How to Deadhead Sunflowers (3 Simple Steps)
Sunflowers, some of summer’s most beautiful flowers, provide a stunning backdrop for family photos and energetic arrangements indoors. Learning how to deadhead sunflowers makes it easy to extend the sunflower bloom season longer into the fall.
Discover all about the benefits of deadheading sunflowers, when to do it, and tips for removing spent blooms.
Read More: What Is Deadheading and What Flowers Do You Deadhead.
Do You Deadhead Sunflowers?
If you’re wondering, “should I deadhead sunflowers,” the answer depends on your intentions for your garden.
First, determine whether you plan to collect seeds from your sunflowers or if you’d rather enjoy more blooms and a longer sunflower growing season.
If you want a longer flowering season, plan to deadhead sunflowers. Cutting back the spent blooms encourages new flower shoots to grow.
If you’d prefer to have sunflower seeds for roasting or future planting, do not cut the spent sunflower heads until they are dry and brown.
Benefits of Deadheading Sunflowers
Numerous sunflower deadheading benefits make a convincing argument for removing spent sunflower heads.
- Encourage more sunflowers to grow.
- Extend the growing season for your sunflowers.
- Enhance the appearance of your garden with a neater look.
- Removing spent blooms allows the plant’s energy to go to other sunflowers instead.
- Deter birds and squirrels from foraging for seeds.
Of course, if you would like seeds for your own uses, or even as birdseed, it makes sense to let several sunflower heads go to seed!
When to Deadhead Sunflowers
The best plan for when to deadhead sunflowers if you’d like to keep the flowers blooming is to cut the heads off when the flower fades.
Removing the flower heads before the seeds mature encourages the plant to keep making more flowers. It also tidies up the garden and prevents unexpected “volunteers” from growing next spring.
Some signs of when to deadhead sunflowers:
- The sunflower head lost most of its petals.
- The bloom faded and looks spent.
- The vibrance is gone and a dull flower head remains.
- The sunflower head is sagging over heavily.
- The sunflowers are no longer attractive and appealing in your garden.
Depending on when you start your sunflowers from seed or small plants, you may expect to deadhead sunflowers in the mid to late summer or early fall.
How to Deadhead Sunflowers
Deadheading sunflowers is easy. Consider wearing gloves to protect your hands and choose a sharp pruning tool to effortlessly remove spent blooms.
Follow these steps to deadhead sunflowers:
- Investigate the stem to ensure you leave as many leaf nodes intact as possible. The new growth will come from these.
- Use pruners or a snipping tool to cut the peduncle (the stem leading to the sunflower head) about a half-inch above the new leaves / leaf joint.
- Remove and discard the sunflower deadhead.
The new blooms that come through after deadheading may be smaller or otherwise different from the original blooms.
Still, you may enjoy a beautiful sunflower, prolific seeds, or a combination of the two.
If you are extra lucky, your growing season may award you with another chance to deadhead sunflowers for even more blooms.
Sunflower Deadheading Video
What Happens if an Animal Eats the Top of the Sunflower?
Sometimes an animal like a bunny or a groundhog eats the top of the sunflower. If this happens and true, healthy leaves remain undamaged on the stem, two new sunflower blooms may grow from that single stem.
While not the same as deadheading, you still have hopes for new flowers to form during the season.
Last year a groundhog or a rabbit ravaged our gardens and ate at least one of our sunflowers just this way. And we did end up with two sunflowers on that stem!
Teddy Bear Sunflowers
Teddy Bear Sunflowers produce showy flowers with delightfully textured blooms. These gorgeous sunflowers are a welcome addition to your annual summer landscape or cutting garden!
These sunflowers grow several to a stalk. Deadheading teddy bear sunflowers will extend your plant’s blooming season while also increasing the size of the flowers.
Teddy bears make lovely cut flowers to enjoy in your home or give to a friend or neighbor to brighten their day. Be sure to deadhead so you can get as many as flowers as possible!
Dwarf Sunflowers Deadheading
Likewise, deadheading dwarf sunflowers (and other varieties!) will improve the quality of your garden and the length of bloom time.
Soon deadheaded dwarf sunflowers should also begin to produce additional blooms. These flowers become lovely choices for cut flower arrangements in the summertime!
Some gardeners suggest pinching the top of the plant sometime after the true leaves emerge as a form of pruning. This helps to encourage a bushier plant with more than one sunflower at a time.
How to Deadhead Sunflowers: Final Thoughts
Deadheading sunflowers is so easy and rewarding that it’s a no-brainer if you have time for it in your own garden. Be sure to deadhead Mexican sunflowers, too.
While you’re fixing for a longer bloom season, don’t forget to deadhead zinnias and deadhead marigolds, too. You’ll enjoy many more flowers throughout the season!
We loved cutting our sunflowers to give to our friends and our daughters’ teachers! This, too, acts similarly to deadheading, as new blooms will begin to grow on these deadheaded plants as long as you have some leaf nodes left.
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What to Do with Dead Sunflowers & Seed Heads
After all this deadheading, you are sure to have a stockpile of sunflower seed heads.
Dealing with dead sunflowers isn’t quite as much fun as enjoying the repeat bloomers! Still, it’s a beautiful part of the gardening experience.
At the end of the season, it is time to figure out what to do with sunflower heads and other dead plant matter. Here are the best ways to deal with dead sunflowers.
1. Save Seeds for Growing and Swapping.
All those deadheads are probably chock-full of sunflower seeds that you can save for next year! Keep as many as you like and store them until you can plant even more sunflowers in the new season ahead.
Sunflower seeds also tend to be popular in seed swaps, as so many people love the gorgeous sunflower.
2. Decorate for Fall with Sunflower Heads.
Intermingle ripe sunflower heads along with your decorative pumpkins and other fall décor. Brimming with seeds, sunflower heads look stunning alongside stacking pumpkins and other autumn decorations.
Use the spent sunflower heads for decorations inside and out around your home and property this fall. Paired with other fall décor, the seed heads would add a fun and festive vibe.
3. Try Making Grilled Sunflower Heads.
If the sunflower plant is still alive and the seeds are ripe for picking, why not?! You can try grilling sunflower heads to enjoy the seeds as a healthy snack!
4. Feed the Seeds to the Birds.
Leave the seed heads out somewhere the birds and squirrels can find them. You can also pop some seeds out and throw them in your feeders.
Or, if you have a ton of sunflower seed heads, harvest the seeds and save them in bird seed storage containers to use throughout the winter!
5. Rip out the Whole Plant.
Once the entire sunflower plant is spent and no longer producing blooms, you can remove it from the garden. Depending on the size, you may need to dig up the soil to get the strong taproot out.
Once the dead sunflower is out, you can try composting or drop it off to be recycled into mulch if your township offers this service. Or, feel free to use it as a creative support structure in your garden.
Do you deadhead sunflowers? We’d love to hear about your tips and experiences in the comments below. And please be sure to share this out on social to your gardening friends or bookmark for future use.
10.05.22 – Updated to add new photos. Improved spacing a bit and resized photos to full size. Added video. Added section on what to do with dead sunflowers and seed heads and added photos to match.
My small sun flowers have giant leaves can I dead head them still
Hi Pauline! I believe if they’ve already bloomed and the leaves look healthy, you should be successful in deadheading. You can usually encourage new sunflower blooms if you remove the spent flower heads. The plants should divert their energy into new growth and new blooms once the old spent blooms are gone. (instead of producing seeds) Good luck and feel free to let us know how it goes!
I worry about the remaining stem being exposed open. I cut one and it now has a big living inside comfortably. Mine are the hybrid/patio style that bloom several dozen to a stem from burpee. The first blooms are all spent but I’m nervous. Any advice?
Thanks for your comment! Those sound beautiful – they sound like the ones my friend has on her deck. Do you think you can get a picture of the bug and the cut stem area so I can see what you’re working with?
I have successfully removed some squash bugs and insect eggs with duct tape recently. I would probably try to remove that bug by hand or tape if you can, even if you have to snip a bit more stem. Then check daily for new pests. I’m thinking it could be a one-off, but curious what kind of bug is bugging your sunflowers!
When you cut the spent blooms, it should encourage new growth and future blooms from the leaf nodes below the ones you snip. Toward the end of the season, leave your blooms on so they can mature into seeds you can plant again next year. 🙂 Let me know if you have a photo or any other questions!
This is my first time growing sunflowers, I grew a dwarf “bush” variety. I was just wondering, how long do the blossoms normally last once they open? The first flower on one of my plants opened about 10 days ago and I noticed today that it’s losing petals 🙁 Is this normal?
So sorry for the delay – I am traveling but wanted to get back to you. Best wishes with your sunflowers! They are so much fun to grow. I would love to grow this variety but our local stores appear sold out. As far as I know, the blooms should last 2-3 weeks generally and slightly less if cut for an arrangement, so starting to drop petals at 10 days is probably still in range by the time they really fade… but your mileage may vary. Check for pests – we had a bad caterpillar infestation on our sunflowers last year. Another thing – are they getting a good amount of water? (Check the soil a few times per week to see if it’s super dry.) Let us know how it goes! Good luck!
I have a potted dwarf sunflower gifted. I kept it watered while inside. It started to seemingly die. I put it outside…. Continued to keep it wet. Cut off dead flowers. Now I have two new tiny flowers coming in nicely. Should I cut out the seemingly dried up stem?? Not sure why some of the many new baby flowers never openend…to full blown flowers. I seem to loose them before they fully bloom… Not sure what to do…
Hi Beverly, great to hear from you! Has your sunflower perked up at all since moving it outside? Sometimes without enough direct sunlight when growing indoors, sunflowers may not thrive and may not develop healthy blooms. Moving outside should help in time if lack of sunlight is part of the issue!
Cutting off the dead flowers should give your sunflower a new lease on life, but it may help to prune off some of the dry, dead leaves or stems, too. I just bought a potted mini sunflower from the clearance rack and snipped off the dead flowers and brown leaves and stems, and new growth is already apparent less than a week later. I’d like to add that some of its small flower buds never bloomed, but I think that is because it was not properly watered at the store. It sounds like watering is not your dilemma.
Does the dried out stem have any green growth above? I am hopeful you have some healthy green stems, too. I would just use caution and try at first to remove no more than 1/3 of the plant at a time when pruning (less, if possible), if that much is dry and brown.
Some other things to consider:
– Moving into brighter light may solve the problem for you in time.
– A larger pot with quality potting mix could help, if it might be outgrowing the current one.
– A bit of water-in fertilizer may help for a pick-me-up.
– Look closely for pests, fungi, discoloration, etc.
– Consider using a popsicle stick to help monitor soil moisture – you can see if the stick is damp or dry to help you decide how much/often to water.
I hope this is helpful. Thanks for your comment. Wishing you much luck in increasing the blooms on your dwarf sunflower! Happy Gardening!
Hey Kate! I think this above comment would help. I bought two of the upright annual sunflower like bush, they haven’t last long in our arizona summer despite watering every day. I think I need to trim it up but unsure where to trim with so many flowers and seemingly dead ones ? It doesn’t seem to have a photo upload spot but would love to send you one!
Hi Megan! Thanks so much for your comment – I am more than happy to help! Please email me a photo at [email protected] and I’ll take a look! Also, I noticed not all soil mixes are created equal when buying from stores like Lowes, etc. I have a pot of zinnias and bush style sunflowers like you mentioned, and the peat-like mix dries out really quickly. I plan to pot them up into a bigger pot with a little extra soil that will hopefully help retain some moisture. I’ll look forward to your photo! – Kate
This is the first time growing sunflowers and they are dead now do we just mow down with lawnmower and hope they go back next year?
Hi! First time having sunflowers! Moved into a home with a garden with not much planted. Part of the garden they had bird seed for their kitty to warch birds.. now I have sunflowers! How do I get seeds to replant?! One flower is starting to wilt, no seeds.. again first timer here with no gardening experience hardly at all!! They’re beautiful and I want them every year!
Hi Sara! Congrats on your home and surprise batch of sunflowers! It’s really fun when something grows that you weren’t expecting. Wilting is a sign that your sunflower is almost spent. Since it’s October, I would recommend for best chance of viable seeds, that you should leave the sunflower heads on the plant until they are dry and yellowing or brown at the back of the sunflower head. You should be able to check every few days to see if the sunflowers have any plump, viable seeds inside. Some are all black, some are striped – the original seed can give you a clue to what you’re looking for. Once the sunflower head is mostly brown or yellowed and the seeds are plump and the correct color, you can cut the sunflower head off and manually remove the seeds for saving! (I have a post on harvesting sunflower seeds, too, if that would be helpful!)
Good luck and I hope you enjoy your home and new gardens!
How does one know when seeds are there and can I dig out the sole Sunflower (a seed must have been dropped by a bird because I didn’t plant Sunflowers) but love it It is a giant one but I love it but now don’t know how to keep it
Hi Ina! Thanks for stopping by. Great question! The sunflower seeds are usually there shortly after the sunflower bloom fades / loses petals. Check the back of the sunflower where it attaches to the stem – if you notice that area has become a bit yellowed or dry, there’s a good chance the seeds are mature or almost ready. You can also try picking just one seed out to check its thickness and coloring. (Birds are pros at picking the seeds out!)
As far as saving it – many sunflowers are annuals and may not come back again unless you plant seeds or if seeds have fallen. Here in PA we are reaching the end of our growing season and mine have already died back. If you have a greenhouse or similar and want to try moving it just to see what happens, just be aware that sunflowers usually have a long taproot in the center which helps hold them to the ground as they grow tall. You’ll probably have to dig deep!
Love to know how it goes!
While I do wish you had provided some pictures to go along with your description of dead-heading, I really appreciate all this info and the beautiful pictures you did include in the article! Thank you so much for doing this for us.
Hi Ella, thanks for the very helpful and thoughtful feedback. I believe I do have photos of the actual sunflower deadheading process and I will make a point to find those and add them to the post. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions. I will try to email you to let you know of the photos once I add them. I’m really glad you brought it to my attention. Happy Gardening!
I bought fully mature and flowering sunflowers/potted at Home Depot. They are about 5′ tall and pots seem small. What do you think about repotting them directly in the ground?
Hi Thom, great to hear from you – good find!! I am confident you should be able to successfully replant the sunflowers from the pots into the ground! I’ve done so and they generally do a bit better once they have more space. 🙂 Just keep an eye on their leaves for clues how they’re doing after planting. Make sure to water when you do transplant! Best of luck!