Why wont the ants leave my sunflower alone?

lazyhatJune 9, 2009

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]

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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.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 8:42PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

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.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 8:43PM
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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.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 11:49PM
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bleedenver(z7 GA)

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.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:30AM
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anney(Georgia 8)

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

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.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 5:57AM
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anney(Georgia 8)

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!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 6:05AM
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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

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 12:19PM
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gardenerme(z9/21 inland socal)

I would put vaseline around the stalk and the ants won't climb it. I use this on my hanging hummer feeders and the ants won't cross it.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 12:41PM
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Karen Pease

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.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:31PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Well......it 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.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 3:33PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

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.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 8:50PM
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lolear(5b - Chicago)

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.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 10:11PM
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Ortho Ant Dust kills quite many ants. =)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 11:30PM
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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?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 5:01PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

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: Earthlife.net Aphid. Lots of info

    Bookmark   July 28, 2009 at 11:56AM
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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??

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 12:13PM
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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.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 4:03PM
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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

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 2:36PM
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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?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 1:32PM
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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.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 1:43PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

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: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/ants-raising-aphids-sunflowers-65493.html

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.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 7:20PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

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.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 11:44PM
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