What is eating my Sunflower Leaves? And can I stop the Marauder Organically?

My wife and I have large batches of Sunflowers on our property. We like them very much. This year we have been invaded and the insurgent is as of yet unidentifiable.

The plants are all about 4 foot high, and the leaves on some of them are being eaten in quarter size patches. I’m worried our “crop” will be decimated by something as of yet unseen! I can see small ants on some of the plants, but I do not think they are the culprit. My sense is, that we are being invaded by something in the caterpillar family…Does anyone know how to stop the decimation of our sunflowers? I can’t even find ONE caterpillar to give a reference, so I am not sure what exactly is happening.

I would like organic methods for disposal of the sinister marauder…but I may - in a rare gesture - use chemical weapons to kill the thing attacking our sunflowers…

The main reason [in this instance] that I would like to go organic, is that my wife and I cut all the heads off the sunflowers at the end of the season, and store them for the winter…where we give them to the squirrels when the weather changes…so I’d like to not poison the little vermin when we do that this year…

Any Ideas?

Try Pyrethrum (not positive on spelling) It is an organic bug killer derived from I think an orchid. You can find it at Chase Pitkin or a like home and garden store. It comes in a spray bottle. Directions said it can be used on edible fruits and veggys. Just don’t spray and pick.

Pyrethrum comes from a type of chrysanthemum, some varieties are marketed as Pyrethrum Daisies. Check the leaves carefully, especially the undersides, for what’s doing the eating. It’s not the ants, but they may be herding aphids[which do not eat, but suck plant sap] It’s possibly bird pecks, especially if the eaten away parts are on the margins of the leaves. The birds may be gobbling caterpillars, or other plant pests, and take a bit of the leaf along with lunch. Striped cucumber beetles LOVE sunflowers. If you have caterpillars, most times handpicking is the most efficient way to control the problem. Please don’t indiscriminately spray for a pest you haven’t seen, or can’t identify. A plant can tolerate a certain amount of defoliation before photosynthesis is compromised. You may want to cover your maturing seedheads with brown paper bags, to keep marauding birds away from them, or you won’t have any for your squirrels.

Well it is certainly not birds…This is some type of caterpillar from what I can deduce so far.

We’ve had slugs do major damage to our sunflowers when the stalks are still fairly small. The slugs would crawl up the stalk at night, eat the leaves, then crawl down and hide during the day. Look for the shiny trails they leave. If your plants are very tall, then slugs are probably not the answer.

Are the holes round? If so, there are bees that cut round holes in leaves to make their nest. If that’s it, it does not hurt the plants.

I currently have a 4ft sunflower, no seeds yet, and all of the leaves closes to the stem have bites taken port it looks like caterpillars, except when the birds Get full, they sitsit there and sing. Im currently trying cinnamon powder, cuz that seams to work for every thing , just put that on leaves a few minutes ago, i let you know if they don’t come back.

Welcome to the boards sslogic. Please note the date in the first post is in 2004, which was eight years ago, so phlosphr has either probably solved his sunflower problem by now or no longer has a problem with them.