Sunflower Leaves – Identifying Sunflower Leaf Problems

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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 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.

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!

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  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!

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