Why Are My Sunflower Seeds White? What it Means + How to Fix

It isn’t surprising many home gardeners try to bring a ray of sunshine into their garden by cultivating their own sunflowers. But when they go to harvest sunflower seeds for next year (or for eating), the seeds appear white, and not like the seeds you see sold in nurseries or in the store. It often leads them to ask why are my sunflower seeds white?

Your sunflower seeds may be white because :

  • you harvested the seeds while they were too immature,
  • you are using an inefficient flower drying technique, or
  • your seeds are not drying out properly, leading to unviable seeds.
Why are my sunflower seeds white

Whatever the reason, it is obvious your sunflower harvesting technique can be improved. Fortunately, you have stumbled across our article which is going to help you become a sunflower growing master.

We’ll discuss the common mistakes home gardeners make when harvesting sunflower seeds, tips for caring and protecting your sunflower seeds, and what to do with them after a successful harvest.

So, grab a coffee because we’re about to get our garden study on in a big way!

Why Are My Sunflower Seeds White? [ANSWER]

We touched on a few possible reasons why your sunflower seeds are white, instead of the usual black color, or black and white striped seeds we’re more accustomed to seeing.

In this section, we’ll cover these reasons in more detail by discussing the mistakes some home gardeners make when they harvest sunflower seeds.

Your Seeds Need More Time

sunflower seeds too immature with green seed disc and seeds too young
Sunflower Harvested Too Early

One of the more common reasons why you have white seeds is because you may have been a bit overzealous and harvested your sunflowers too soon.

As they develop, sunflower seeds begin as tiny pale white seeds. As your sunflower grows, and ages, so do the seeds. They form their dark, hardened skin as the sunflower wilts and dies while the flower is still attached to the main stem.

Many gardeners will cut off the sunflowers and hang them upside down inside to prevent birds and other pests from eating the seeds. But, if you cut the flower head off too soon, the seeds won’t have time to mature.

SOLUTION – if you think this is the cause of your sunflower’s white seeds, try covering your sunflowers with brown paper bags. This way, your seeds have time to mature, while also protecting against potential seed thieves.

Ineffective Flower Drying Technique

It may not be obvious at first, however the method you use to dry your sunflower heads after you have cut them from the main stem can greatly impact your finished product.

Simply leaving your freshly cut sunflowers lying in a pile tucked away in your garden shed will cause issues.

First and foremost, the flower heads will not dry out properly, leading to excess moisture in the seeds and surrounding environment.

Secondly, the built-up moisture can encourage mold and disease to grow, which will contaminate your sunflower seeds eventually destroying your entire harvest.

SOLUTION – we like to pretend that we are commercial sunflower seed producers and act like we are operating a business. If sunflower seeds were our business, we’d treat them like royalty, right?

String your sunflowers upside down from a string in an out-of-the-way space that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, but still has sufficient airflow to deter mold from growing. Allow plenty of space between each sunflower, so they can dry effectively.

Incorrect Preparation of Seeds

Sunflower seeds for eating
Are you preparing your sunflower seeds properly?

Now this mistake only applies to you if you are harvesting your sunflower seeds for consumption purposes.

If you are discovering your sunflower seeds are still pale white and squishy (doesn’t hold their shape well) when you peel them, your preparation methods may be askew (or they may not be ready for eating).

SOLUTION – The traditional way of consuming sunflower seeds is roasting them in an oven at 300 °F (approx 150 °C) for 45 minutes (35 minutes if your oven is fan forced).

Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw. The seeds will be white when you peel away the outside shell, but the texture should still be moist, firm and tender (as opposed to dry and crunchy once they are roasted).

How do you Know When to Harvest the Seeds?

So how do you know when the right time is to harvest your sunflower seeds?

There are a few tell-tale signs you can use as a guide for finding the right time for harvesting your seeds.

Sunflowers have died back

Sunflowers ready for seed harvest
Sunflowers ready for seed harvest

Once you notice your sunflowers beginning to wilt and die back, you can begin to mentally prepare your sunflower seed harvesting processes. Signs of die back include:

  • petals wilting and falling off, and
  • the sunflower head begins to droop and face towards the ground.

Here’s a video by AZ2Ozarks describing when to begin harvesting sunflower seeds.

While you are waiting for your sunflower to be ready, spend some time deciding where you are going to store your sunflowers to dry and mature. Maybe even get a head start and give the area a clean in anticipation of the haul of sunflowers you’re about to collect.

But try not to get ahead of yourself. There is one more signal to wait for before you can behead your sunflowers.

Sunflower Disc Color Changes

The other signal that your sunflower is ready for harvesting is when the back of the flower (often referred to as the seed disc) changes color.

As the flower begins to die and dry out, the seed disc will change from green to yellow, and finally turn brown when it is fully dry.

Depending on your method of harvesting, there are two points at which you can de-head your sunflower from the main stem.

If you are planning to cut and dry your sunflower off the stem, then cut the sunflower off when the seed disc is a yellow color.

However, if you prefer to mature the sunflower seeds while the flower is still attached to the main stem, wait for the seed disc to turn a completely brown color.

NOTE – if you are planning to pursue the latter route, make sure you protect your sunflowers from birds and other pests raiding your crops.

Wait for your Sunflower Seeds to Mature

Finally, the last sign that your seeds are ready is when they begin to plump up. You will notice the seeds begin to swell, and even become a bit loose in the seed head.

You can test some seeds by trying to loosen them from the seed disc. If it comes out easily, then it is a good sign that they are ready.

How to Harvest Sunflowers and Their Seeds

Now you know how to tell when to harvest your sunflower seeds, let’s look at the process of harvesting the seeds from the garden.

Plump Sunflower Seeds
Plump Ripe Sunflower Seeds

Here is a step-by-step guide for harvesting sunflower seeds:

  1. When your sunflowers are ready for harvesting (refer above for signs to look for), with a pair of thick garden gloves, take a pair of sharp garden scissors and cut each flower from the main stem. Make the incision approximately one foot down the stem.
  2. The next step is to dry them out. String the sunflower heads upside down from a string in your prepared drying area. Ensure there is plenty of air flow through the space to prevent mold from growing. We like to string the sunflowers up a foot apart along the string to give them plenty of room for circulation.
  3. After 3-4 days, your sunflowers should be completely dry, and the seeds ready for harvesting. Over a large container (or bucket), rub your fingers over the seed discs to loosen the seeds and collect them in the container.
  4. Once you have collected all the sunflower seeds, we need to prepare them for storage. In a colander, wash the seeds thoroughly under water and remove any debris that may have fallen into the container.
  5. Empty the wet seeds onto a surface and allow them to dry. We recommend gently patting them down with paper towel to speed up the drying process (and again prevent any mold from growing).
  6. Once dry, store your sunflower seeds in airtight containers, out of direct sunlight.

Final Thoughts on Why are My Sunflower Seeds White

Sunflowers have to be one of the most iconic flowers around the world. They are tall, bright and beautiful. They exude happiness and never fail to awe passers-by when they see a field of blooming sunflowers.