Sunflower Eating Ants

by Cynthia on July 8, 2008

Sunflower House Update #1

Sunflower House July 7, 2008

Yesterday evening I took my 21 month old daughter outside with me to stroll through the garden and take some pictures of how the sunflower house is coming along. The sunflowers are finally starting to take off now that we are having some decent weather. In between the sunflowers the corn is also starting to grow well. I am hoping to plant some morning glory and scarlet runner beans along the base of the sunflowers and corn this week.

While out taking pictures I noticed something rather peculiar. It seems there are ants eating the stems of the sunflowers. I noticed this two years ago happening to some cosmos I grew. There are absolutely no aphids on the sunflowers so I know the ants are not there for that. I watched them closely and they seem to be chewing holes into the stems and feeding off of the plants juices. I have never heard of an ant doing this before. I am rather baffled by it.

Ants on sunflower

I am trying to think of a way to get them off the sunflowers as they are on several of them. I might try making up an organic spray and seeing if that helps.

Ants on Sunflower

The poor sunflower house; first the unrelenting rain rotted several of the seeds I sowed, then the mystery night critter kept digging up the seeds that did germinate, now plant munching ants are attacking it. Do I dare ask what’s next?

Ants on sunflower house

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Niels July 8, 2008 at 3:58 pm

First I was looking for the Aphids – ants like to milk aphids to get honeydew, but then I saw that they really are chomping away on the sunflower stems. Must be something sweet they like – like they do with Peony buds. Interesting!

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Daphne July 8, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I’ve seen ants in my parsley flowers this year. I’ve never seen them there before. Drinking nectar? I’m wondering if they are having trouble because there are no aphids. Usually I see them milking their aphids, but this year we have so few aphids. Which is good, but the ants are doing weird things. They go for other flowers too, but those seem their favorites. I’ve yet to see mine eating the stems though.

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Mrs. Greenhands July 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm

I’ve got a couple of suggestions you can try. #1 – sprinkle garlic powder around you sunflowers; typically ants won’t cross over garlic. #2 – sprinkle black pepper; same as garlic powder. #3 – plant some mint around your corn and sunflowers. I don’t know if this will help for your sunflowers, but I’ve used these techniques in other areas of my garden with success.

You don’t want to kill the ants, because they are part of the natural eco-system. Good Luck!

By the way, I love Sharon Lovejoy’s books – I own them all and I have grown many of the gardens listed in her books. The Sunflower house is always a favorite in our garden. We also like the Hollyhock tents and the Medicinal garden.

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Cindy July 8, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Niels-I was looking for aphids last night when I took the pictures and there are none. It’s weird. You can see they are chewing the sunflower stems when you look real close. I’m not too sure what to do about it. But they are definately doing some damage.

Daphne-Maybe it does have something to do with there being no aphids. The year I saw them do this to some cosmos the ants completely chewed the stems down. Very strange and I am not happy to see them on the sunflowers.

Mrs. Greenhands- I was actually thinking of making a spray out of garlic to try on the ants. You’re right, I don’t want to kill them but I also do not want them eating away the sunflowers.

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Sharon Lovejoy July 8, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Yeow, those hungry, relentless ants! Here is my solution (and believe me I’ve had ant problems around my fruit trees lately). I pour honey into a shallow saucer or lid. I set the honey near the plants being attacked. I guarantee that the ants will ditch the sunflowers and go for the honey pot. I just keep moving the honey supply farther and farther away every day. So far so good. Also, I sprinkle cinnamon powder around and spray vinegar across their trails to destroy their pheromone markers.
Green goodness to you all,
Sharon Lovejoy

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Nancy Bond July 9, 2008 at 4:24 am

Wow, they certainly like whatever it is they’re getting from your sunflowers…here’s hoping something organic works for you!

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Mrs. Greenhands July 9, 2008 at 6:40 am

Hi again! I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. Sharon Lovejoy commented on your blog! She is my gardening IDOL!!!

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Cindy July 9, 2008 at 11:34 am

Sharon- I’m happy to see you visited my blog again! :-) I think I might try the honey. They are really chomping away at the sunflower stems this morning so I need to do something to get them off.

Nancy- It’s got to be the sweet plant juices they are after. I don’t know what is worse, them herding aphids or this!

Mrs. Greenhands- I am also a huge fan of Sharon Lovejoys books and have been for awhile now. I was very excited to see her comment here! Have you checked out her blog? It is of course lovely.

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April August 7, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I went online to search for ants eating sunflowers and saw this site. The ants have not only chewed on my 1-2 inch thick, 4+ feet tall, sunflower stalks they have killed most of my plants! They chew all the “bark” off the stalks at the bases and then the plants wilt, fall over, and die. I thought it was mice or voles but then found ants sucking away on the scars. Never heard of ants doing this but I too have not seen any aphids and worse yet no bees in either my clover or in my garden this year. Very scary!

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