Outdoor Pests

What’s Eating My Sunflower Leaves?

Sunflower leaves are rich in sap. They provide nutrition for a wide range of animals, bugs, and insects. Growing sunflowers at home are subject to challenges such as dealing with invasive species.

Sunflowers need to be protected against different invasive species. Protection methods vary from sprinkling chili powder to raising fences against large animals. It’s important to know which pests eat these leaves to take the right precautions.

Sunflower moths and sunflower aphids are among the most common pest species that eat sunflower leaves. Slugs, ants, and deer also eat these leaves. Finches are among the birds known to eat sunflower seeds and leaves.

Insects, bugs, and other pests that eat sunflower leaves

Sunflower is one of the beneficial plants to grow in the garden and on a commercial scale. Its seeds and oil are used in cooking. Sunflower is also grown for its aesthetic appeal. Growing multiple sunflowers is a unique experience as you can see them rotate around the sun throughout the day. Sunflower also attracts a wide range of pests and animals that use it as food.

What’s Eating My Sunflower Leaves?

Sunflower moths

Sunflower moths (Homoeosoma ellectellumare) are a species of moths that only feed on sunflowers. They eat seeds, flowers, and leaves at various growth stages. These moths are known to grow in the soil just below the sunflowers.

They emerge as larvae and caterpillars that feed on the green leaves. Adult Sunflower moths first have a gray color and then a brown color as they age. These moths also feed on sunflowers.

One of the biggest reasons for concern with this specie is its bi-annual breeding. It means it affects sunflowers twice per year.

2 generations of Sunflower moths emerge in warm weather. It takes up to 30 days for an egg to pupate into an adult. This is possible in Southern states where the weather is warmer or in other states in warm years.

The damage can be considered as these moths tend to congregate on a single sunflower before moving to another nearby sunflower.

How to get rid of sunflower moths?

  1. Consider using Permethrin pesticides against sunflower moths
  2. Pesticide use on a sunflower is only recommended until the flower bud opens

Sunflower aphids

Various species of aphids eat sunflower leaves. You can recognize aphid sunflowers leave damage whenever the leaves turn yellow or when they lose their shape.

Aphids don’t eat entire pieces of leaves of sunflower. They only drink the sap from the leaves using needle-like sharp mouthparts.

Cotton aphids are generalists that feed on a wide range of vegetables, flowers, and plants. This includes sunflower.

Their damage can be considerable or minimal. Rapid multiplication rates are one of the main reasons to take quick action as aphids multiply asexually and rapidly.

You can identify these aphids by their translucent green color. However, sunflowers also attract other species of aphids which are yellow, brown, or red.

How do get rid of aphids on sunflower?

  1. You can remove aphids on sunflower in the garden by hand as these bugs don’t sting
  2. Insecticidal soap is used against aphids for commercially-grown sunflower.


Slugs are the sometimes invisible enemy that eats sunflower leaves. These slimy nocturnal creatures come out late after sunset to feed on the leaves. Unlike aphids that only drink the sap of the leaves, slugs eat entire leaves.

After they’re done feeding aphids return to the ground where they remain throughout the day to escape the heat and enjoy moist soil.

Various types of slugs can feed on the leaves of sunflower. Their damage can be visual-only or truly considerable. The amount of leaves slugs eat depends on the number of the slugs around sunflower and their size.

slug eating

An existing slug invasion needs to be dealt with immediately as slugs lay at least 7-10 eggs in the soil, multiplying at a fast pace.

How to get rid of slugs that eat sunflower?

  1. You can use beneficial nematodes against slugs on sunflower leaves. These are microscopic worms that get inside slugs killing them by suppressing their breathing system.
  2. Reducing watering frequency is also recommended against slugs on all plants and vegetables, not just on sunflower. Moist soil is ideal for slugs and maintaining drier soil is recommended to make slugs move away to another area.


Rabbits don’t eat entire sunflowers but they eat the flowers and the leaves. Some rabbits move along sunflower while others stop to chew on the leaves until full.

Like slugs, many rabbits prefer to come out to the sunflower at night. There aren’t too many predators around for rabbits to worry about after sunset.

Getting rid of rabbits around the garden is easier than getting rid of small insects or bugs. Rabbits also tend to stay away more than other species once they realize they aren’t welcomed in an area.

How do get rid of rabbits that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. Chili powder sprinkled around sunflower is used to deter rabbits from sunflower. You can also use almost any other spice such as black pepper or cumin to keep rabbits and their sensitive noses away from sunflower leaves.


Headclipping weevils are one of the most common species of bugs that eat sunflowers. You can identify the bugs by uniform black color and an elongated snout specific to most weevils.

These weevils impact sunflower leaves both as larvae and as adults. This species of weevils can spend all their lives on sunflower if left undisturbed.

Eggs are laid directly on flower buds or sunflower leaves. These leaves serve as a support for the eggs or as food.

Weevils typically cause minimal damage to sunflower leaves which means sunflowers rarely die following their presence. Invasions are rare as weevils prefer to spread out and live on their own as adults rather than living in groups on the same sunflower.

How do get rid of weevils that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. Physically removing weevils is possible if there are only a few bugs around.
  2. Insecticide is recommended for serious weevil invasions.


Leafcutter ants are some of the most common ants that eat sunflower leaves. These ants also use parts of the leaves to build their mounds. You can see these ants carrying small pieces of leaves on their backs.

Leafcutter ants can grow as large as 0.5 inches and they can quickly form large colonies which are difficult to eliminate. As a result, you need to act quickly to eliminate them.

Leafcutter ants don’t nest on the sunflower leaves like other pests. They have their nests which need to be destroyed if you want to stop them from damaging your sunflower.

Other types of ants might also be present on sunflower, but not necessarily as major pests. Ants can appear whenever there are aphids on sunflowers. Most ants like to eat sweet foods and they often make their way to sunflowers to consume honeydew aphids produce. They can eat entire leaves covered in honeydew.

How do get rid of ants that eat sunflower leaves?

Leafcutter ants build mounds as large as 14 inches. These nests need to be eliminated and the ants killed to stop their spread to the garden. Pouring hot water on the nest might be enough to kill all ants inside. Alternatively, you can consider using insecticides, especially if you find multiple mounds which are likely to house at least a few thousand ants.


Grasshoppers are some of the least likely pests to cause real damage to sunflower leaves. However, they do stop to taste these leaves from time to time.

Most grasshoppers have minimum to no impact on the health of sunflowers as they only consume small parts of the leaves. Grasshoppers aren’t social which means invasions are rare.

How to get rid of grasshoppers that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. Trimming the grass around the garden is always the best solution against grasshoppers. Trimmed vegetation with no tall grass around is going to keep grasshoppers away.

Colorado beetles

Colorado beetles resemble ladybugs. These dome-shaped bugs have black and white stripes across the elytra being easy to identify.

Colorado beetles can have a major impact on sunflower. They tend to invade an area in high numbers and this makes them very difficult to eradicate.

These small bugs are also known for their resilience against natural predators. Many predators even move along due to their contrasting coloring which makes them look toxic.

How to get rid of Colorado beetles that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. You can pick Colorado beetles by hand if you only have a few sunflowers in the garden. They can be disposed of in a sealed plastic bag
  2. Pesticides are used to control possible Colorado beetle invasions on commercially-grown sunflower.


All types of birds eat the seeds of sunflowers. Some types of birds such as finches can also eat their leaves.

Damages made by birds are minimal when it comes to leaves. They might nibble at the leaves but they don’t eat entire leaves as many birds prefer to eat sunflower seeds instead.

How do get rid of birds that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. One of the easiest methods to reduce the risk of considerable leaf damage by birds is to plant more sunflower. The more sunflower you have the less likely birds are to focus on a single plant minimizing the damages.
  2. Nets might also be considered against a wide range of birds such as crows which also love to eat sunflower. You can use various types of nets either directly on sunflower or slightly above sunflower to protect the leaves and the seeds from flying predators.


Deer are some of the largest animals that eat sunflowers. They eat all parts of the sunflower which means they can kill the plant completely.

Deer are present in many areas of the world and making their way to suburban gardens is a common occurrence. Deer are protected by the law and you cannot kill them in most areas.

How to stop deer from eating sunflower leaves?

Fences around the garden are the best solution for keeping deer away from sunflower. Standard fences are sufficient to block access to vegetables, fruits, and sunflower in the garden.

Leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bees are easy to identify on sunflower. These black and yellow insects are wider than common honeybees and they eat out leaves. Leafcutter bees leave circular holes in the leaves of sunflower. They use these leaves to make nests.

These bees are beneficial pollinators and killing them isn’t recommended. You need to think of deterring methods to keep Leafcutter bees away.

How to get rid of leafcutter bees that eat sunflower leaves?

  1. ·Basil and perennial basil are plants that Leafcutter bees hate. Planting basil next to sunflower can keep these bees away.


Cutworms are types of worms recognized as sunflower pests. They appear at the end of June or at the beginning of July and are often left unmanaged on sunflower.

Cutworms eat sunflower leaves and are often removed by hand when found in gardens. Farmers prefer to use pesticides against cutworms or just consider their losses as many don’t take any direct action against these pests.

How do eliminate cutworms that eat sunflower leaves?

The use of insecticide might not be needed against cutworms. These pests have minimum impact on sunflower leaves.


Sunflower leaves also attract other types of bugs and animals. Their generous leaves are often seen as easy food for many pests. Almost all other species have minimum impact on sunflower leaves.

Using insecticide or removing these pests by hand are often the most recommended techniques to keep the leaves and the sunflower plant healthy.

One of the methods to reduce the damages these pests create is to simply plant more sunflowers. The more sunflowers are planted in the garden the less likely a major impact can be seen on the leaves of sunflowers.

Pesticides aren’t always needed against these pests, especially if their damage is minimal. Furthermore, homemade solutions such as spreading chili powder around the sunflower plants are proven against rabbits and other species.

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