Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), are best known for their stunning large flowers, but they also have beautiful green leaves that follow the sun to get the most from the sun’s rays.
Sunflower leaves are susceptible to many different pests and diseases and in this article I’ll share my tips for keeping the leaves of your sunflower plants healthy.
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What do sunflower leaves look like?
Sunflower leaves grow along the stem in sets of two and the leaves can be heart shaped or triangular, depending on the variety.
The color of the leaves ranges from light green to deep green.
Sunflowers with red or brown petals usually have darker colored leaves.
The leaves can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) long and each leaf is covered in coarse hairs.
Sunflower leaf problems
It’s a good idea to regularly inspect the leaves of your sunflowers to check for signs of damage or discoloration.
If you spot the problem early you can usually take steps to fix it before your plants start to suffer.
There are many different pests that can attack sunflower plants including:
Spider mites are tiny arachnids that live on the underside of the leaves.
They feed by sucking fluids out of the leaf, which leaves small dots on the leaves.
Eventually the leaves turn yellow before drying up and falling off.
Sunflower beetles are about 1/4 inch (6 mm) long, with brown and cream stripes.
Adult sunflower beetles create holes in the leaves, while the larvae make transparent windows in the leaves.
Sunflowers are very susceptible to cutworms and they can do a lot of damage to young sunflower seedlings.
Cutworms usually feed on the leaves at night and hide in the soil near the base of the plant.
To find cutworms in your garden, gently dig the soil around the plant or if you have chickens, let them into the garden to eat them.
Aphids are another common pest found on sunflower leaves and they damage the leaves by sucking the sap out of them.
There are many different ways to get rid of aphids including soap and water, neem oil or spraying them with the hose.
Slugs and snails
Slugs and snails will eat sunflower seedlings so you’ll need to be vigilant while the plants are still young.
You can use a beer trap to get rid of slugs and snails or sprinkle some pet safe pellets around the base of the plants.
If the leaves appear to be chewed you’ll need to inspect each leaf top and bottom to see if there are any eggs on the leaves.
To get rid of caterpillars on the leaves you can spray them with neem oil or a spray containing the naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis.
As well as insects there are a few larger animals that will eat sunflower leaves including rabbits, deer and groundhogs.
The best way to keep them away is to build a fence around your garden or put barriers around each individual plant.
If an animal eats the top of one of your sunflowers, leave it in the ground because it might grow new shoots.
Other sunflower leaf problems
Drooping sunflower leaves can be a sign that the plant needs more water.
Check the soil with your finger and if it feels dry an inch down give the plant a thorough watering.
Yellow sunflower leaves may mean that the sunflower is overwatered or the soil may be waterlogged.
Yellow leaves may also indicate a nitrogen deficiency or leaf spot disease.
Sunflowers that are grown in humid or damp conditions are susceptible to fungal diseases including powdery mildew.
To treat powdery mildew on sunflower leaves you can use a fungicide spray or make your own by mixing 2 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a gallon (4 litres) of water.
Sunflower leaves turn brown as the plant reaches the end of the growing season.
At this stage you can harvest the seeds and place the plant in the compost bin.
Eating sunflower leaves
Did you know the leaves of the sunflower plant are edible?
Sunflower leaves can be used in the same way that you’d use other green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale.
You can chop the leaves and eat them raw in a salad, or you can steam, boil, stir fry or bake them until they’re crispy.
You can also make herbal tea using sunflower leaves and petals.
Only harvest sunflower leaves that you know haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and just take a couple of leaves from each plant so that the plant can keep growing happily.
So there are my tips for dealing with pests and diseases that affect sunflower leaves.
By following these tips you can ensure that your sunflowers will stay healthy and happy throughout the growing season.
How do you deal with pests and diseases on your sunflowers? Let me know in the comments below.