What is eating my sunflower leaves is a question that gardeners who are desperately looking for help would ask, as their beautiful sunflowers are being attacked by unknown pests.
Well, the pests are not unknown, you only need to check for them at the right place and time. Read this article to see the pests of your sunflowers.
- What Is Eating The Sunflower Leaves?
- How To Stop Sunflower Leaves From Being Eaten?
What Is Eating The Sunflower Leaves?
The most common pests that eat sunflower leaves are squirrels, deer, rabbits, mice, voles, chipmunks, finches, aphids, weevils, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, bees, ants, etc. In addition, it could even be snails, slugs, thrips, or the larvae of the moth, which would leave a bite on the sunflower leaves.
These are very common insects that you can find in your garden on the leaves of your sunflowers and other plants. They are sap-sucking, so while you may not see large bite marks on the leaves, as you would see the leaves and plants generally dying, as a result.
Well, it is easy to tell that there are aphids on your sunflower leaves as it would be clear that you’d see them on the leaves, petioles, stems, and other parts of the plants.
– Weevils and Beetles
You are likely to find click beetles or their larvae called wire worms on your sunflower leaves. Depending on your location, there is a wide variety of beetles and weevils that attack sunflower leaves. While they are flying insects, you will notice that the insects do more walking and usually stay on the leaves for a long time.
The holes in the leaves caused by sunflower beetles are without patterns and appear in any shape and size, depending on how long the beetle has spent on the leaves. You are more likely to find weevils on your sunflowers when they produce flowers.
– Moth Larvae
If you can find owlet moths around your sunflowers, you can check for their larvae in a few weeks because those moths love laying their eggs around sunflowers. The moths themselves are not dangerous to your sunflowers, but the presence of their larvae is bad news to you because those caterpillars are very disastrous.
The larvae do not stop eating and will move from one leaf to another until your sunflowers look leafless. The latter would get them to grow and mature.
They would dig the leaves from the edges, and the bite marks on the leaves look straight. If you can find one of the larvae on your sunflower leaves, note that there are a lot more, and you just need to be more observant to find them.
– Butterfly Caterpillars
Just like moth larvae, the caterpillars of butterflies also do not stop eating the leaves until they are ready to turn into adults. On the other hand, butterfly larvae are mostly smaller than their moth counterparts, so they cause less damage to your sunflower leaves when compared to the moths. You are most likely to find butterflies and their larvae around your sunflowers in spring because that’s the time when they mature and prosper.
Squirrels may be cute, but you surely do not want them in your garden or anywhere close to your flowers. Most squirrels are picky eaters and may not visit your sunflowers at once; they will first find seeds, fruits, and leafy greens in your garden before they visit your sunflowers. This means that if there are squirrels nearby, you must find ways to prevent them from reaching your garden.
Squirrels mostly use access points such as open fences, holes, and tree branches growing into your garden to enter the garden. However, if you have ever seen squirrels in your garden before, you will need to find the place that they are coming from before you should start thinking of ways to repel them.
You may want deer to visit you at home because it looks cool, but you do not want them near your garden because the cute animals can cause severe damage to the garden. Like many other animals, deer eat sunflower leaves. However, they may first eat other edible products in your gardens such as leafy greens, seeds, and nuts.
Deer cannot enter your garden if there is a fence, so you want to check for broken fences in your garden. You should check your garden during the day and at night for deer, as they can visit at any time. The best way to tell that there are deer in your garden is to find their poop near your sunflower plants.
– Sunflower Borers
These insects resemble grasshoppers, but they are very disastrous or fatal to sunflowers. They burrow into the sunflower stems and eat the plants from within. Keep in mind that if your sunflowers are dying, and you cannot find the pest, check the stem for the maggots or larvae of these insects, because they would be eating the leaves.
Do you love rabbits? Well, if you know what they can do to your sunflowers, you’d do everything that you can to prevent them from coming close to your sunflower garden. Rabbits need to keep chewing, so they eat sunflower leaves, flowers, seeds, and even stems sometimes. You would have second thoughts about them.
Check for holes in your garden fence or other access points if rabbits can enter your garden. Note that rabbits can visit the garden at any time, so you should check for them at different times of the day.
Some mice will mostly eat the seeds and flowers of sunflowers, but can sometimes eat the sunflower leaves. If mice are responsible for the damage to your sunflower leaves, you should see little bite marks on the leaves, stems, and flowers of the plants. Mice can enter your garden from little holes in the fence.
These are little rodents that resemble mice but are different as they dig holes just like moles. These rodents are vegetarians and eat the roots and stems of sunflowers and other plants. Check for holes under or around your sunflower plants to confirm if you have voles or not.
Chipmunks may be furry and interesting as they would visit your garden, but you do not want them near your sunflower plants as they can eat the leaves, seeds, flowers, and even stems of your sunflowers.
You can tell that there are chipmunks in your garden by searching for their waste in the morning and with the bite mark on the leaves. Like other little mammals, they enter the garden through little holes in the fence.
– Snails and Slugs
These gastropods may seem slow, but they are very disastrous, and you just can’t imagine the damage that they can do in your garden. They are active at night, so you may wake up in the morning to find the beautiful leaves of your sunflowers and other plants destroyed.
If you have banana plants and other trees or bushes in your garden, check them at night because snails and slugs usually live in such places. Check the lower surfaces of large leaves or the root regions of the plants, and you would easily find the gastropods there. If you are looking for what eats sunflower leaves at night, gastropods are the major culprits.
Grasshoppers are little to medium-sized insects that feed on the leaves of various plants. They can eat the leaves of sunflowers and other plants in your garden, but they do not cause major damage to the plants.
However, you must keep in mind that during the day, especially in the misty mornings, you would definitely see grasshoppers hopping from one plant to another if they are present in your garden, especially on the sunflowers.
Cutworms are the larvae of moths, though they can also refer to other similar burrowing larvae. These larvae are typically large and cause major damage to your sunflowers, as they would be eating every part of the plants, even the stems.
They are active at night and look for shelter or even dig holes to hide in during the day. You can tell that there are cutworms in your garden if you can find beetles in the garden.
– Leafcutter Bees
These are bees that mostly live solitary. They search for and eat plant leaves, which means if you are living in a region with these bees, you would certainly find them eating sunflower leaves. You are most likely to find these insects on the sunflowers during the day, particularly when the sun is bright.
Finches are little birds with short beaks as there are so many species of finches, and they have a wide range of diets, but some of them love eating the leaves of plants like sunflowers. Overall, they are not very disastrous and will not stay in your garden for long as they are very easy to repel.
– Sunflower Midges
These are tan-colored flies that love to feed sunflowers, especially those growing in the garden. These pests are host-specific, and you may not find them in other plants in the garden. Well, they do not cause major damage to sunflowers, but too many of them in the garden can expose the sunflower plants to danger.
– Lygus Bugs
These are beautiful insects that eat sunflower leaves and the leaves of other plants. They are mostly black but can be green, brown, yellow, or multicolored according to the species. These tiny black bugs on sunflower leaves create holes in the center of the leaves, not the edges. You can identify these insects with their long antennae.
Ants do not directly eat your sunflower leaves, they mostly cut the leaves to feed some fungi that they are growing in their colonies. However, ants can collect and eat the seeds of your sunflowers.
If there are ants in your garden, you will surely know, as you would observe their long trails. Very easily, you can trace where they are coming from by following their trail.
Thrips are funny insects that eat your sunflower leaves, but you may not notice that damage quickly as they mostly suck the juices of the leaves instead of making large visible holes.
Keep in mind that if there are thrips on your sunflowers, you should see them on the leaves and petioles. Also, you would notice that the leaves are losing their coloration because they would be the ones eating the leaves and degenerating the life of the flower.
How To Stop Sunflower Leaves From Being Eaten?
To know how to top your sunflower leaves from being eaten by dangerous pests you would have to practice crop rotation, place a fence, use insecticides, place sticky traps around, place beer traps, place plant-safe predators, use neem oil or other oils, place motion sensors, or pick them by hand.
– Practice Crop Rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing crops from a different plant family in the next one or two growing seasons. While crop rotation has a lot of benefits, the key major benefit is that it is the best way to prevent host-specific pests from attacking your sunflower, as the sunflowers will not be in your garden the next year, and the leaves will be protected.
Some pests like sunflower borers and sunflower midges only attack sunflowers and other similar plants, so if you grow non-related plants in the garden next time, the pests will be forced to leave or their larvae will die off as there is no plant host to attack.
– Protect the Plant With a Fence
For mammalian pests, you may want to build a wooden or wire mesh fence around your sunflowers to keep the plants safe. The animals such as deer and rabbits need restriction, or else they will try to eat all your sunflower leaves, but they won’t be able to.
If you have some earth-digging pests such as voles and groundhogs in your garden, you must ensure to build the fence with a deep foundation. The fence should go at least six inches below the ground.
As for invertebrate pests that you cannot repel with insecticides or other products, you can protect your sunflowers, if they are few, with a wire mesh with little holes. Note that you may want to make sure that the pests have zero access to your sunflowers.
– Make an Insecticidal Soap
If the pests that attack your sunflowers and eat their leaves are insects, you can repel or kill them with insecticidal soaps. Insecticidal soap is a homemade product made by mixing water and any soap, preferably dishwashing soap. You can test the effectiveness of the soap to use by mixing it with water and dropping it on any insect near you, such as a butterfly.
Some examples of pests that insecticidal soaps are effective against are aphids, ants, and thrips as they most often occur in large numbers on the plant’s leaves. You may want to be sure that you are using the soapy solution as typically as possible to repel the pests. Spray it on the leaves and around the plants.
– Use Insect-specific Insecticides
Some insects are stubborn and just will not leave your sunflowers. Insects like the lygus bug need specific insecticides to repel them from your sunflowers. However, if this bug eats your sunflower leaves, it means that it is a common bug in your region. Therefore, there should be an insecticide product that you can buy from the store to repel it.
Even if you do not wish to buy any products, especially inorganic ones, you can always ask other gardeners around to teach you ways to repel the specific pests of your sunflowers. You only need to first know the pest that is attacking your sunflowers.
– Make Use of Sticky Traps
Sticky traps are best for lygus bugs, large invertebrates, and little mammals. These traps do not necessarily repel or kill your sunflower pests, they only prevent the pests from reaching your sunflowers by trapping them in glue. The traps are very effective, especially for non-flying pests.
All you need to do is to keep the traps around your sunflowers, especially on the ground near their roots. If you know where the pests are coming from, you can keep the traps in that direction. Also, to be sure that the trap is very effective, you can keep bait such as sunflower seeds, leaves, or even kitchen scraps on the traps so that they will attract pests.
– Make a Beer Trap
A beer trap is a popular trap to catch gastropods like snails and slugs. Beer traps may be common, but they are guaranteed to work because these gastropods cannot resist the smell of yeast that is used to make beer. You only need to know when and where to keep the trap, as well as how to do it.
Making beer traps is super easy, you only need to buy a cheap beer, pour it on bowls, and then place the bowls in your garden, especially near bushes, or the sunflowers in this case, and other places that snails sleep in at night.
Note that you would need to do this at night because snails are more active at night. In the morning, remember to dispose of the dead snails that drowned in the trap.
– Employ Plant-Safe Predators
When nature gives you pests, search for the predators of those pests. Plant-safe predators are animals that you can keep with the hopes that they help you to fight the pests eating your sunflower leaves.
For example, you can make use of cats to repel the finches in your garden or moths. In addition, you can make use of birds such as turkeys and chickens to control the population of insects, gastropods, and other pests.
You just want to make sure that the predators are safe in your garden and also your plants are safe. For example, do not allow your cats to go into a garden with thorny plants. Also, if you see the turkeys digging your sunflower roots, you want to remove them so that they do not kill the plants.
– Make Use of Neem Oil and Pepper Powder
If you are looking for what to spray on sunflowers for bugs, here are products for you. Neem oil is a great product to repel invertebrate pests, especially insects, coming near your sunflower leaves.
Sunflower pests hate the smell and properties of neem oil, so be sure to have the product in handy. You only need to spray the oil on the sunflower leaves and other places where you can find the pests.
For large pests such as mammals, neem oil may not be effective. You can prevent these pests from eating your sunflower leaves by spraying pepper powder or a mixture of pepper powder and water on the leaves of the plants.
– Make Use of Motion Sensors
These are devices that can help you to repel your sunflower pests if they come too close to your garden. The devices spot pests through their motion and can either repel the pests by spraying them with water or by making an alarm.
Note that the devices are not very effective for little or slow-moving pests like snails and insects such as chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and even when it comes to mice or deer.
– Pick the Pests With Your Hands
The cheapest way to remove pests from your garden is to remove them by yourself. You can make use of your bare hands, but it is best to wear gloves, especially if you want to hold moth caterpillars.
When you collect the tiny bugs on sunflowers, throw them very far away from your garden or kill them, or else they will return. In addition, don’t forget to wear gloves for protection as you are taking the pests off one by one.
No need to ask “what is eating my sunflower leaves?” anymore because you now know the culprits and ways to control them.
Please do not forget about the following:
- The common vertebrate pests that attack sunflower leaves are squirrels, deer, rabbits, mice, voles, chipmunks, and finches.
- The common invertebrate pests that attack sunflower leaves are aphids, weevils, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, bees, ants, etc.
- If you cannot find pests on your sunflower plants during the day, check them at night.
- First, know the exact pest of your sunflowers before you buy any repellent product.
- If you have tried so many methods to repel the pests, but they are still present, you should practice crop rotation.
Now go take a look at your sunflower plants and ensure that they are pest-free, and you can easily identify what ate the leaves.
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