Can you grow the sunflower seeds you find in your bird mix? Sunflower seeds for birds are a popular garden treat for our feathered friends but maybe you’re worried about ending up with a field full of sunflowers! Or you may want to give growing sunflowers a go? Let’s find out if bird food sunflower seeds will actually amount to much.

Sunflower Seeds For Birds

First of all, it’s important to distinguish between the different types of sunflower seeds available for feeding birds.

In our shop, we stock:

We favour providing sunflower hearts over black sunflower as they’re even more nutritious for birds. Black sunflower seeds may grow if you plant them in the ground and provide the right conditions – they turn into lovely multi-headed sunflowers.

Sunflower hearts and heart chips have had their seed husk removed so will therefore never grow. These are a favourite with birds and are great for fledglings because of their smaller size. But, if you were expecting to grow sunflowers from nutritious hearts, you will be disappointed.

Wont Grow Bird Food

How does bird food end up germinating anyway?

Bird food sprouts and grows into plants – sometimes even when you’ve carefully filled feeders or placed food on a table because birds sift through food looking for their favourite bits. You may have spotted blackbirds doing this – they will pick up seeds, one by one, discarding the ones they don’t fancy! These discarded seeds end up on the ground and can germinate. Not every seed will germinate as seeds need the right conditions to grow – the right amount of light, heat etc but some will make it.

Now, if you don’t want anything to grow in your garden, you may be interested in purchasing a ‘won’t grow’ bird seed mix.

No mess mixes are specially formulated with ingredients that won’t ever germinate. The variety we sell contain sunflower hearts, kibbled maize, pinhead oats, and rapeseed oil. None of these food items will germinate so your garden will be free of pesky sunflowers and other unwanted plants.

a great tit eating sunflower seeds for birds from a hanging feeder

Growing Sunflowers From Bird Food

Now, if you want to grow sunflowers in your garden, you definitely can use the ones from bird food.

You won’t know which variety your sunflowers are but if you just want pretty plants then that won’t matter so much.

Here is what you will need to grow sunflowers from sunflower seeds for birds:

  • Small pots or a seed tray
  • Compost (always try to go for a peat-free one as it’s better for the environment!)
  • A clear plastic bag – a food bag is ideal.

Simply fill your pots or seed tray with compost, ensuring the soil is level and then give it a good water. It’s better to do this first so you don’t wash your seeds around!

You will then need to push your sunflower seeds into the soil, about an inch deep is right. This is much deeper than many other types of seed that like to germinate on top of the soil. It’s also the reason why sunflower seeds don’t often germinate by chance when they fall from a feeding station.

You should then cover the pot with a plastic bag – this will help generate a bit more warmth and help the soil retain moisture.

You should see germination fast – around 4-10 days. Once your seedlings have their first ‘true leaves, the ones that grow after the seeds first baby leaves have emerged, you can carefully remove the tiny plants from their pots and plant them in your garden! Once they’re off to a good start, sunflowers don’t require much care other than the odd drink if it’s warm.

Alternatively, once the last frosts have passed (usually around the end of April, start of May in the UK) you can plant seeds directly in your garden. Just watch out for slugs nibbling on the emerging seedlings.

a sunflower seedling emerging from the ground

Can You Feed Birds With Homegrown Sunflower Seeds?

If you manage to successfully grow your sunflowers, you will see them flower and then enjoy the magnificent seed heads that form. Each sunflower head can hold hundreds and hundreds of seeds!

Sunflowers produce way more seed than you will ever need to grow the plant again so it’s best to let the birds eat the leftover seeds. First, remove a few ripe seeds to save for planting next year (pop them in an envelope and store them in a cool, dry place) and then simply leave the rest of the seeds on the plant and let the birds enjoy their natural bird feeder. Goldfinches, in particular, love swinging around on sunflowers picking out the seeds!