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Why wont the ants leave my sunflower alone?

14 years ago

There are these black ants I've been fighting for the last month, they keep crawling up my sunflowers and doing stuff.

I checked for aphids, but never saw any. Anyone know What exactly are the ants after?

So far I've put a water trap at the bottom of the plants, and been spraying insecticidal soap and used a commercial ant bait trap. [some critter stole the ant bait and ran off it with though]

Comments (36)

  • 14 years ago

    I have the same problem. And my first three sun flowers bloomed very, very, very small. They were only 2 - 3 feet tall when the bloomed and now they are dead.

    These are Mammoth sunflowers supposed to reach 16 feet.

    But mine have black ants patrolling them as well.

  • 14 years ago

    I'm not sure what they are doing with your sunflower, but the little beggars surgically sawed off one of my beet seedlings neatly at ground level. Oh well.

  • 14 years ago

    Because it's a tasty treat for them. Make the tasty treat unable to be reached (something that repells ants but is safe for sunflowers...) & your problem is solved.

  • 14 years ago

    Hi Edweather,

    You're certain that ants sawed off your beet seedlings?

    I don't think ants normally eat plants. I have over 50 sunflowers growing and have seen some ants on them but haven't really paid attention much.

    I'll try to check it closer. I have Mammoth, Skyscraper and American Giant growing. I just planted them for my 5 year old to have something to be interested in and didn't really prepare the soil (clay) at all so I don't think they'll get close to reaching their full potential. I'm hoping to get them at least 8 feet tall but I'm crossing my fingers.

  • 14 years ago

    Aphids love sunflowers, and ants follow the aphids to farm them for the honeydew.

    Very high aphid populations are being seen on sunflower. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects found in clusters. In sunflower, they are usually on the lower sides of the leaves and can be numerous enough to completely cover the underside of the leaves. They are more likely to be on senescing leaves low on the plant. The upper sides of leaves may be sticky from the honeydew excreted by the aphids. Although a number of species of aphids can be found on sunflower, two are common.

    The main symptom we see from aphids is wilting caused by their pulling water from the plant as they feed on plant sap. Under our present hot, low-moisture conditions, it is normal for sunflower to appear wilted in the afternoon. However, if the plants are wilted early in the morning and have large numbers of aphids, they may be causing additional stress and damaging the plants.

  • 14 years ago

    Sorry, I missed the part of your post where you said you haven't seen any aphids.

    You didn't say, but are the ants damaging the sunflowers in any way? If not, don't sweat it. They may like the flower nectar, or they may just like to climb!

  • 14 years ago

    I second what anney said. What "stuff" are they doing? Are you sure they're actually hurting anything?

    I've had plants before that seemed to attract ants, but I didn't see any aphids and they didn't seem to be hurting the plant in any way, so I just left them alone. Innocent until proven guilty with wildlife in my garden.

    Except for imported fire ants. I kill those. But native ants are cool, and the fire ants are making life hard enough for them without me making it worse.

    You know, some ants actually PROTECT plants. They actually attack any other insect that comes to eat the plant, like caterpillars and so on. Gardeners always bring up the aphid farming, but there are lots of differnt kinds of ants out there.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Ant Plants

  • 14 years ago

    I don't think ants normally eat plants.

    They don't. Even leafcutter ants can't digest plant matter -- they have to haul the plant parts back to their hill where they feed them to a fungus (they then eat the fungus).

    Ants are hunters and ranchers.

    Surgically sawing off plants at ground level is cutworm territory.

  • 14 years ago was only one small beet seedling. I looked at it and the 3 seedling leaves were neatly lying on the ground and there were quite a few ants right there....I just assumed. I didn't see them do it, and there were no eye witnesses to the deed. I just assumed, seeing they were at the scene of the crime. I don't know much about ants, but my beets are doing great today. Maybe I'll respond to the thread about the person not being able to grow beets. Thanks.

  • 14 years ago

    Ants don't do any damage as already mentioned by others. Odds are if there are ants then there are aphids whether you see them or not. It's the only reason the ants would be there.

    But if there is no damage then nothing needs to be done.


  • 14 years ago

    While we're on the subject of ants, does anyone know anything about yellow ants? While I was removing the grass in my backyard to make way for my new veggies beds early this spring, I noticed a large quantity of yellow ants all throughout the soil...I only see the small black ants above ground... Just curious.

  • 14 years ago

    Ortho Ant Dust kills quite many ants. =)

  • 14 years ago

    I have noticed my sunflowers are wilting then falling over and completely dying! When I look to investigate, there is always fire ants that poor out of the soil around the base of my plant. But there are never any established "hills" around the plant, its as if they come in, kill the plant, and move on to the next! They have been taking over one flower at a time, but today I have noticed there are new ants "hills" on 3-4 sunflowers. Why are the fire ants killing my flowers (before or right before they bloom out) and how do I stop them?

  • 14 years ago

    Ants are very resourceful! Read at the link about how they protect the aphids so they can enjoy that sweet honeydew!

    Here is a link that might be useful: Aphid. Lots of info

  • 14 years ago

    Has anyone heard about ants cutting off sunflower buds? I have a huge sunflower with lots of buds that are getting ready to open, but I've noticed that, starting at the top, the buds are dying. They look like they've been broken just at the top. When I look close I see that the stem just below the flower seems to be withered. Any ideas??

  • 14 years ago

    Actually, some ant species will do damage. Around my area we have allegheny mound ants which kill vegetation that might shade their mounds. They do it by injecting formic acid into the stems and bases and have been known to bring down small trees and shrubs. They have decided recently to move into my garden area. : ) But most other species of ants wont chew off seedlings or do any damage. I wonder britgalloway that because allegheny mound ants are related to fire ants if that isnt your problem too. They dont like anything to shade their mounds because they like the sun to warm them up. That might be a reason for them to kill off your sunflowers if they are the culprits.

  • 13 years ago

    I also have black ants on my sunflowers.However, after observing for a while I believe the ants are protecting the flowers from any invading insects,especially Aphids.I have not seen any damage whatsoever from the ants

  • 10 years ago

    I have attached a pic of the ants on my wild sunflowers. Are those aphids on the bottom of the leaf? or what are these ants up to?

  • 10 years ago

    Im afriad i have to disagree with some here. I have seen ants in my raised bed chewing off the stems of my choy sim over a days. There were no aphids or any other insects around and i observed them. They ate through 2 plants but the rest of th crop did great. Boiling water poured on their paths solved the problem for a while! I have also seen ants farm aphids on my giant sunflowers but i just sprayed them off every so often with jets of water.

  • 10 years ago

    Hi. I'm new to your forum, and just found it by googling 'ants and sunflowers'. I've noticed ants crawling all over my sunflowers as well, and have noticed the stem right under the flower dropping off. It seems to do this after the flower has past it's bloom, so that's good at least. But have been wondering why the ants are attracted to it in the first place - so interesting to see that this is a common problem.

    I found a site that discusses it, and thought this info was telling:

    Ants and Aphids

    Ants are attracted to aphids because of a sticky, sweet substance they produce when feeding, called honeydew. Honeydew isn't the sole food source for ants, but when an aphid colony is in the area, the ants can harvest this nutrient-rich substance continually with less labor than what is required to constantly locate new food sources. Because of this, ants protect aphid colonies ferociously, warding off pests and parasites, as well as helping the immobile aphids multiply by spreading them out on infested sunflowers.

    So the ants aren't directly hurting the sunflowers, but because they are getting rid of the other pests that can get rid of the aphids which are harming the plant, the ants are indirectly doing harm!

    It goes on to say you need to get rid of both simultaneously in a "two phase process":
    Ants can be excluded from sunflowers with the application of a 4-inch wide sticky barrier placed onto a layer of protective masking tape or heavy paper positioned below the first set of leaves. Bait stations loaded with sweet ant bait and placed at the base of the plant give the ants an alternative food source that will slowly eliminate the entire colony. Make sure that the ants can't gain access by climbing a nearby plant or structure by applying sticky barriers to anything that may be touching the affected sunflower.

    Eliminate aphids from single plants with blasts of water from a garden hose. Once dislodged, the pests are unable to reattach before they die. Insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils sprayed directly onto the aphids will kill these pests on contact, preventing them from attaching to other sunflowers.

    Here's a link to the site:

    I haven't looked at my sunflowers for signs of aphids, but I now suspect I will find them when I do. I think your pic of your sunflowers shows aphids, nfrichardson.


  • 10 years ago

    I am sure there are various kinds of ants. But the ones I have seen in the garden, are tiny black ones that are very active , working almost around the clock. Bu I have yet to see them to cause any damage. There are yellow ants that are very aggressive but not a pest. The mound that we see is actually what is dug up to make their home, not their actual home. I have often seen them to make hills after some heavy rain that has flooded their underground nest.

  • 9 years ago


    I planted red sunflowers and I'm not sure if you can see them but I have red ants in the middle of sunflower like we're the seeds would be. Is this strange or normal and how do I get rid of them, I also am getting holes in the leaves. Just wondering cuz I took a lot of pride in being able to grow these from seeds,any help or thoughts are helpful!

  • 9 years ago

    I am not sunflower expert but some plants need the ants, like Peonies to open their flower buds.

  • 9 years ago

    I have one pic of an unopened sunflower blossom and can count over 50 little red ants on it. They have never done a bit of harm that I can tell so won't agree on any need to kill them off.

    And if you have holes like this, it's birds.

  • 8 years ago

    Ants do too "eat plants."

    Carpenter ants (big black ants, see will chew holes in the main stem and suck the juice that comes out. They usually do this right below a leaf stem, and then the whole leaf droops and wilts or just falls off. I have seen them do this many times. I used to wonder too what made those leaves droop - and I have dozens of all different kinds of sunflowers.

    These ants do not herd aphids, they just look for weak places and when they find one, they will continue to chew until the damage is done - the whole sunflower may topple. Watch them carefully and you can see them testing leaf edges and such for weak places.

    Planthoppers can also do the same thing - ants love to tend planthoppers too, not just aphids, They milk them for honeydew and will protect them from ladybugs and other predators. Planthoppers inject toxic saliva that keeps the juice flowing and so can kill the whole stem and damage big patches of leaves. Watch how ants will attempt to drive off your lady beetles! Look for groups of hopper on the underside of leaflets. Planthoppers killed one of my newly planted weeping willows in just such wise.

    Holes in leaflets can be caused by inchworm moth caterpillars (family Geometridae), psyllids (like tiny flies) and plant bugs in the family Miridae. Psyllids and plant bug damage will usually show some mosaic-like brown spots where they feed.

    Don't blame the birds! It's always insects of some sort. Be on the lookout for weevils on your hollyhocks, too!

    -Bruce (

  • 7 years ago

    i am new to growing sunflowers and i finally had one blossom very beautifully and right after i watered it i took a photo (attached.. sorry it posted sideways, i cannot get it to rotate upright) Within the next few days i clipped the sunflower to give to a neighbor who was suffering from cancer (to make her smile) and i was so embarassed when the tiny black ants started coming out of the flower! i have planted more seeds and have one promising flower but i notice those pesty black ants on the bloom and i am about to use someones idea of vaseline!!

  • 7 years ago

    Peonies don't need ants to open. I don't want ants on my cut peonies so I get rid of ants and peonies do fine without them.

    I see ants as pests and I know I've seen damage caused by them. The debate may be more of their motive for causing damage. Just as ants will "Mine" through boards and other structural materials they can kill plants by girdling a part of the stem for a motive that may be unrelated to feeding. I've lost more tomato plants in my high tunnels to ants than to any other cause. Distraction is always in a specific area only and once ant colonies are destroyed the replacement plants do fine.

  • 3 years ago

    Hello, i have an almighty black mess on my sunflower and its infested with ants. The leaves are all turning brown and the floweres have died (its a new plant) any ideas what this? I think the plant id dead but any advise for the future would be greatly appreciated !

  • 3 years ago

    Hello, i have an ant issue and what looks like something much more sinister :) Does anyone know what these black dots are forming around the base of each stalk (see pictures). I have lost all hope for my sunflower but any advise and how to deal with it will help with the next one ?

  • 3 years ago

    Black aphids

  • 3 years ago

    To keep ants from crawling up okra plants, I spray around the stem with tanglefoot spray. It is sticky and keeps ants from crawling up the plant. I would assume this would also work for sunflower stems.

  • 3 years ago

    Tanglefoot is a good idea! Another idea is to get the sticky window fly traps and cut them into sections, and wrap them around the stem tight enough that ants cant crawl under them. If the trap fills up with ants or dust, you can easily take the trap off and replace it.

  • 3 years ago

    I just recently found this discussion due to my continued attempts to stop whatever has been eating my sunflower seedlings. I checked the plants thoroughly, and I haven’t seen anything that may be causing parts of the leaves to be eaten off. I figured it might be a chipmunk since I’ve seen one hanging around here, but the small black ants crawling up and down the stalks have begun to draw my attention. At first, several of the plants went more or less unaffected, but now all of them have at least a few bites out of their leaves. I‘m pretty sure the ants have something to do with it, since there were no bites on one until they arrived. I know that ants take care of aphids for their honeydew, so I specifically checked on the undersides of leaves (as well as the new growth) for aphids. The variety is Mammoth, if that helps at all. I’ve seen small flies land on them here and there as well, but I doubt they’d eat leaves.

    Also, pretty sure it’s unrelated (since it‘s only on one of the eight affected plants), but I just noticed a brown mass of one of the leaves with small worms crawling along inside it. Wondering what those could be?

  • 3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    it's beetle season, they're everywhere in here, .if your plants/seedlings are being eaten, good chance it's them.. they will eat almost anything that is green, well except my zinnias..

  • last month

    I had issue last year grew several watermelon saplings and sunflower the ants devoured them.