What’s Eating My Plants?

July 7, 2008 | By | Comments (33)

Q: Something is eating up many leaves on my bougainvilleas, hibiscus, roses and some other plants.
I have found some very small green worms on some leaves plus small white hard shell bugs.They are oblong in shape and the size of a pencil eraser and have a very hard shell. I have tried different store bug sprays and also made my own spray with Hot Sauce, soap, etc. Nothing has helped. Can you help me?
Also, my hibiscus flowers have been falling off too easily, most of them as buds. I noticed this way before the bug problem. I have tried different food for hibiscus but that has not helped either. I need help badly, before I give up gardening.
Mrs. Claudette Michael
Margate, Florida

A: I think you have several different insect pests at work.The “white hard shell bug” sounds like a scale. This insect builds a shell over itself and sucks plant juices. Ordinary contact pesticides can’t reach it and are ineffective. You need to use an oil spray that smothers it, such as Vegol Year-Round Pesticidal Oil. This organic product is made from canola oil.

Any number of insects could be chewing your plants, including caterpillars. For them, apply a combination rotenone-pyrethrin spray, which is made from chemicals found in plants. You can find both products I mentioned at www.planetnatural.com.

I’m not sure why the flower buds of your hibiscus keep dropping, but this often happens when the plant gets too dry in the summer. If the plant wilts badly, the buds turn yellow and fall.



  1. Grumpy Gardener


    This sounds like a gopher to me. Bad news. Here’s some info on how to use traps effectively: http://www.garden-counselor-lawn-care.com/gopher-traps.html

    March 16, 2016 at 3:53 pm
  2. kent

    Something is taking whole tomato plants at night. It leaves a hole and the entire plant is gone. We live in a community with block walls. The garden is against our back wall and about every 2-3 days we loose another plant. The entire plant is just gone. A small rodent type hole is left behind but we find no other holes. Just where the tomato plant was. These are young tomatoes just planted maybe 8 inches tall. The holes left behind are two inches in diameter. We put traps out and have had no luck on catching anything. Cannot use chemicals or the wife will get upset. Suggestions?

    March 10, 2016 at 11:46 am
  3. Steve Bender


    If the entire pepper is gone, I would suspect an animal, but can’t tell you which one. Too many possibilities.

    July 30, 2015 at 10:18 am
  4. dani

    I have a mixed vegetable garden but only the green pepper was eaten by what? The vegetable and plants are almost gone. i want an answer for this thanks

    July 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm
  5. Kimbery Davis

    something is eating holes in all the leaves on my Japanese maple – what can I do to make it stop???

    June 20, 2015 at 11:58 am
  6. Steve Bender

    Try spraying the foliage with neem oil. You can get this at the garden center.

    Since animals aren’t involved, I would guess the culprits are either caterpillars or snails. As the damage happens at night, go out at night with a flashlight and see if you can catch them in the act.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm
  7. Terrie

    I live in San Antonio Texas, something keeps stripping all the leaves off my peach tree, has just stripped my bouganvilleia and is eating my basil and my pepper plants…already munched down on the marigolds, I have no idea how to treat. This is all in a court yard with no access by animals…there is no sign of any bugs, only eat at night.

    September 8, 2012 at 1:41 am
  8. marita

    A very small white worm is eating my hibiscus plant. How can I get read off this bug?

    August 24, 2012 at 9:19 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I suspect you have an infestation by a mouselike rodent called a vole. It burrows around just under the mulch or soil surface and chews through stems. If you have mulched around your plants, pull the mulch away from the base of the stems. Then try applying some vole repellent. Here’s a link with a source: http://www.critter-repellent.com/vole/vole-control.php

    July 3, 2012 at 10:56 am
  10. Angel

    I’m so frustrated. I planted a garden and something keep killing my flowers. They aren’t eating the flowers or leaves but separating the stem just above the roots so they are still standing up and wilting. When I touch them they fall over. I can’t see any signs of moles or ground hogs. I looked for bugs and hardly see any except a few ants and occasionally a Roly poly. I live in Northern California. Please help!

    July 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Georgia Ray,
    I don’t know what’s doing the damage, but will suggest a couple of things. Try spraying with either neem oil or hot pepper wax. You can get neem oil at the garden center. Google “hot pepper wax” and you will see sources. Both deter a variety of pests.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:44 am
  12. georgia ray

    something has eaten my orchid leaves down to the trunk of the plant…they hang in a tree and have for years…this is the first time and it is bizarre..all my other plants look fine…I have a passion flower vine and bleeding heart both next to the tree and no sign of anything eating them…do you have any suggestions..

    June 1, 2012 at 11:19 am
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    So many insects could be responsible that I can’t pinpoint just one. Try spraying them according to label directions with a natural insecticide called neem oil. You can get it at most garden centers.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm


    May 25, 2012 at 11:54 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Sounds like an animal, even though deer don’t usually bother the plant.

    November 27, 2011 at 5:46 pm
  16. Helen

    I’ve planted some mexican petunias in my garden and have noticed something has been eating away at the leaves. Some of the plants are down to the base with no leaves left. Whatever it is is not eating my petunias or salvia. Any suggestions?

    November 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    It sounds like an animal eating your plants. My guess is a rabbit. As for you tomato, that’s probably a cutworm. An easy way to foil cutworms is to cut a 4-inch square of cardboard, cut from one edge to the center to fit around the tomato stalk, and place the cardboard on the ground around the base of the plant. The cutworm won’t be able to reach the stalk.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm
  18. june

    my husband just planted tomatoe
    plants and growing well. Today notices that one of the bigger
    plants some pest ate the bottom
    of the stem and it has been broken off. All of the problem that I have happens in the night.

    May 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm
  19. june

    everytime flower or stem of flower on my orchid blooms and the buds are eaten and has very sharp teeth (Round mark) also eats the leaves of the orchid and kills them.
    I also planted zinnia flowers and the flowers bloom so nice next day found to leaves on the the all of the plants. The orchids and the zinnia flowers is in the different locations.

    May 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm
  20. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The ants were undoubtedly “farming” aphids that suck the juice from flower buds and cause them to shrivel. Liquid detergent mixed with water kills the aphids. Re the chewed leaves, look for small, green caterpillars on the leaves. To take care of them, I’d advise applying Bayer Advanced Rose & Flower Care according to label directions. You can get this at garden centers.

    April 30, 2011 at 8:36 am
  21. Jeanne

    This is my second year for Hibiscus plants in SW Florida.
    My Hibiscus flowers were beautiful and huge then all of a sudden the flower on one of them was shriveled and small did lot of research and sprayed with dish soap and water and BINGO the flowers are back. What I saw was ants. Now this morning
    seeing leaves being eaten.
    One of the Hibiscus plants that wouldn’t bloom has it first bloom this year.

    April 27, 2011 at 9:29 am
  22. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I wish I could tell you what the caterpillars are, but without a photo I can’t. It’s unlikely this kind would find all the different plants in your garden to be tasty. Every garden loses leaves, but it doesn’t mean curtains for your plants.

    April 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  23. Betsy

    I planted 60 ornamental plants in my backyard. Lately I’ve noticed the plant leaves are being eaten. I bought “Fungicide 3” which is not only a fungicide but also an insecticide and a miticide. Last night I noticed black worms at the base of my plants. They weren’t very long but they were fat. Do you have any idea what they are or how I can stop them from eating every pretty thing I planted?

    April 17, 2011 at 10:49 am
  24. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    There are several other things you can try to reduce pest problems. Here are a few.
    1. Healthy plants resist pests better than stressed plants. Planting in fertile, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter gets most plants off to a good start.
    2. Keep weeds under control. The more weeds you have, the more bugs you’ll have.
    3. The times that you plant affect the number of bugs around. For example, if you plant broccoli and cabbage for fall, you’ll have fewer cabbage moths than in spring.
    4. Don’t plant the same things in the same spots year after year. This causes a spike in overwinterings pests.
    5. Finally, plant things that don’t get bugs. They are many, many plants that bugs just don’t like. Concentrate on those that live in your area and you’ll seldom have to spray.

    September 2, 2010 at 10:53 am
  25. blossoms345

    Aside from chemical spray and the use of beneficial pests in the garden, is there any other way to keep bugs away from plants? I am just curious to know if there are any other methods. I have been researching on this but I still haven’t found any other methods aside from what I mentioned earlier, I was thinking that you may have some other advice. Thanks 🙂

    September 2, 2010 at 4:06 am
  26. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Can’t say exactly what kind of bugs you have or if even they’re the cause of the problem. You might try spraying them with hot pepper wax, which repels many insects. Here’s a link: http://gardenerschoice.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=106

    May 20, 2010 at 11:12 am
  27. Dana

    Something is eating my plants in front and back. My basil, red bell pepper plant, zinnias, salvia, and day lilies all have something eating them. I have sprayed everything with seven, home defense and bayer (something) both and I can’t get rid of what I thought was ants. I have even sprayed my yard with cutter. They are small and black but I think they have some clear wings. Do you know what these might be and what can I do to kill them? Some of these plants are in pots and some in the ground. Thanks for your help.

    May 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm
  28. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I’m not sure what your plant is. Try spraying it according to label directions with a rotenone-pyrethrin spray. You can order this from http://www.planetnatural.com.

    May 16, 2010 at 11:55 am
  29. Renee

    Something is eating holes in my plants. Not sure what type plant it is. It is dark red, orange and dark green, large leaves, and blooms an orange flower later in the year. Something is eating holes in every leaf and some of the leaves are completely cut off at the top. Please help!

    May 14, 2010 at 1:09 pm
  30. roz

    Try dried blood for the squirrels; also garlic powder for the birds; these keep both away from the plants I’ve tried every product sold at the garden shops and these work the best. and the dried blood will keep the rabbits from chewing impatiens too. Just remember to re-apply after rain

    August 1, 2009 at 9:29 am
  31. Deborah

    I live in North Florida, and hibiscus tend to do well here. This is the first year that I’ve noticed that something has been eating my plants. It’s not that the culprit is chewing holes in the leaves…it is chewing the leaves off at the stem, leaving the leaves, themselves, untouched. One of my hibiscus has been totally denuded…not a leaf on it anywhere. One day I was sitting on the porch looking out over the garden and I saw first a squirrel, then some cardinals, get on another of my hibiscus and begin gnawing on the leaf stems! I’ve never seen anything like it. I *think* that these may be my culprits. Has anyone else ever experienced anything like this?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm
  32. Grumpy

    Which will happen when the praying mantises eat all of the ladybugs.

    July 21, 2008 at 8:53 am
  33. Teresa

    I purchased some chemicals after I went out at 10pm with a flashlight to SEE exactly what was eating my plants.
    I just couldn’t, with good conscience, use it. There are birds and other wildlife, not to mention that the chemicals we put on the ground end up in OUR oceans and tap water.
    The answer was too simple for me to see. Nature has it’s own delicate balance so I am pitting nature against itself. I bought Praying Mantid and Ladybugs.
    Let nature run it’s course!

    July 19, 2008 at 10:33 pm

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