Growing Stages of Sunflowers: A Journey from Seed to Flower

The growing stages of sunflowers are an impressive process that the plant goes through during it’s lifecycle. These stages mark different points of development and result in unique changes in the plant’s appearance. Every stage is essential to the plant’s life and beauty as a flower.

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What are the Growing Stages of Sunflowers?

The growing stages of sunflowers are germination, seedling, vegetative growth, bud formation, flowering, and harvest stages. Each one of these individual stages of growth serve an important purpose in the life of the sunflower.


Germination is a key part of the stages of growth, as this is when the plant’s life begins. The seed will begin to absorb moisture from the surrounding soil and soften it’s shell. This will allow for nutrients and water to enter and start the growing process. The seed will produce a root that will grow and connect itself to the soil. A small stem with two little leaves will begin to grow out of the shell of the seed. It then pushes up toward the surface of the soil to get toward the light.

Sunflowers will typically germinate in about one to two weeks after planting them. To germinate quickly and successfully, it is advisable to make sure that the soil temperature stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Optimally, sunflower seeds will germinate best when the soil temperature is above 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 30 degrees Celsius).

Seedling Stage

The Seedling Stage of the Sunflower Growth Stages

The seedling stage is the next phase in the growing stages of sunflowers. It is the most delicate state that the flower is going to be in during its lifecycle. The plant has to make it through this period and grow stronger. You will watch your plant begin to make more true leaves, which are the leaves that grow after the original two leaves that emerge from the soil. These will give the plant the typical look of the sunflower. At this point, the plant is trying to make as many leaves as possible to get energy from the sun to help it grow. As this stage comes to an end, you will want to harden your plants off if you started them indoors.

Read our article on what is hardening off and how to do it!

Vegetative Growth

Vegetative Growth during the Sunflower Growing Stages

Next is the vegetative growth stage, where the sunflower will begin putting all of it’s effort into growing the stem and foliage. This new foliage will allow the plant to gather more energy from the sun. During this stage, the sunflower plant will continue to get taller and stronger as time goes on. You may see the leaves begin to grow larger and broader and the root system get stronger and more robust.

Bud Formation

Bud Formations during the Sunflower Growth Stages

Once your plant has reached maturity and produces plenty of foliage, you will start to see the formation of a bud beginning to grow. This is a really exciting time in the growing stages of sunflowers because your flower is close to finally emerging after the long wait. In this stage, it’s extremely important that your sunflower gets plenty of sunlight and water. You should make sure to give your sunflower about an inch of water per week. You may need to water more during periods of extreme temperature or drought. Therefore, make sure that your sunflower’s soil stays moist. You may even notice that your sunflower tends to follow the sun as it moves across the sky!

Flowering Stage

Flowering Stage during the Sunflower Growth Stages

The flowering stage is the long awaited point in development where the bud finally opens to reveal the beauty of the sunflower. A sunflower plant will generally stay bloomed and beautiful for a few weeks time until it begins to dry out. During this stage, pollinators will begin to frequent the bloomed sunflowers to feed. Pollen will be transferred from sunflower to sunflower during this process, resulting in the fertilization of the flowers. The seeds will begin to develop once fertilization is complete. The seeds must ripen in order for them to be capable of growing new flowers next growing season. At this stage, you may begin to see birds trying to eat your sunflower seeds, as this is a favorite food for them!

Harvesting Stage

Dried sunflower ready for harvest during the ending of the sunflower growth stages

You will begin to see the flower dry out, turn brown, and begin to droop downwards during this stage. Sunflowers are harvested at the end of the growing stages for one of two reasons. One reason is to deadhead the plant and gather seeds for the next season. Sunflowers generally provide an abundance of seeds, so you should be able to harvest plenty. The other reason you may want to harvest the sunflower seeds from the plant is for food for yourself or animals.

To harvest a sunflower, you should wait until the head of the sunflower has entirely dried out. The back of the head will turn from a yellow to brown color. If the back of the head still appears green, then the flower is not ready to be harvested. The sunflower seeds will appear to have hardened and may have loosened from the head. At this point, you should remove a few seeds in order to check if they are ready.

If the seeds seem ready for harvest, cut the head of the flower off from the stem with sharp garden shears. Rub your hand against the harvested sunflower to release and collect the dried seeds. It is recommended that you do this over a collection bin or bucket so you don’t lose any. You will now be able to save them for next season, feed them to animals, or roast the seeds to eat them. This completes the growing stages of sunflowers and the amazing period of transformation!

Article Sources:

Sunflowers. University of Minnesota Extension