Insect Leaf Damage: Something Is Eating Holes In Plant Leaves

By: Liz Baessler

It’s disheartening to inspect your garden in the morning, only to find holes in your plant leaves, eaten at night by some unwelcome creature. Luckily, the pests that eat your plants leave telltale signs in their chewing patterns, meaning you can easily figure out what you’re up against and fight back accordingly. Keep reading to learn how to fight this insect leaf damage.

What’s Eating My Garden Leaves?

So something is eating holes in plant leaves. What could it be? If big pieces of your leaves are missing, the culprit is a larger animal. Deer can eat at heights up to six feet, ripping the foliage away and leaving jagged edges on whatever is left.

Rabbits, rats, and possums will take away large chunks closer to the ground. Often, though, you will discover that it’s insects eating leaves off your plant.

What to Do for Insects Eating Leaves

Caterpillars of a huge number of varieties may be drawn to your plants. You’ll recognize their feeding as irregular holes in leaves. Some, such as tent caterpillars, are easy to identify by the structures they build on trees. Use a stick to pull the tents, along with all the caterpillars in it, out of the tree and into a bucket of soapy water. Leave them in there for a day to kill them. Many other kinds of caterpillars who don’t live in structures can be killed by an insecticide.

Sawflies chew holes that don’t go all the way through the leaf, making it look intact but transparent. Leaf miners burrow twisting tunnels across leaves. For both, treat with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Sucking insects poke tiny holes in leaves and draw the juices out of them. Common sucking insects include aphids, squash bugs, and spider mites. Spray your plants diligently with insecticide, as sucking insects can breed so rapidly a single application often isn’t enough. If your plant is strong enough, a good blast with a hose can work well to physically knock them away.

Slugs and snails will also feast on your plant leaves. These can normally be controlled by making the area less comfortable for them, such as placing crushed eggshells around your plants.

Other common leaf eating insects include:

  • Leaf cutter bees
  • Japanese beetles
  • Flea beetles

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How To Tell What Bug Is Eating Your Plants

Want to know what's been nibbling your plants? Every pest leaves telltale signs. Once you learn the signs of common lawn and garden pests, you'll know if you're up against a furry critter or a slimy Snail.

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When insects or damage first appear. For severe infestations, repeat every 7 to 14 days as specified.

Roses, flowers, vegetable and flower gardens, shrubs, ground covers, lawns and around homes.

To prevent listed insect, mite or disease infestations or to control them when they first appear.

Roses, flowers, houseplants, ground covers, vines, ornamentals, shrubs and trees. For use on non-edible plants only. Not for use on lawns.

Dilute 2.67 fluid ounces, 5 + 1/4 Tablespoons) concentrate in 1 gallon of water.

When insects or damage first appear. Grubs: May through July

Lawns and along building foundations only

Deer and Rabbits

Deer lack upper incisors, so they bite foliage and tear it free, creating jagged edges. This is also true when they bite a stem –the edge is jagged. When deer are present, you'll see hoof prints in soft soil and lawn.

Rabbits leave neatly clipped stems and prefer new, tender growth, including stems, growing tips and leaves. Sometimes they'll munch an older leaf but may not eat the entire thing. Rabbit damage tends to be low to the ground. They also chisel away bark on woody plants, especially in fall and winter.

Slugs and Snails

These slimy critters like to hang out where it's moist and shady. They'll also attack plants in sunny beds, provided there's a place to hide out during the day, like under rocks, landscape timbers, pots or mulch. Slugs and Snails tend to create through-and-through, irregular-shaped holes in the leaf itself, not along the edges. (Most insects start feeding from the outside of a leaf and work their way in.) The surest way to identify Slugs and Snails is to visit your garden after dark with a flashlight. Look beneath leaves.


These munchers eat irregular holes in leaves, attacking both older and new growth. Some types, known as Cutworms, chomp through seedling stems at soil level, causing plants to keel over. Many Caterpillars boast camouflage that allows them to blend in with the leaves they're eating. Watch for butterflies fluttering around plants, landing on leaves and laying eggs. That's a sure sign Caterpillars are coming.

This Wasp cousin has larvae that resemble Caterpillars or Slugs. There are several types of Sawflies. As some larvae feed on plants, they create irregular holes that don't extend all the way through a leaf. This makes the holes appear transparent. Other types cluster along leaf edges, so that up to a dozen worm-like creatures are feeding on the same leaf.

Japanese Beetles

Shiny, metallic Japanese Beetles feed on flowers and leaves. They feed in the middle of leaf blades, eating the tissue between leaf veins to create a skeletonized effect. The larvae are lawn Grubs. Their feeding causes brown patches in grass and a spongy feel underfoot.

These fierce-looking insects, with their rear-end "pincers," feast on dead and living organisms, including insect eggs and adult Aphids. But they also like to eat soft fruits (peaches, apricots, berries) and new growth on plants. Typically, they chew irregular holes along leaf edges or inside the leaf blade. On seedlings, they'll eat all tender growth –leaves and stems. You'll usually spot them hiding inside blossoms or growing shoots of plants.

Leaf-Cutting Bees

These introduced Bees are welcome pollinators but do cause some damage to ornamental plants, such as roses and ash trees. Their marks on leaves is distinct: They cut neatly edged, half-moon disks along leaf edges. They use this material to line the cells in which they lay eggs.

How to Treat Holes in the Leaves on Flowers

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Holes in flower leaves usually indicate insect pests rather than disease, which tends to cause spots on the leaves or dropping leaves. Holes are caused by insects with chewing mouthparts, such as caterpillars and beetles. Before you rush for a can of insecticide, though, consider that each insect is part of a larger ecosystem. Those bugs that eat your plants probably feed birds and frogs. In most cases, insects feed for a few weeks on plants and then move on. If you take a wait and see approach, the problem might resolve itself. In more serious cases, try a few natural or cultural strategies before resorting to chemicals.

Identify the problem. In most cases, holes in the leaves of your flowers mean insect pests, such as caterpillars or slugs. Look on the undersides of leaves for insects or inspect the ground for other telltale signs. Caterpillars, for example, leave green fecal pellets, while slugs and snails leave a shiny trail.

Select a treatment based on your findings. For example, handpick caterpillars and drop them in soapy water or treat them with Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt), soilborne bacteria that prevent caterpillars from feeding and eventually destroy them. Milky spore disease controls Japanese beetles. Treat slugs and snails with a commercial product containing iron phosphate or handpick them at night. Spreading sand on the soil around the plants might also deter slugs and snails, according to "Sunset" magazine.

Remove weeds, dead plant debris and webs from around your flowers. By removing shelter for bothersome insects, they'll often leave on their own.

Grow a variety of flowers in your garden. Most insects prefer certain flowers to others. By increasing the diversity in your garden, you reduce the amount of damage one type of insect can cause. Growing a diversity of plants also encourages beneficial insects and predatory animals, such as ladybugs, praying mantises, birds, frogs and snakes. These animals find shelter in your flower garden and eat the insects.

Wrapping It Up

Fortunately, pepper plants aren’t as prone to pests compared to other vegetables. However, there may be problems with insect damage, causing holes on pepper plant leaves! Not to worry though, as it’s completely fixable with the right remedies and pest control.

I hope that this article answers your question, “what is eating holes in my pepper plant leaves?” Now that you know the answer, start getting rid of these pesky pests that cause holes on your pepper plant leaves now!

Pests Eating Magnolia Leaves - Knowledgebase Question

It's difficult to recommend a control without knowing what the pest is. Scale insects are commonly found on Magnolia, but they are easy to spot. If you find damage but no insects, my next suggestion is that weevils might be feeding at night. Adult weevils hide in the soil during the day and climb up the trunk and branches to feed at night. You can go out after dark with a flashlight and try to find the culprits.

If weevils are the problem, you can use a sticky trap at the base of the magnolia, or cover the soil under the tree with polyspun weed barrier to keep the insects from easy access to your tree. I've been successful in keeping weevils from chomping the leaves of my rhododendrons (another favorite of theirs) by tying a cardboard tube around the base of the plant and smearing it with Tanglefoot, a very sticky substance found in most garden stores. Tanglefoot will trap the weevils. When the trap gets full, replace it with a new one.

Common Types of Plant Root-Eating Pests

Plant root pests are often harder to spot than other garden pests, due to their tendency to hide away under the surface of the soil. Unfortunately, they can do extensive damage to the plants they infest, and root eating bugs can be a disaster for your garden.

Learning how to successfully identify root eating pests is essential for effective control. If you suspect you have an infestation, the first thing to do is to work out exactly what you’re dealing with. The most common types of root pests include root mealybugs, root aphids, fungus gnat larvae, root maggots, and root weevils.

How can you tell if you have plant root pests?

Wilting leaves, stunted growth, drooping flowers, discoloration, and general poor health are all textbook examples of the damage to plants caused by root eating pests.

Keep in mind!

However, as the symptoms of plant root pests often mimic those of other plant diseases, the true culprits often hide away unnoticed for months.

If your garden is suffering and you’re not sure why try digging around in the soil at the base of your plants. If you find an unusually high number of insects and bugs crawling around down there, there’s a good chance your blooms are under attack from plant root pests.

Identifying these pests correctly is an essential first step for successful extermination. So, what are the most common types of plant root pests, and how can you tell them apart from one another?

What are the most common types of plant root pests?

Root mealybugs

  • What are they? Root mealybugs are a type of mealybug that feeds on the roots of plants. These soft-bodied, sucking insects prefer to hang out beneath the soil surface and can, therefore, go undetected for long periods of time. Like above-ground mealybugs, they secrete wax, which gives them a white, cottony appearance. Plants with root mealybug infestations will look generally unwell and may have stunted growth.
  • Identification: The main difference between mealybugs and root mealybugs is which parts of the plant they inhabit. Whereas mealybugs are usually found on the stems and leaves of plants, root mealybugs lurk underground in the root network of the plant. If your pot plants are looking droopy, take them out of the pot and examine the root system for the distinctive white, waxy substance that indicates the presence of root mealybugs

Root aphids

  • What are they?Root aphids are closely related to aphids and live at or just above the soil line around plants. Their preferred habitat makes them harder to spot than other types of aphids, meaning a major infestation can develop right under your nose. These tiny, pear-shaped, sap-sucking insects can do significant damage to your plants by draining nutrients from the roots, but only if they are present in large numbers.
  • Identification: Root aphids are similar in appearance to other types of aphids and are typically wingless, small, and yellow to gray-green in color. You can, however, tell them apart according to where they hang out on the plant. Root aphids congregate on or just below the soil level, whereas other varieties are found feeding on the leaves and stems of the plant. Plants with root aphid damage will often look generally unwell with wilted, yellowed or curled leaves and stunted growth.

Fungus gnat larvae

  • What are they? Fungus gnats are tiny flies that lay their eggs in organic debris or moist soil, often around potted plants. When they hatch, the larvae burrow down into the surrounding soil to feast on decaying organic matter, fungi and root hairs.
  • Identification: These legless, worm-like bugs have long, white or clear-ish bodies and shiny black heads.

    When present in high numbers, or in especially moist conditions, fungus gnat larvae may leave slime-trails on the surrounding soil similar to those left by slugs and snails.

    Large infestations of fungus gnat larvae can cause significant damage to plant roots, causing stunting and even death, particularly in young plants.

    Root maggots

    • What are they? Root maggots are a type of fly larvae that feed on the roots of plants. Once established they can be impossible to get rid of and can cause wilting, yellowing and stunted growth of host plants. Root maggots most often target young plants and are most active in the spring.
    • Identification: Root maggots are yellowish-white, worm-like bugs that usually grow to around ¼ inch in length. They are legless with cylindrical bodies that taper at the head, and tunnel through roots and bulbs they feed off. Plants with root maggot infestations will often look wilted, yellowed and stunted, and heavily damaged plants may die early.

    Root weevils

    • What are they? Root weevils are a type of beetle that feeds on the roots of infested plants. Adult weevils feed on the foliage of plants in the summer and lay their eggs in the crown of the plant. Once they hatch, the weevil larvae burrow down into the soil to feast on the roots beneath. By doing this, weevil larvae are able to overwinter in your garden, emerging once more in spring to cause widespread damage to your plants.
    • Identification: Root weevil larvae are white in pink in color with a distinctive brown head and a curved, legless body. They can reach up to 9mm in length. Plant wilting is your first indication of the presence of root weevils, as these bugs can completely devour roots and deprive the plant of water. Once the adults emerge, you’re likely to notice large chunks missing from the leaves of the plant as they start to much through the foliage.


    Root maggots, fungus gnat larvae, root aphids, root mealybugs, and root weevils are all common plant root pests. Unlike other types of garden pest, these bugs don’t feed on foliage. Instead, they burrow down into the soil to chew through the roots of plants, causing widespread damage and depriving the plants of water and nutrients.

    Root eating bugs usually cause an overall decline in plant health as a result, leading to wilting and yellowing leaves, stunted growth and even death.

    Implementing an integrated pest management plan to keep root pests away from your plants is the best way to prevent an infestation, as these bugs can be tricky to get rid of once they’ve invaded your garden.

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