periods without losing their quality.
- Enhances flavor – By drying sunflower seeds, you can enhance their flavor by concentrating the natural oils and flavors in the seeds.
- Easier to shell – Sunflower seeds can be easier to shell or de-hull after being dried. This can be a tedious and time-consuming task if the seeds are moist or wet.
- Removes excess moisture – The drying of sunflower seeds can help to remove excess moisture, which can be beneficial if the seeds are to be used for baking or other recipes.
Drying sunflower seeds helps to preserve their quality, enhance their flavor, and make them easier to handle and use.
But what about drying sunflower heads? Why should you do this? Well, this is a very useful technique if you wish to preserve seeds, or if you want to use the heads for decorative purposes.
Here are some reasons why you should dry sunflower heads:
- Also for preservation – Once you dry sunflower heads, the seeds are easier to preserve, preventing them from rotting or sprouting prematurely. This is important if you plan to save the seeds for planting or for consumption.
- Seed harvesting – Drying sunflower heads allows you to easily harvest the seeds for future planting or for consumption. Once the head is dry, the seeds can be easily removed from the head by shaking or rubbing the head.
- Decorative purposes – This is one of the most common reasons why people dry sunflower heads. Dried sunflower heads can be used for decorative purposes, such as in floral arrangements or wreaths, particularly at weddings or around your home. They can add a rustic, natural touch to any decor.
- For bird food – Dried sunflower heads can also be used as a source of food for birds in the winter months. Simply place the dried head in a location where birds can access it, and they will happily peck away at the seeds. This source of food can become very important for birds during the winter months when food can become quite scarce and hard to come by for birds.
Drying sunflower heads is a simple and useful technique for preserving sunflower seeds, but more often than not, they are dried for decorative purposes.
This method also allows you to easily harvest the seeds, and the dried heads can be used in a variety of creative ways.
Harvesting Sunflower Heads Before Drying
When you harvest sunflower heads, you should set them aside under some sort of cover.
This is vital in preparing them for drying. This is because they will dry better in an area free from moisture. Nevertheless, when you pick the sunflower heads is also important.
You shouldn’t pick them too early, especially if you want to dry them for their seeds.
You should wait for the sunflower to mature before removing the heads. Only then can you harvest and plan the drying process.
Harvesting Sunflower Heads – Best Time
The most appropriate time to harvest sunflower heads is when the plant has finished blooming.
The heads will continue to bloom after this point and proceed to ripen.
You will start to see the outer ray petals that surround the sunflower, and are in front of the flower’s sepals, begin to fall off, revealing a larger-sized sunflower face.
The seeds inside the face of the flower will also begin to grow if the small florets here have been successfully fertilized. In turn, the sunflower head will become fuller and larger.
Whilst the sunflower matures, you should leave it on its stalk until the head is fully mature. Some tell tale signs of when the sunflower head is ready to harvest are:
- When the backsides of the flowers have started to turn yellow.
- When the flower heads have started to nod (droop).
- When the florist found on the surface if the sunflower heads come off easily in your hand, revealing seeds.
Once your sunflower is showing any of these signs, it’s safe to assume it is ready to harvest its flower head and proceed with the drying technique.
How To Harvest Sunflower Heads
Before you dry sunflower heads, you will need to pick them. Harvesting sunflower heads for drying is a simple process that can be done with a few basic tools. Here are the steps you can follow:
Choose the right time to harvest sunflower heads. Wait until the back of the flower head turns brown and the petals start to fall off. The seeds inside should be plump and the disk should be yellow to brown.
You should also try to harvest on a dry day. If you harvest in wet weather, the wet sunflower heads are at a greater risk of becoming moldy and therefore, useless.
Cut The Stem
Use sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the stem about four to six inches below the head. Make sure to leave enough stem length to allow for hanging.
If you are not planning on hanging the heads to dry, then you can make a flush cut at the back of the flower’s head.
Remove The Leaves
Remove any leaves from the stem and back of the flower head, leaving only the sunflower head. Some sunflowers have more leaves than others. Whatever type of sunflower you have, simply remove all leaves from the stem.
Try to leave some protrusions on the sunflower stem, allowing you to hook some string or twine to hang the head securely.
Before you bring the sunflowers heads inside to dry, make sure you remove all the florists from the faces first. Do this outdoors, such as in a field or in your backyard.
As you’ll find out, this part can be pretty messy! Doing this will remove certain parts of the flower that maintain excess moisture, thus making the drying process easier.
We recommend removing the florets with a pair of gloves. Although the florets are not rough, they can leave some black, sticky residue on your hands that can be a challenge to remove quickly.
Moreover, removing the florets from the heads is easiest when the heads are still attached to the plant’s stalk as the stalk provides some extra support.
Hang To Dry
Tie a string or twine around the stem and hang it upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area, such as a garage or shed. We recommend placing the head inside a breathable bag to collect any seed droppings, too.
And, make sure to keep the heads separated so they don’t touch each other.
Check For Any Dryness
After a few weeks, check the heads for dryness by gently pressing on the seeds. If they feel hard and dry, they are ready to be removed from the stem.
Once the heads are completely dry, you can remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry place in an airtight container until you are ready to use them.
Overall, harvesting sunflower heads for drying is a simple process that requires only basic tools and some patience.
By following these steps, you can easily preserve the seeds and use them for a variety of purposes.
How To Dry Sunflower Heads
To avoid the risk of mold formation, it’s crucial to dry sunflower heads in a warm and dry location, as they are dense and can easily retain moisture if kept in a cool and damp environment.
You should also work to find ways to protect the plant’s seed heads from hungry animals and insects.
That is why you should store the sunflower heads in a space where animals and insects can not gain access. For instance, a barn, shed, garage, or green house will be great.
Drying sunflower heads is a simple process that can be done in a few easy steps. Here’s how to dry sunflower heads:
Harvest The Heads
As we discussed above, the first step is to harvest the sunflower heads. The best time is when the back of the flower turns brown and the petals begin to fall off, and the seeds inside are plump and mature.
Remove Any Excess Material
Cut off any remaining stem, leaves or petals from the sunflower head using a sharp knife or scissors.
Set up a Suitable Drying Area
Choose a warm, dry, and well-ventilated location for drying. A garage, shed or covered porch can be good options.
Hang The Sunflower Heads
Tie a piece of twine or string around the stem of each sunflower head and hang them upside down from a drying rack or a clothesline. Make sure to leave enough space between the heads to allow for good airflow.
Allow The Sunflower Heads To Dry
Let the sunflower heads hang and dry for several weeks until they are completely dry. You’ll know they are dry when the seeds are hard and the flower head feels light and brittle.
Store The Dried Sunflower Heads
Once the sunflower heads are completely dry, remove them from the drying area and store them in a dry and cool location until you are ready to use them for decorative purposes or seed harvesting.
Drying sunflower heads is a pretty straightforward process that requires only a few basic materials and some patience. By following these steps, you can easily dry sunflower heads and preserve them for later use.
Drying Sunflower Heads Upside Down
Whilst you should leave a gap between your sunflower heads for them to dry properly, you can dry several together, back to back. This is a useful technique if you do not have much space to hang multiple sunflower heads.
This works best for smaller heads rather than larger ones, however.
You should hang the flower heads on a sturdy, secure line. If the line is not secure, the weight of the sunflowers may bring the line down and damage the heads.
Although a line is the best method of hanging sunflower heads upside down, you can also use any type of sturdy structure, such as a wire rack in your kitchen or you can hang them from door hooks.
Just bear in mind that some seeds will likely drop from the sunflower heads as they begin to dry. Therefore, you should keep an eye on the surrounding area where you’re drying the flower heads and look for any wandering seeds.
If you see any, simply collect them, or place something beneath the hanging flower heads, such as a cloth, to collect the seeds.
You can even catch the seeds by covering each sunflower head with some cheese cloth or a paper bag.
Even with the covering on, the flower heads should still dry sufficiently and the covering can also act as protection against any critters looking for some tasty seeds.
Drying Sunflower Heads On A Drying Rack
Another option for drying sunflower heads is to place them on a drying rack. Rather than hanging them upside down, this entails drying the heads flat.
This method works best if you only have a few sunflower heads. Wire shelving units work well for this technique as they allow for enough air circulation so the sunflower heads dry sufficiently and quickly.
But, wherever you choose to dry the flower heads, make sure they are placed in a dry, warm space so no mold can start to form. And, check up on the flower heads frequently, turning them over sporadically so all sides of the heads dry equally.
How Long Do You Need To Dry Sunflower Heads For?
The time it takes for sunflower heads to dry depends on various factors such as the humidity, temperature, and air circulation of the drying location, as well as the size of the sunflower head.
The larger the sunflower head, the longer it will generally take to dry. However, in general, it can take around two to four weeks for sunflower heads to dry completely.
During this time, it’s important to regularly check the sunflower heads for dryness by gently pressing on the seeds.
If the seeds feel hard and dry, and the petals and stem have turned brittle, then the sunflower heads are ready to be removed from the drying location and stored.
It’s worth noting that drying sunflower heads in a warm and dry location with good air circulation can help speed up the drying process.
On the other hand, drying in a cool and damp location may take longer and increase the risk of mold formation.
What Can You Use Sunflower Heads For?
Sunflowers serve a purpose beyond being admired in the sunlight and providing us with pleasure. They actually have several practical and decorative uses. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do with them below:
- Harvest the seeds – Sunflower seeds are a tasty and healthy snack, and can be used in a variety of recipes. To harvest the seeds, simply remove them from the dried sunflower head, and then roast or use them as desired.
- Use them in floral arrangements – Dried sunflower heads can be used in floral arrangements, wreaths, or as a natural decoration around the home. They add a natural, rustic touch to any setting. They can also bring some sunny memories back to you during fall and the colder months.
- Feed birds – Sunflower heads can be used as a natural bird feeder. Simply place the head on a pole or in a feeder, and let the birds enjoy the seeds.
- Craft projects – Sunflower heads can be used in various craft projects, such as making homemade bird feeders, or using them in dried flower arrangements (if you’re looking for ways to dry your flowers, check out our guide to using silica gel).
- Decorations – Dried sunflower heads can be painted or decorated to create unique and personalized decorations for your home or garden.
Even after they have matured, sunflower heads can be a versatile and useful resource, and there are many creative ways to use them.
Whether you are harvesting the seeds, using them for decoration, or using them in a craft project, sunflower heads can bring a spark of light and joy to your home, office, or wherever you wish to use them.
Do You Have To Dry Sunflower Heads To Feed Birds?
Sunflowers that are left to mature in yards and fields are soon devoured by birds and insects. They will enjoy feasting on the plant’s seeds until there is nothing left!
Over time, sunflower heads will decompose and turn to compost when exposed to the natural elements outdoors, especially wet weather. Eventually, they will become moldy and rot back into the soil.
Because the natural cycle of a sunflower sees it become compost, it is vital you harvest the sunflower heads before it’s too late and dry them for later use.
Whilst other sunflowers continue to rot, your dried sunflower heads can live on as decorative wreaths, bird food, or more.
All in all, drying sunflower heads before feeding them to birds is recommended. This is because fresh sunflower heads may contain moisture, which can promote the growth of mold or bacteria that can be harmful to birds.
It may take a few weeks for the sunflower heads to completely dry, depending on the humidity levels in your area, but the process is worth the wait for local wildlife.
Once you take the seeds from the sunflower head, you can simply place them directly into a bird feeder.
Or, as already discussed, you can simply hang the flower heads as they are on some wiring, a branch, or a railing, and watch on as birds come and feast on the seeds.
Sunflower seeds are a great source of nutrition for birds and are popular among many species, including finches, chickadees, and cardinals.
Drying sunflower heads is a handy way of preserving them for later use, be that to feed the seeds to birds or use them for decorative purposes.
As you can see above, harvesting and drying sunflower heads is relatively simple. You just need to harvest them at the right time and have some patience.
Let us know how you get on with drying your sunflower heads!