What is eating your garden? It could be anything from greedy little caterpillars to gophers, or even some flocks of wild parrots. Holes in the leaves or skeletonized leaves.
Insects that suck the life out of your plants is another topic. Look for that soon.
We’ll talk about the ones you can recognize and sometimes do something about.
The basic Southern California pests first. Remember that we are not the ultimate real experts. For more advice or knowledge always go to your local Master Gardners.org and you will find all sorts of help.
Leaves eaten with holes.
Look for Caterpillars first. There are lots and lots of different caterpillars. The caterpillar will often be the green looper type There are some that come from moths and some from butterflies. Moths fly at night and Butterflies in the daytime, but you already know that. don’t you? These caterpillars are usually the same color as what they are eating because they are almost transparent.
The Geranium bud worm is especially bad in the summer on upright zonal geraniums and petunias. By the time you see the little hole in the bud the caterpillar has eaten the tender flower bud and left to eat somewhere else on your plant. Look for the little black or green droppings and then look above for the actual culprit. Spray with a spray that has either Bt or Spinosad on the label as the main ingredient. Bt is toxic only to caterpillars. Spinosad works on both caterpillars and larvae. Both are only active for a few days after you spray it. In summer if you are having a problem spray every two weeks.
The Rose slug that skeletonizes your rose leaves is a not a caterpillar. It is a Sawfly larvae. Because this is a larvae instead of a Caterpillar. Bt will not work, but a Spinosad spray kills both caterpillars and Larval munchers that look like Caterpillars.
With Bt spray the culprit has to eat a part of a leaf that has been sprayed with in the last few days, No eat, no die! Spinosad works as a contact spray and also one that kills when eaten. Neither will hurt you or your pets. They will also not kill aphids, scale or other insects. Look at the example, Caterpillars have lots of legs, The Rose Slug is actually the larval stage of the Sawfly. They don’t have the same kind of legs and seem to slide along while they eat instead of moving on legs or looping up to mov as most caterpillars do. There are also caterpillars that have bristly hairs and come in browns and other colors. I looked up the technical differences and now I am more confused than ever.
Slugs and Snails They eat and leave a slimy slick trail behind them Give your plants a light water spray and go out at dusk or dark and you will see them actively eating. You can often see where they are coming from. Look under pots, wood, dead foliage and sometimes inside the pot feasting on the roots. This is a favorite slug hideaway.
Not slugs or snails, not a caterpillar it could be an Earwig. Earwigs feed at night and in the day time they hide under pots, wood or dead leaves. They also eat on your foliage.
Weidner’s carries Sluggo or a similar snail/slug bait that is nontoxic and really works. Sluggo plus does earwigs too. There are other brands too. The older snail baits are very poisonous and we suggest you not use them.
Rabbits, Gophers, Skunks, Racoons, Possums
Bigger holes, bigger damage. Rabbits are really hard to keep out. If you have a rabbit problem try planting their favorite plants in tall pots. Covering small plants until the get a bit larger helps. There are lists of plants that rabbits don’t like on the internet. The stinky sprays will keep them away but only temporarily.
Skunks, Your little black and white friend.
Skunks go after the grubs, larvae and other critters that are in your soil. They will tunnel in just under your soil to find them and do quite a bit of damage. The best solution is to get rid of their food.
BeneficialNematodes is the answer. These are very tiny, almost microscopic little thread like worms that attack only grubs and other larvae and destroy them. Totally harmless to garden earth worms. You buy a little sponge loaded with Beneficial Nematodes and dissolve it in as much water as needed. The water is just a carrier. The nematodes will seek out the bad grubs and larvae invade them and destroy them. They will stay alive in your soil as long as it is moist waiting to attack the larvae. To learn more go to /www.arbico-organics.com. They have an excellent information on how these friendly nematodes work and how to be successful using them.
Racoons can be quite mean and can actually bite if confronted. Keep all your pet food well covered and they should leave you alone. Racoons and tree squirrels like to get into your attic. Skunks love to live under your house. Keep all possible entry ways well screened or closed up. If you think you have a skunk lining under your house or shed and aren’t sure if it is there or outside somewhere, sprinkle white flour at the entrance and you can see the paw prints when your visitor leaves or returns.
Possums. We have a huge population of Possums around Southern California. They are quite friendly and will come right up to your sliding glass doors. They eat Citrus, Avocados and other fruits. They can and will attack young chickens killing and eating them. Possums often tangle with your dogs or cats and the Possum usually wins. Possums can and do play possum and are so realistic that you will swear they are dead.
Moles and Voles are an increasing problem. Both burrow just under the surface. Traps are the best way to get rid of them.
Rats are everywhere and are extremely smart and difficult to get rid of. Rats love to live in Palm trees or in dense patches of old fashioned Algerian Ivy. Near Garbage cans, in the Garage and sometimes even in your car under the hood. They will feed on your fallen fruit, grapes or your garbage. There are new totally non poisonous to you or your pests Rat poisons. RX is the name of one brand. Used correctly they seem to work at least for a while. Traps are effective as long as you keep them well cleaned and tie them to something with a long string. The same for gopher traps.
Rats are very skillful at sensing any kind of trap. The old fashioned wooden trap allows you to tie the bait on with a thread. The newer easy to set types do not.
Personal note: I have had successes and failures with them all. Peanut butter is a favorite but I caught one with a piece of leftover sausage meat. The Ratx also worked in some parts of the garden and got no takers in other parts.
It is humbling to realize that the Rat is smarter than me. The smartest of my rat opponents would take the bait and then flip the trap over on its back. Maybe that is the rat’s way of giving me ‘the finger’.
Gophers love to eat roots and will also gnaw away at the trunks of small citrus trees. You can use traps, water, exhaust from your car, or rat pellet poisons. Some people say that Chewing gum works. Look for a fresh moist mound and the with a sharp stick or your foot find where the main run or highway is. You always need two traps set in opposite directions. Be sure you tie your traps to something solid. Cover the hole and hope for the best. Water or exhaust only work if you have clay type of soil otherwise the water can run forever and still not force the gopher to the surface. Gopher bombs work well, but they come with a very short fuse. Be ready to cover the hole with newspaper and dirt very quickly! You have no way of knowing if you were successful except the absence of new gopher activity.
What else is eating in my garden. Help! Something is making wheelies in my lawn. Tunnels dug up just under the surface.
What is it and Why? The culprit digging is your black and white fragrant friend, the Skunk. Skunks favorite foods are the grubs and other larvae living in your soil. In fact, the better you make your soil the more likely it is that you have some succulent grubs there. Grubs and larvae from flies, fleas, the green scarab beetle the larvae of the rose slug and so many more.
The green Scarab beetle or Fig beetle is usually being only interested in your rotting or fallen fruit. Beautifully iridescent green. They fly into the house in late summer and buzz and dive bomb, Scary but they don’t sting or bite. The Grubs however are a favorite of your visiting skunks. The Skunks put their noses down into the soil and make tunnels in your lawn and flower beds as they search for grubs of any kind.
The only way to stop this damage is to use another nontoxic treatment called Beneficial nematodes. Most nematodes like the Root knot nematodes are destructive pests. This is the good one. Microscopic little threads. They come to you in a little sponge or piece of loaded paper You dissolve them in as much water as you need to water the mix into your soil. The little nematodes wait in your moist soil until any kind of larvae appears. They can sense the carbon dioxide given off and burrow into the grub and basically dissolve it and eat it.
Because these nematodes have a very short shelf life and need to be refrigerated the easiest way is to order on line.
What else is eating in your garden. Your not so friendly rabbit of course.
A few rabbits can destroy your pansies, other plants and vegetables in just a few visits. The rabbits live in the surrounding hills or neighborhoods and your garden can be their favorite target. Purchase a Have a Heart trap from your neighborhood farm supply or order on line. These traps do not harm your skunk, rabbits, possums or other night time visitors. Once they are in the cage you can let them out somewhere in a more native chaparral area. The laws governing release of fur bearing animals is complicated so we are not giving advice on this matter. No domesticated rabbit should ever be released into the wild.
Rats are everywhere this year because we had bountiful rains during the winter. They say that if you have a palm tree, grape vines, other fruit trees or sources of food you probably have some rats. Compost bins, Oranges. Avocados, grapes are favorite foods. There are a number of new non-poisonous products that will humanely kill your rats and are safe to use around pets and foods. Ratx is one product name.
Ground Squirrels make a large round hole and can be very destructive around gardens and ocean bluffs. They are actually rodents and not squirrels at all.
We have more possums than any other creature. Possums love any fruit like avocados. They are very friendly and will come right up to your sliding glass door.
Racoons are a little bigger, bolder and can be very aggressive and will bite if captured.
Beneficial nematodes destroy the grubs and other pest insects that are known to destroy lawns and plants and attract skunks.
The Nematodes are effective against grubs and the larval or grub stage of Japanese Beetles, Northern Masked Chafer, European Chafer, Rose Chafer, fly larvae, Oriental Beetles, June Beetles, Flea beetles, Bill-bugs, Cut-worms, Army worms, Black Vine Weevils, Strawberry Root Weevils, Fungus Gnats, Sciarid larvae, Sod Web-worms, Girdler, Citrus Weevils, Maggots and other Dip-tera, Mole Crickets, Iris Borer, Root Maggot, Cabbage Root Maggot and Carrot Weevil
Fleas, fungus gnats and other gnats, beetles any kind at all. You can dissolve in 25 gallons or 200 gallons. With 200 gallons you have fewer nematodes per gallon You need to do this when the soil temperature is nice and warm in the late spring or summer. When they sense the temperature and carbon dioxide emissions of soil-borne insects, beneficial nematodes move toward their prey and enter the pest through its body openings. The nematodes carry an associated bacterium (Xenorhabdus species) that kills insects fast within 48 hours. The bacteria are harmless to humans and other organisms and cannot live freely in nature. Several generations of nematodes may live and breed within the dead insect, feeding on it as a food source. When the food source is gone, they migrate into the soil in search of a new host. When the pest population is eliminated, the beneficial nematodes die off and biodegrade. Beneficial nematodes are so effective, they can work in the soil to kill the immature stages of garden pests before they become adults.