The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray
the Times 

Harvesting Sunflower & Zinnia Seeds


August 15, 2019

Brianna Wray

About 30-45 days after bloom, the heads will begin to ripen, changing color from green to yellow and the bracts will begin to dry and brown.


Sunflower seeds are among the easiest to recognize and make for an inviting harvest for first time gardeners. Most species are drought and heat tolerant which puts them in the category of "foolproof."

They attract the birds and the bees. They also make great cut flowers and their seeds are yummy snacks.

Tall sunflower species and cultivars, especially the mammoth variety, require extra support. Use bamboo stakes, twine or grow the flowers along a fence line and anchor blooms to the fence posts.

They're annuals, so their time to thrive is summer. Plant them after the danger of frost has passed in spring and be sure to reap all the seeds before fall. Leaving the heads on the stalks will attract the interest of even more birds as well as squirrels.

Sunflower heads are ripe when the backs of the flower heads change color, and the petals wither, usually about 40-45 days after initial bloom.

Sunflowers are said to evoke thoughts of adoration. Probably because they are heliotropic, meaning they turn their flower heads to follow the movement of the sun across the sky.

They prefer a somewhat alkaline soil at a pH range from 6.0 to 7.5 and can be prone to powdery mildew and aphids. For mildew, spray a general garden fungicide. For aphids, spray a combination of soap and water.

Protect the sunflowers from birds by covering the heads with cheesecloth and a rubber band. Once seed moisture is 35% or below, harvest by cutting the head off the plant. Or cut them off early and hang upside down to dry. Remove seeds from the head using a fork or fingers.

For eating, the seeds must be dried on the plants. Rub the seeds off and soak them overnight in a gallon of water to which a cup of salt has been added, then dry them again in an oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 to 5 hours. Store them in an airtight container.


Zinnias come in every color except blue. They have continued to thrive through our hot weather all summer long, drawing butterflies, hummingbirds, and big buzzing bumblebees to the garden while other flowers have come and gone. The presence of zinnia is known to deter deer, making them a good companion plant for herbs and plants that may need protecting.

Brianna Wray

Dried sunflower heads are ready to harvest when seed moisture is below 35%. The seeds make great gifts and nutritious snacks.

From seed, zinnia stems sprout in 5-10 days and flower in 60-70 days. Some say zinnias should be thinned to 9-12 inches apart, but several varieties are safe for mass plantings.

Zinnias are not frost tolerant and therefore should be planted after Mother's Day, preferably right in the bed as they're not particularly transplant tolerant, either.

They like full, unadulterated sunlight in well drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. While they enjoy the sun, they will not tolerate drought as their leaves begin to look diminished without daily watering.

Picking spent blooms prolongs the blooming season, but they are annuals, so there's no coming back. To save seeds for the following year, leave some flowers to dry on the stem.

It's said that zinnias symbolize thoughts of absent friends, perhaps they'll haunt your garden.



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