What is eating the leaves in my vegetable garden?

Do your food plants have chewed-through leaves? Is the size of the holes large or small? Have whole plants been gnawed to the ground? Are your cucumbers and cabbages starting to wilt? Are your beet, spinach, or chard leaves splotchy? Is it true that some plants have little yellow spots? Finding the perpetrators requires some detective work. The first step is to thoroughly examine the damage and any indications that have been left behind.

Signs and Symptoms of Insects and Slugs

Chewing Damage

Beetles, caterpillars, earwigs, or slugs may be the perpetrators if you see holes or ragged portions of leaves missing and the damage has been developing slowly, with a little eating each night. To differentiate between these four, look for indicators or proof left behind.

Caterpillars deposit feces beneath the leaves or around the damage. Droppings resemble little “pellets.” Some caterpillars spin webs. The extent of the damage varies from countless tiny holes in leaves to the elimination of substantial sections of the leaf. Cutworm caterpillars eat on stems and leaves at night. During the day, search for curled up caterpillars around plant stems just under the soil surface.

Beetles are less prone to leave droppings, and they often avoid detection by falling to the ground. They fall in reaction to the movement of leaves as you search for them. Look closely beneath the leaves for egg clusters and small larvae. Because there are so many various types and sizes of caterpillars and beetles in gardens, seek for information on the plant being nibbled to see what insect pests are often connected with it.

The European earwig, which is common in New England gardens, may wreak havoc on young vegetables, corn silk, and delicate fruit. They will eat multiple holes in the leaves of many vegetable plants. Younger leaves may have holes all over them, however older leaves are often nibbled along the edges. Earwigs’ chewed leaves sometimes have a ragged appearance.

Slugs create a slimy path behind them as they feed, which dries into a gleaming trail. The slime protects their bodies from desiccation, and a deposit is typically left behind where the slug crawled.

To dig deeper, seek for bugs at twilight or at night using a flashlight. Many caterpillars, beetles, and slugs, in particular, eat at night and hide during the day. In home vegetable gardens, handpicking caterpillars, beetles, and slugs and dumping them into soapy water may be helpful. Use shallow cans baited with fish oil or a drop of bacon fat in vegetable oil to catch earwigs.

Damage Caused by Piercing-sucking Insects

Look for tiny, soft-bodied insects in groups along the stems or beneath the foliage if you find plants with wilted, drooping leaves or little yellow spots. Aphids, whiteflies, and squash bugs have mouthparts that are the size of a minuscule straw. They eat by piercing a leaf or stem with their mouthparts and drawing out vital plant liquids. This procedure results in yellow patches or dots. Aphids and whiteflies are little around an eighth of an inch long. Look for a sticky residue known as “honeydew” on plants underneath or near where they feed. This residue often gets moldy and sooty.

Squash bugs hatch from bronze-colored eggs that are frequently placed in clusters on the underside of squash leaves. They are around 1/8″ long, grey and soft at first, and grow into brown, hard-shelled adults that are nearly 3/4″ long. Aphids and whiteflies primarily feed in one location, while squash bugs travel about the plant, typically beneath the leaves.

Leaf-mining, Root-feeding and Stem-feeding Damage

Leaf miners are identified by winding, tan-colored spots on the leaves of spinach, beets, and Swiss chard. These tiny fly larvae burrow between the leaf surfaces, leaving splotchy tracks known as “mines.” If the small white maggot is still active, you may take off the top surface of a mine and discover it. The adult fly deposits its eggs on the surface of a leaf, and the larvae eat by tunneling into the succulent interiors of the leaf.

Do your cabbage seedlings seem to be wilting? The cabbage root maggot fly, like the onion maggot and seed corn maggot flies that are related, lays eggs in the soil near the host plant (or seed), and the developing larvae burrow into the roots or seeds. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, and other cabbage family plants are impacted, as are onions, vine crops (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons, and gourds), and maize, pea, and bean seeds. The adults resemble little houseflies. The larvae, often known as maggots, cause the damage by eating and digging. Damage may produce wilting, poor germination, unattractive radishes, and onion rot.

Cucumber seedlings that wilt, become yellow, and maybe die might be infected with Erwinia tracheiphila, a bacterial wilt disease spread by cucumber beetles. Look for small, 14-inch-long yellow and black striped or black spotted yellow insects feasting on vine crops’ young leaves. (cucurbits). Massachusetts is home to both the striped and spotted cucumber beetles. Their harm includes eating on stems, leaves, and roots, as well as disease spreading. Seedlings with less than five leaves are particularly sensitive.

When squash plants begin to bear fruit, you may see the leaves drooping. Look back down the stem from the wilted leaf for “frass,” which resembles sawdust left by an insect feasting within the stem. Look for the huge, cream-colored caterpillar munching within the stem by making a longitudinal split in the stem near the frass. Remove the caterpillar, then cover the injured section of the stem with dirt to stimulate rooted. During the day, look for the orange and black adult moth, which flies like a little hummingbird and hovers near squash plants. The moth lays small, reddish brown eggs on the stems and leaves of plants.

Management Options

After you’ve determined the source of the harm, think about how you’ll handle the situation. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may either let natural enemies to diminish the bug population or manually wash or pluck the pests off the plants. Plan to use lightweight row coverings to protect crops from flies and beetles, as well as caterpillar-producing butterflies and moths. Row covers, placed at the time of planting, offer the greatest protection for seedlings of cabbage family plants and vine crops in many circumstances.

Some insects and caterpillars may be controlled in the vegetable garden using natural products including Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), neem (azadarachtin), or spinosad. Insecticidal soaps, neem oil, and other oil formulations may be useful as a pesticide as well as a repellent to soft-bodied insects. Insects are always more sensitive to treatment during their juvenile phases. Carefully read the labels and choose a product that is labeled for both the insect and the crop.

Dusk is an excellent time to treat for active bugs if you chose to apply a pesticide for three reasons:

  • Beneficial insects and pollinators will be less active.
  • Organic pesticide active components decay more slowly in the absence of sunshine.
  • At twilight, the wind usually slows down, reducing spray drift.

Damage by Wildlife (Vertebrates)

Rabbits, Voles, Woodchucks, Deer, Chipmunks, Squirrels

In vegetable gardens, everyone eats the leaves or fruits of the plants. Among the symptoms are:

  1. Large parts of the plant are chewed off
  2. Leaves are nibbled; stems cut
  3. New growth is uniformly nibbled off
  4. Plants are eaten to the ground
  5. Fruits are damaged or removed

Sprinkle a coating of finely crushed limestone over the injured plants to help identify what vertebrate species is causing the damage and watch for animal footprints left in the powder the following day.

Foliage that has been nipped off sharply, leaving no ragged edges, indicates rabbit damage. Seedlings may be grazed to the ground, and fresh growth may be nibbled off equally. Keep an eye out for pea-sized droppings. Rabbits seldom leave their burrows or resting areas. They eat during nightfall, at night, and in the early morning. Tender beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, and peas are favorites. Deer damage is sometimes mistaken with rabbit damage, although huge sections of plants are nibbled off and deer footprints are seen in the dirt.

Voles harm seedlings by gnawing on their leaves and stems. Vole damage is similar to cutworm damage in that voles will travel along a row of seedlings, eating just the stems and toppling plants. Alternatively, they may merely nibble on the leaves. They mostly eat at night. Look for vole tunnels in grassy areas along the garden’s margins. Voles remain close to their tunnels and, on occasion, tunnel directly into the garden. When vole numbers are high, problems are more likely to arise.

Woodchucks have a habit of trampling vegetation while they graze. During the day, they eat close to their burrows, particularly in the mid-morning and late afternoon. Woodchucks, like rabbits, seek cover in weedy areas, stonewalls, brush piles, or beneath porches and barns. They like maize, beans, and peas, but will eat a variety of sensitive garden vegetables.

Chipmunks and squirrels may acquire a preference for fruits such as tomatoes or strawberries rather than vegetable greens. Keep an eye out for rodents in your garden early in the morning and late at night.

Management Options

Fencing or repellents may be employed to keep animals away. With the exception of birds, a well built and well-maintained fence will discourage many vertebrate pests. Fencing of various forms and designs is required for the success of various animals. Certain animals may need electric fence at various heights and in conjunction with other forms of fencing. Plan ahead carefully due to the investment in work and money for fence. In general, effective fence is the best approach to keep vertebrate species out of your garden.

Repellents may be effective depending on how many nuisance animals dwell around your garden, as well as their behaviors and preferences. Repellents must be used on a regular basis, especially after rain. Experiment with various repellents and rotate or modify the kind used. Animals grow less susceptible to the influence of a specific repellant over time. Repellents may include animal predator urine, blood meal, garlic, sulfur, or hot pepper, among other ingredients. Read the labels carefully and follow the instructions.

Other Vertebrate Pests in the Garden

Raccoons are infamous for attacking the corn patch the night before you were supposed to collect your first juicy ears. First, make certain that no food sources, such as pet food, compost, or rubbish, are available to raccoons in your community. Remove possible den locations such as stonewalls, woodpiles, sheds, and porches. Raccoons will not be deterred by ordinary fences. Properly built electric fences may repel them.

Birds will pluck sprouting corn, peas, and beans from the ground. Birds will be deterred if row coverings are installed over susceptible, freshly sown crops. Repellents (including “scare” methods) have poor long-term benefit for other species.

Effective pest treatment is dependent on accurately identifying what is causing harm. Once you’ve determined which bug is consuming your crops, you may choose the most effective management method. As a first line of defense, consider cultural approaches, habitat management, handpicking, and obstacles. If you must apply a pesticide, consider one that is labeled for both the insect and the crop. Go to is external) and enter search phrases for the plant and/or the pest, then click on pictures to learn how to identify pests and discover photographs of some of the pests listed in this article.

Related Questions

  • Should you remove leaves that have been eaten by bugs?

    If you are certain that the holes in your green vegetables were caused by insects or slugs, they should be safe to consume if completely washed and any damaged areas removed. However, if your garden has been visited by animals, you should avoid damaged greens.

  • What is eating holes in my plant leaves?

    Many plant species, including hibiscus, hosta, basil, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and pepper plants, are attacked by slugs and snails that gnaw leaf holes. Slug and snail leaf holes provide the following information: Holes are huge and asymmetrical in form.

  • How can I get the bugs out of my flower garden that are eating my leaves & flowers?

    Spritz with oil. Two basic substances may be used to create an efficient insecticide spray: soap and oil. Oil spray works by covering, encapsulating, and suffocating soft-bodied insects like aphids and mites. Shake together a cup of vegetable oil and a quarter cup of liquid soap.

  • What is a natural remedy for bugs eating plant leaves?

    One tablespoon of dish soap, one cup of vegetable oil, one quart of water, and one cup of rubbing alcohol make an excellent DIY mosquito spray for vegetable plants.

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