Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 6:23 PM CST
Missoula, MT
I am in Montana and am growing a few Sunflowers for the first time. They sprouted quickly, grew quickly and they are a little over 3 feet tall now at 30 days since planting. I have noticed a color and texture change in the very center of each of them and I'm wondering if it's normal or what could be wrong. Anybody have any ideas?
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Jul 20, 2021 6:34 PM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Just the new growth? Leaves below are dark green without distortion?
How many plants? Are they all doing that? Are they all lined up next to the same fence, and what's on the other side of the fence? Finally, describe your water and fertilizer regime.
Yeah, lots of questions, but it will help diagnose that.
Actually, a photo of the whole plant(s) would be good
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Last edited by NMoasis Jul 20, 2021 6:36 PM Icon for preview
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 6:41 PM CST
Missoula, MT
This just started with the new growth, yes. There are six plants and yes, they are all doing it. They are up against a chainlink fence with the neighbors yard (just grass) on the other side. I also have ants chomping on the leaves but I think I have that issue under control. A couple of pics of the entire plant(s) as requested.
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Jul 20, 2021 7:13 PM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Because it is only in the new growth, something has recently changed, probably to the soil: Possibly excessive fertilizer—Have you added anything to the soil or water at all? What is the white stuff on the soil at the base of the plants?

Or some sort of herbicide. Possibly like a Weed&Feed product. Could be overspray from something like Round-Up used nearby. Can't exactly tell: are they in a planter box?,

Ants don't eat plants, they eat the honeydew secretions from insects on the plants, usually aphids. How did you get rid of the ants?

Oh, and Welcome! Ldywulf
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 7:25 PM CST
Missoula, MT
The stuff at the base of the plants is cornmeal and sugar for the ants. Sugar attracta the ants and they eat the cornmeal...when they do, it swells and quickly dispatches the little buggers. I fertilize with fish emulsion once every 2 weeks and water when it's needed, at the base of the plants, not with a sprinkler from the top. I don't use weed-n-feed or weed killer on anything including the lawn. They are in a bottomless box over an area prepared to be suitable for their deep tap-root. I was gone for about a week and it is possible a well meaning neighbor fertilized again....she uses Miracle Grow if she did, I'll ask. There is a Maple down the fenceline in her yard and I am almost certain there is an aphid issue in that tree, but it is maybe 30+ feet from my plants. You have given me many options for cause. Thankyou so much. Based on what I've relayed to you, what do you think?
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Jul 20, 2021 8:01 PM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Sunflowers don't do well with a lot of fertilizer or water. Mostly they want average dirt on the dry side. If that potting soil had fertilizer already in it and you're adding more, it is too much. Too much water can also cause leaf distortion.
However, that sudden severe chlorosis suggests an extreme nutrient deficiency?? I've got several ideas but firm answers. Let's get a knowledgeable opinion: @DaisyI
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 8:05 PM CST
Missoula, MT
If that's the case, will they recover if I leave them alone?
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Jul 20, 2021 8:11 PM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Leaving them alone is the best thing to do until you figure it out. I've paged someone for a second opinion. She'll show up eventually.
It might be too dark for more photos. Tomorrow, take some pics of the backs of a couple of leaves and more examples of the new growth, plus a full shot of all six plants.

Oh, this isn't about ants or aphids, but something is certainly chewing.
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 8:32 PM CST
Missoula, MT
Thanks for the help. Will take more pics and repost in the morning. Thank You!
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Jul 20, 2021 9:08 PM CST
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
It looks like herbicide drift.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 20, 2021 9:13 PM CST
Missoula, MT
I don't use it and none of my neighbors do either. If it came from farther away, what can I do about it? Or will my plants eventually die?
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 21, 2021 7:04 AM CST
Missoula, MT
Here are the pics I took this morning. I saw one, very small earwig on one of the stems but no others and the earwig traps were once again empty. If the color change on the new growth is herbicide drift, why hasn't it shown up before now? I only planted the seed a month ago tomorrow. Confused
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Jul 21, 2021 9:42 AM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Ldywulf, I see a smorgasboard of issues, and I don't think those plants are going to survive. One reason I asked all those questions initially is because I, too, suspected herbicide drift based on your first photos.

But your subsequent photos suggest bacterial and/or fungal diseases and show that you have some sort of caterpillar — those little dark pellets on the second photo above are caterpillar poop.

Overwatering, overcrowding and overfertilizing all weaken a plant and make it susceptible to disorders. The large leaves and spindly stalks say too much nitrogen. If those are Mammoth or similar variety, they are way too close. Fungal and bacterial disease thrive in moist conditions.

If they were mine, I would pull and destroy them (in the trash, not compost) and write it off to a learning experience. If you want to try to save them, pull out every other plant, remove the most infected leaves, and stop watering until the soil dries out at least 2" deep. There are products for both disorders, but since I don't use them I can't recommend any. But really, I don't think they're worth saving. Sad
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 21, 2021 9:48 AM CST
Missoula, MT
I was kind of leaning that way myself. What would be the best way to pull them to make sure I got all the root? Do I need to remove and replace all the soil or maybe add to it , cover with mulch and let the entire thing rest undisturbed until next spring? What would be something safe to plant in this spot?
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Jul 21, 2021 10:02 AM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Try to remove most of the roots, but don't obsess about it. Most bacteria require moisture to survive. Don't mulch. Let the soil dry completely before attempting to plant something new...depending on your climate/rainfall, that might be awhile. If/when you replant there, if those conditions return, then yes, probably best to replace the soil. Sterilize any tools you use in that bed before using elsewhere.

For what it's worth, first-time sunflower growers commonly make the same errors as you did. Thumbs up
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 21, 2021 10:26 AM CST
Missoula, MT
Thanks for the help. Not sure herbicide drift was my fault, but I will be on the lookout for users of it in the future. Overfeeding, yes-likely my fault. The caterpillars or insect activity, I plead ignorance as I was oblivious as to how to eliminate or control them. Maybe 1-2 next year....a big MAYBE. Rolling my eyes.
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 21, 2021 10:56 AM CST
Missoula, MT
Wow. Tap root on these buggers was the size of a single serving white radish and the accompanying root ball, a diameter between a softball and a soccer ball. I get now that there wasn't enough room....especially since they still had 6 weeks growing time left before producing that flower head. Live and learn. Sighing!
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Jul 21, 2021 10:58 AM CST
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque NM, Elev 5310 ft (Zone 7b)
Bee Lover Bookworm Cat Lover Composter Container Gardener Herbs
Region: New Mexico Salvias Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Didn't mean to imply EVERYTHING was your mistake! Water-spacing-fertilizer is the common trio.

As for the drift. Stay alert for symptoms of that on other plants. It is surprising how far overspray can travel on the slightest breeze, especially if someone is spraying heavily or carelessly on a windy day.

About spotting caterpillars: If leaves looked chewed, go out early in the morning, find the poop on the leaves (it's called frass, btw), then look above it. Examine front and backs of leaves and on stalks. If it's big enough to produce visible pellets, it's big enough to see. Grasshoppers leave similar frass, but their chewing patter is different.

Edit to add: Yes, roots are big. Easy to miscalculate!
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Last edited by NMoasis Jul 21, 2021 11:00 AM Icon for preview
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Jul 21, 2021 11:02 AM CST
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
No, its called poop. Rolling on the floor laughing

Slip a saucer of beer under the leaves some evening and see what you catch. Overwatering also causes the new growth to turn yellow but its a different kind of yellow (did that make sense?)
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Avatar for Ldywulf
Jul 21, 2021 11:11 AM CST
Missoula, MT
Wasting good barley pop on those evil creatures seems like such a waste. Glare Can they be eliminated or controlled?
Leaving area alone now but you say soil has to dry out........rain, lawn watering, snow......or should I cover it up?

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