Growing Sunflowers From Bird Seed: A Complete Guide

If you love feeding birds and growing sunflowers, you may have wondered if the leftover bird seed can be used to grow new sunflower plants. Bird seed often contains sunflower varieties with large seed coats that can potentially sprout and flourish.

With a few tips on harvesting, storing, and planting the seeds, you can enjoy beautiful sunflowers grown straight from bird food.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, you can absolutely grow sunflowers from the seeds found in bird seed mixes, provided you choose non-sterilized mixes with large sunflower varieties.

Choosing the Right Bird Seed

When it comes to growing sunflowers from bird seed, choosing the right type of bird seed is crucial. Here are some important factors to consider:

Seeking Out Unshelled Sunflower Seeds

For optimal results, it is recommended to use unshelled sunflower seeds. These seeds still have the outer shell intact, which provides extra protection for the seed and increases the chances of successful germination. Unshelled seeds can typically be found in most pet stores or garden centers.

Avoid Sterilized or Processed Seeds

Avoid using sterilized or processed bird seeds, as these may have undergone treatments that can hinder germination. Look for seeds that are labeled as “raw” or “natural” to ensure you are getting the best quality seeds for planting.

Selecting Specific Sunflower Types

Depending on your preferences, you may want to select specific sunflower types to grow from bird seed. There are various sunflower varieties available, ranging in size, color, and growth habit. Some popular choices include the giant sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dwarf sunflower (Helianthus annuus ‘Pacino’), and the red sunflower (Helianthus annuus ‘Red Sun’).

Consider the space you have available and the desired aesthetic when selecting the type of sunflower you want to grow.

For more information on different sunflower varieties, you can visit websites such as or

Harvesting and Preparing Seeds

Once your sunflowers have bloomed and the petals have fallen, it’s time to harvest the seeds. Harvesting and preparing sunflower seeds is a fun and rewarding process that allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

In this section, we will discuss some techniques for extracting the seeds, drying and storing them properly, and how to check for seed viability.

Techniques for Extracting Seeds

There are a few different methods you can use to extract the seeds from your sunflowers. One popular technique is to wait until the back of the flower head turns brown and starts to dry out. Then, cut the flower head from the stem and hang it upside down in a cool, dry place.

As the flower head continues to dry, the seeds will loosen and fall into a container placed underneath.

Another method is to gently rub the flower head with your hands or a brush to dislodge the seeds. This can be done directly into a container or onto a clean surface where you can easily collect the seeds.

Whichever method you choose, make sure to remove any remaining flower debris from the seeds before moving on to the next step.

Drying and Storing Seeds

After extracting the seeds, it’s important to dry them thoroughly before storing. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a clean, dry surface, such as a baking sheet or a tray lined with paper towels. Leave them in a well-ventilated area for about a week, or until they are completely dry.

Drying the seeds properly will help prevent mold or rot during storage.

Once the seeds are dry, transfer them to an airtight container, such as a glass jar or a sealable plastic bag. Store the container in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or a basement. Proper storage conditions are essential for maintaining seed viability and ensuring they stay fresh for future planting.

Check for Seed Viability

Before planting your harvested sunflower seeds, it’s a good idea to check for seed viability. This will help you determine if the seeds are still capable of germinating and growing into healthy plants. To check for viability, place a few seeds on a damp paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag.

Keep the bag in a warm location for about a week and check for signs of germination.

If most of the seeds sprout and show signs of growth, then they are viable and can be planted. However, if only a few or none of the seeds sprout, it may be best to purchase fresh seeds for a higher chance of successful germination.

Remember to label your stored seeds with the variety and the date harvested. This will help you keep track of the seeds and ensure you are planting the freshest ones each year.

Planting and Growing Sunflowers from Bird Seed

One of the most delightful and rewarding gardening experiences is growing sunflowers from bird seed. Watching these majestic flowers grow from a tiny seed to towering beauties can bring immense joy and satisfaction.

To ensure successful growth, it’s important to follow proper planting and growing guidelines.

Following Sunflower Growing Guidelines

When planting sunflowers from bird seed, it’s crucial to follow specific growing guidelines. Sunflowers require at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, so choose a spot in your garden that receives ample sunlight. Additionally, ensure the soil is well-drained and fertile.

Sunflowers thrive in soil that is rich in organic matter.

Before planting, prepare the soil by loosening it with a garden fork or tiller. Remove any weeds or stones that may hinder the growth of your sunflowers. Mixing in compost or well-rotted manure can also provide additional nutrients to the soil.

When it comes to spacing, sunflowers need plenty of room to grow. Plant the seeds at least one to two feet apart, depending on the variety. This will allow each sunflower to receive adequate nutrients and prevent overcrowding.

Watering is crucial during the initial stages of growth. Make sure to water the seeds thoroughly after planting and continue to water regularly throughout the growing season. However, be careful not to overwater, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot.

Direct Sow vs Starting Indoors

When deciding how to plant your sunflowers, you have two options: direct sow or start indoors. Direct sowing involves planting the seeds directly into the ground where you want them to grow. This method is ideal if you have a large outdoor space and want to enjoy the full experience of watching your sunflowers grow from seed to flower.

On the other hand, starting sunflowers indoors allows for more controlled conditions and gives the plants a head start before transplanting them outdoors. This method is especially useful in areas with shorter growing seasons or if you want to get a jump start on the growing process.

To start sunflowers indoors, sow the seeds in biodegradable pots or peat pots filled with seed-starting mix. Place the pots in a sunny location or under a grow light. Once the seedlings have grown to about two inches tall and all danger of frost has passed, they can be transplanted outdoors.

Transplanting Seedlings

Transplanting sunflower seedlings requires careful handling to avoid damaging the delicate roots. Before transplanting, prepare the soil by removing any weeds and loosening it with a garden fork. Dig a hole slightly wider and deeper than the root ball of the seedling.

Gently remove the seedling from its pot, being careful not to disturb the roots. Place the seedling in the hole, making sure it is at the same depth as it was in the pot. Backfill the hole with soil, lightly pressing it down to eliminate any air pockets.

After transplanting, water the seedling thoroughly to help it establish in its new location. Continue to water regularly and provide support, such as a stake or trellis, as the sunflower grows taller.

By following these guidelines and choosing the right method for planting – whether direct sow or starting indoors – you can successfully grow sunflowers from bird seed. Soon, your garden will be adorned with these stunning flowers, attracting not only birds but also admirers of your gardening skills.

Caring for Sunflowers Grown from Bird Seed

Once you’ve successfully grown sunflowers from bird seed, it’s important to provide them with the proper care to ensure their health and longevity. By understanding their sunlight, water, and soil needs, as well as implementing fertilization and pruning tips, you can help your sunflowers thrive.

Additionally, taking preventative measures against pests and diseases will help keep your sunflowers healthy and beautiful.

Sunlight, Water, and Soil Needs

Sunflowers are sun-loving plants, so it’s essential to provide them with at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Choose a location in your garden that receives ample sunlight and has well-draining soil.

Sunflowers prefer loamy soil, but they can tolerate various soil types as long as they are well-drained. Amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve its fertility and drainage.

When it comes to watering, sunflowers need consistent moisture, especially during their early growth stages. Water them deeply once or twice a week, providing enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of six inches. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot.

Mulching around the base of the sunflowers can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.

Fertilization and Pruning Tips

While sunflowers generally do not require heavy fertilization, a nutrient boost during their growth stages can promote healthier and more robust plants. Before planting, incorporate a balanced fertilizer into the soil according to the package instructions.

Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizers, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flower production.

As your sunflowers grow, you may need to provide additional support to prevent them from toppling over. Tall varieties may benefit from staking or tying them to a sturdy support structure. Pruning sunflowers is not necessary unless you want to harvest their seeds.

In that case, allow the flower heads to dry on the stalks, then cut them off and hang them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area to complete the seed drying process.

Pest and Disease Prevention

Like all plants, sunflowers are susceptible to pests and diseases. However, by taking preventative measures, you can minimize the risk of infestations and infections. Regularly inspect your sunflowers for signs of pests such as aphids, slugs, or caterpillars.

If you spot any, remove them by hand or use an organic insecticidal soap. Providing proper spacing between plants can also help improve air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal diseases.

It’s always a good idea to rotate your sunflowers with other plant families each year to prevent the buildup of pests and diseases in the soil. Additionally, practicing good garden hygiene, such as removing debris and fallen leaves, can help reduce the risk of fungal infections.

If you notice any signs of disease, such as wilting or discoloration, promptly remove the affected plants to prevent further spread.

By following these care tips, you can ensure that your sunflowers grown from bird seed thrive and provide a stunning display in your garden. Remember to enjoy the process and take pride in your beautiful sunflowers!

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds and Blooms

Harvesting sunflower seeds and blooms is an exciting and rewarding process for any gardener. Not only do you get to enjoy the vibrant and cheerful blooms, but you also get the chance to collect and save the seeds for future planting.

Here’s a complete guide on how to harvest sunflower seeds and blooms successfully.

Timing the Seed Harvest

Timing is crucial when it comes to harvesting sunflower seeds. You want to wait until the flower heads have fully matured and the back of the flower head turns brown or yellow. This is an indication that the seeds are ready to be harvested.

To test if the seeds are mature, gently press your fingernail against one of the seeds. If it leaves an indentation, the seeds are not ready yet, but if it remains intact, you can proceed with the harvest.

It’s important to note that birds love sunflower seeds, so if you want to save them for yourself, it’s best to harvest them before the birds get to them. Keep an eye on the flower heads and start the harvest as soon as they begin to dry out.

Cutting Sunflower Blooms

To cut sunflower blooms, use a pair of sharp garden shears or scissors. Choose blooms that are fully open and have vibrant colors. Cut the stem about 6 to 8 inches below the flower head to ensure you have enough stem to work with.

Once you’ve cut the blooms, you can use them for various purposes. They make beautiful additions to floral arrangements, can be dried for decorative purposes, or even used to make sunflower oil. Allow the cut blooms to air dry for a few days before using or storing them.

Saving Seeds from Mature Plants

To save seeds from mature sunflower plants, start by cutting off the flower heads once they have fully dried out on the stalk. Place a paper bag over the flower head and secure it with a rubber band. Hang the flower heads upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area for a few weeks, allowing the seeds to fully dry out.

After the seeds are completely dry, gently rub the flower head to loosen the seeds. Remove the seeds from the flower head and discard any debris. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place in airtight containers, such as glass jars or plastic bags. Properly stored sunflower seeds can last for up to a year.

For more detailed information on harvesting sunflower seeds and blooms, you can visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides a wealth of information on gardening, including tips and techniques for successful seed harvesting.


With a bit of planning, the satisfying crunch of bird seed can quickly transform into beautiful, towering sunflower plants. Follow best practices for harvesting, storing, planting, and caring for the seeds, and you’ll soon enjoy sunflowers grown straight from your bird feeder.

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