The Q&A Archives: Ants on sunflowers

Question: I've done a really fun project w/ my grandkids starting sunflowers indoors from seed,then transplanting outside. Plants are growing well but have developed holes in the leaves. We recently found numerous tiny ants on the leaves. What's the bast way to get rid of them?
Thanks for your help

Answer: Caterpillars and insects of all kinds will feed on sunflower leaves. You might try inspect the plants several times a day to see if you can find the critters responsible for gnawing holes in the leaves. Handpick any pests you find or rinse them off with a strong stream of water. Ants are usually attracted to plants because of the nectar they exude or because there are aphids feeding on the leaves. Aphids exude a sticky substance called honeydew which is a magnet for ants. Again, hosing the plants off will discourage aphids and ants. Or, you can use ant baits. A good least-toxic method is the use of boric acid baits. Boric acid baits can eliminate some ant colonies in about one week. The trick is to not kill the ants at the bait station, but to get the ants to carry the boric acid back to the nest, poisoning the members of the colony that never leave the nest. Most ants feed either on sugars or on protein, fats, or oils. To see which type you have, place small dabs of jelly and peanut butter (not mixed) where ants are seen and watch which food they are attracted to. If they are attracted to the jelly, you can make a boric acid bait by mixing one-half cup jelly, such as apple jelly, with 1 1/4 tsp boric acid powder. Punch several holes in the lid of the jar, then screw the lid on tightly and seal with tape. The holes should be large enough for the ants to pass through to reach the bait. Place the bait jar on its side where the ants will come in contact with it. If the ants are unable to gain footing on the jar lid, you might want to scratch the surface with sandpaper or a pebble. If the ants are attracted to peanut butter, use that for your bait rather than jelly. If you find many dead ants around the bait station, whichever bait you use, lower the amount of boric acid in the mixture. If you are still finding live ants after a week to 10 days, increase the amount of boric acid. Although boric acid is of very low toxicity, it is best to place bait jars where children and pets cannot reach them.

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