Sunflower Leaves – Identifying Sunflower Leaf Problems

Sharing is caring!

Have you ever forgotten where you planted seeds or where you transplanted some seedlings? Becoming familiar with sunflower leaves can tell you a lot about the plants and also helps with identifying sunflower seedlings!

Sunflower seedlings can look an awful lot like zinnia seedlings. After all, they’re both part of the Asteraceae family, along with daisies and asters.

Foliage of sunflowers is generally a healthy green with pairs of leaves growing at the same time.

Most sunflowers grow relatively quickly. We learned our lesson planting indoors in April as they shot up tall very early on. We will either wait to start seeds later or direct sow outside in May next year.

Identifying sunflower seedlings by their leaves is very helpful. Understanding what the leaves tell you is perhaps even more so.

Let’s go over the full scoop!

Sunflower Leaves on a healthy dwarf sunspot sunflower

What Do Sunflower Leaves Look Like?

Most sunflowers have leaves that are triangular or heart-shaped. You will find the leaves with distinct sections separated by a small spine. Generally dark green in hue, you may find some different colored foliage depending on the type of sunflower you’re growing.

Sunflower leaves grow much bigger as the plant gets taller. They fill out and add a nice leafy look to the sunflowers.

Sunflowers are considered dicots as they have two cotyledons. The leaves grow in sets of two at a time.

If you really want to geek out about this, I highly recommend checking the post on BrainKart.com about dicot leaf sunflower leaves.

Sunflower leaves - foliage on a young sunflower plant
Notice that I put wire wastebaskets to help block these sunflowers from the groundhog and bunnies!

Are Sunflower Leaves Edible?

Numerous different websites suggest that leaves of sunflowers are edible as greens in a salad or for similar uses as traditional greens. Consider the condition of the leaves as well as the texture to determine whether they will really add to your meal or recipe.

A quick search on Google doesn’t produce many recipes or star ratings for those that do appear, so I’m going to stick to the seeds and pass on eating sunflower leaves.

Also keep in mind that the sunflower’s leaves help the plant to collect and store sunlight as energy so it can grow to its full potential.

What’s Eating My Sunflower Leaves?

Various sunflower pests could be attacking your plants. Check the leaves top and bottom to see if you find any insect eggs, caterpillars, or other bugs on them.

We have problems beyond the bugs here in our PA zone 6b garden.

In our garden, it seems that bunnies and/or the resident (evil) groundhog are happy to chomp our young sunflowers. If they grow tall enough and quickly enough, usually we are okay. It’s the slow grow that seems to doom their fate.

Although if we’re lucky, they’ll just top sunflowers and then new shoots will grow from the sunflower leaves “armpits.” This happened last year. The flowers were smaller, but we got two!

What’s Wrong with My Sunflower?

You can tell a lot about the health of a plant by its leaves. Is it thirsty? Is it not hardened off properly? Is it under attack by a pest?

Sunflower leaves give clues you can use!

Sunflower with Holes in Leaves from Sunflower Pests

Understanding Clues from Sunflower Leaves

Look closely at a sunflower leaf and you may gain insight into the plant’s health and current state.

  • Droopy Leaves – Droopy sunflower leaves indicate that your plant likely needs more water. A thirsty sunflower generally shows its thirst with wilting leaves. Interestingly, wilting can also be a sign of *too much* water. Try to track your watering and rainfall for best results. (Consider using a garden journal!)
  • Yellow Leaves – Oftentimes yellow sunflower leaves mean your sunflower is overwatered or dealing with poor drainage. If the plant gets too much water from rain or watering, the leaves may turn yellow. Yellow leaves may also indicate a nitrogen deficiency.
  • Curling Leaves – Curling sunflower leaves paired with discoloration may signify a sunflower disease such as Verticillium. Leaves infected with Verticillium may take on a mottled green, yellow, and crispy brown appearance.
  • Holes in Leaves – Inspect each sunflower leaf top and underneath to see if any eggs or egg clusters are hiding out. You should also look for sunflower pests, especially caterpillars, which can be devastating to sunflower seeds you may wish to save or eat.
  • Missing Leaves – A larger animal such as a rabbit, groundhog / woodchuck, or deer may be poking around your garden and munching on your plants. If your sunflower suffered a chomp *above* the cotyledon, keep it in the ground. You should soon notice two new shoots growing – one from each side. The sunflowers may end up smaller, but at least all is not lost!
  • Crispy Brown Leaves – A sunflower with outright crispy brown leaves most likely is suffering from extreme dehydration or nearing the end of the growing season. If you’ve left the sunflower seed head on the plant so seeds can mature, this is the eventual expected behavior of the leaves.

Our website features affiliate links to products that we personally believe in. If you make a purchase from a link on our site, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you! This helps our girls chase their garden dreams! Thanks for your support. (View full affiliate disclaimer at the end of the page.)

Final Thoughts: Sunflower Sentiments

We spend so much time waiting for the sunflowers to bloom that the leaves are often overlooked. Some sunflowers may have raggedy leaves but others have truly beautiful green foliage.

Last year we had a problem with sunflower moth caterpillars really going crazy on our sunflowers. I need to find a way to stop them this time around.

We noticed them on the leaves at times, too, but mostly inside the sunflower heads. This prevented us from getting a good sunflower seed harvest, sadly.

I’ve heard parasitic wasps may be the best defense so hopefully some will show up. We were truly overrun last year. It seems dish soap water spray may help as well.

I hope this guide on sunflower leaves is helpful to you! If you have any questions I didn’t answer in the post, please drop them in the comments so we can get back to you right away. Or we can chat about anything related to sunflowers – I do check and respond!

Hopefully this post gives you the tips and guidance you need to grow great flowers with a healthy seed harvest. Best wishes for an amazing sunflower garden!

Similar Posts


  1. My Newly bloomed only 5ft ? about 7″ Mammoth Sunflower that has most all the little flowers filled in is starting to fold over towards the back. I mean the head itself…. Not the whole plant. There is also on the back of the flower head some clear sap dripping?
    Is this normal? Or is my plant dying?
    Thank You for any info you can give me.

    1. Hi Cindy! It’s possible that the flower head is too heavy to hold itself up! I would recommend staking or stringing it up to something if you are able. That can take some of the weight and pressure off.

      As far as the sap, take a peek and see if the sunflower is cracked or has any damage that may be letting the sap out. My best guess is it could have a tiny crack from the weight, but hopefully that can heal itself! Good luck and please let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. I try growing sunflowers every year. The largest I’ve grown is about 2 feet tall. The critters get to them. I live near a lot of trees. I really love sunflowers so much. I have lots of little seedlings growing indoors right now. I have one that is about one foot tall. It’s leaves are curling under slightly. I have a plant water gauge that I use. I hope I can get some sunflowers this year!

    1. Hi Michelle! I really hope you can get some good sunflowers this year too! I am sorry to hear about the critters, believe me, we fight with them too! I once had a bunny or groundhog eat the bloom and part of the stem, but then two new (smaller) sunflower heads ended up growing because it was still above the last leaf set! As for your one that has slightly curling leaves, it might be okay as long as you’re good on the water and sunlight. Hopefully once you get them outside, you can keep the critters at bay. I sometimes put barriers around the sunflowers while young, and I also interplant them in my veggie garden (in a raised bed) and managed to enjoy a bunch. Have you tried branching sunflowers that produce many, many blooms? These are some of my favorites, and still great for cut flowers! Best of luck!

  3. The leafs on my sunflower are turning downwards curl, going underneath the leaf ,
    Please why is this happening ?

    1. Hi Marj, so sorry to hear this is happening! Let’s look for some clues – check if the soil is moist or dry. Overwatering or overfeeding can sometimes cause leaves to droop and curl downward. Check for pests and other signs of trouble on your sunflower. What about the heat and light – how much does it get? Let me know and I’ll do my best to help you! Fingers crossed!

  4. Hi there!
    GREAT article:)
    Sunflowers are my absolute favorite and sadly I pretty much kill all plants:(
    but I decided what the hell and planted “Titan sunflowers “
    They grew super fast and I was very excited!!

    They are almost 5 feet tall but I definitely have yellow ones on the bottom and it seems like every single leaf has holes in it:((((

    I will not water every single day like your post says and I will check for bugs etc….
    My question is does this mean that they will completely die from the holes?

    Thank you thank you!!!

    Bummed in CA,

    1. Hi Jolie! Thanks so much for the compliment and feedback – So happy to hear you liked the post! I too adore sunflowers and hope I can help! I don’t think your sunflowers will die from the holes but I do wonder if you’ve got little caterpillars under the leaves or another pest eating them? Take a peek and see if you can find anything! I would also check the soil and see if it is too wet or too dry or just right. If you monitor regularly, hopefully you will find a clue to see what is causing the issue. I’ve had sunflower leaves go yellow or brown from too little water, too, but that is usually before or just after transplanting. How are they doing today? Sending you all the positive vibes!

  5. should i mist the leaves of my sunflower plant it has leaves but no flower yet, it gets plenty of sun and i dont water it until the soil gets dry again

    1. Hi Kenneth!
      Nice hearing from you – I hope you are enjoying your sunflowers! I do not mist the leaves on my sunflowers and I don’t believe you need to do so. In most cases, sunflowers tend to be pretty hardy, so you can continue watering when dry or as needed. Do pay attention to the leaves of you see them yellowing, browning, or crisping and check for pests under the leaves if so.

      Best of luck in your garden!

  6. I love this article, but it hasn’t helped much :(. There’s tons of holes in the leaves, along with brown spots, but I haven’t seen any bugs at all.

    Do you know what’s the cause of this? Thank you!

    1. Hello Y – thanks for stopping by. I hear you on the concern – this year the same thing is happening to me with lots of holes torn in the leaves but no signs of worms or pests. I think we had bunnies and groundhogs getting some of the lower growing leaves, but I’ve also seen Japanese beetles. The damage is not consistent with beetle damage, though.

      Apparently gold finches may eat the sunflower leaves directly. I’ve also heard cutworms may feed on them at night, though I haven’t found any myself. I’ll continue to watch the sunflowers and update with any findings. How are your sunflowers doing now?

  7. Hi, I just planted a sunflower on my sunny balcony about a week ago. I noticed today that some of the petals are turning white and the flower is “closing” itself rather than blooming. What is going on and how can I save it? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jay, thanks for your comment – that is wild about your sunflower turning white – has it sorted itself out? I wonder if it could be sunburn? Has it acclimated to the outdoor temperatures and strength of the sun before going on your balcony? So sorry for the delay in response – hope you are having better luck now. Feel free to update!

  8. Great article. Some of our leaves are starting to turn brow at the longest part of the leave. Some articles that I have looked at say that if this happens we need to remove that sunflower so that it doesn’t continue to kill other sunflowers that are in the same area. Another article said to just cut the brown leaves off. You seem to really know what you were talking about, so would you possibly give me your opinion please. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Christa,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and positive feedback! I am so delighted that you liked the article and found the information of value. 🙂 I am dealing with something similar this year and I’ve decided to remove just the bad leaves. I will be treating the remaining leaves with neem oil spray or similar organic gardening product. (Since I have young kids especially) I am not planning to remove my sunflowers as they are still blooming beautifully despite losing some leaves that are turning 100% brown and crisping.

      So sorry for the delay – we were away for a wedding and I’m just getting caught up. 🙂 I hope I’ve reached you in time! Best of luck with everything!

  9. Hi, thank you for this article. I love sunflowers! My sunflowers are about 7 feet and are blooming but about three weeks ago the leaves started turning yellow from the bottom up. The top leaves are beautiful dark green but slowly from the bottom up turning yellow. Some have drown spots. They eventually die. I cut them off because I don’t like seeing them. Could that be from overwatering? I did have problems with insects but I use Neem oil and that seemed to get rid of the insects including spotted lantern fly. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Nancy! Great hearing from you, I love sunflowers too! I am so sorry to hear you are also dealing with the sunflower leaf issues. I am not convinced it’s a watering issue in this case. In fact, it sounds similar to what I am dealing with. I have been paying close attention to mine and noticed that some tiny bugs were breeding and hanging out on the undersides of the leaves that were turning yellow and brown and eventually crisping and dying. I will try to add photos when I run across them again. I think what we had were some kinds of lace bugs. Do you spray the undersides of the leaves as well? Best wishes – I hope you can get the sunflowers back to great health!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *