What’s Eating My Astilbe?

Over the weekend, I was watching the squirrels in my backyard.  Some folks call them “ground rats” or “tree rats”  but I enjoy them.  There were four of them and it seemed like they were playing tag but I’m sure they were involved in a serious skirmish over territory.

As I moved from one window to another, I glanced down and saw a chipmunk–another “love ’em or hate ’em” critter, I know.  But then I also saw this.

It’s not a great photo because it’s hard to take a photo of a leaf that’s been eaten down to nubby little nothings.  So of course I came into the computer and started looking for things like “astilbe leaf skeletonizer” or even “astilbe pests” and guess what?

There are none!  According to the incredibly diverse internet, “astibles are remarkably pest and disease resistant.”  They may get spider mites or Fusarium rot, but that’s about it.  And neither of those cause what I’m showing in the above photo.

So I’m a bit stumped.  I’m guessing earwigs.  Slugs don’t usually do something like this–they just take random diverse chomps out of leaves and move on.  For that matter, so do earwigs, but it’s been so ridiculously wet, who knows?  In my yard, I’m averaging 3″ of rain a week.

There are various types of skeletonizing leaf beetles–some 27 pages worth on the online site BugGuide–but none seem to affect astilbe.  These beetles are very host specific–they might jump to a cultivar but they will not jump to a different species.  I did not find one for astilbes.

So I’m sticking with the earwigs taking advantage of the mouldering conditions–or to quote Woody Allen, I’m getting so mellow, I’m ripening and rotting.  And certainly, so is the garden!

6 thoughts on “What’s Eating My Astilbe?

  1. august2june August 15, 2014 / 12:51 am

    Did you ever figure out if it was really earwigs? this year is the first time my astilbes have had a pest problem and I’ve been growing them for years. Not only were the leaves affected, but the flowers were stunted. that doesn’t seem like bugs, and I am guessing they are two different problems.

    • gardendaze August 15, 2014 / 7:00 am

      I think you’re correct about that. Stunted flowers quite often mean thrips. Don’t try looking–they’re just about impossible to see.

      The sad news is that I do not know of an organic control for those because they get down into the flowers themselves where no topical can reach them.

      As for whether I actually saw earwigs eating the astilbes, no. B u t I did see them in that same flower bed. All of our scarab beetles were past at that point so that’s why I really didn’t think asiatic beetle, which might have been my other thought.

      Your astilbe flowers are a lost cause for this year. Next year, however, as the buds form, keep your eye on them. If it seems that the bus stalks are not elongating as they should, you might try saturating with insecticidal soap. I’m not sure if it will reach down to the thrips, but it’s worth a shot.

      good luck and thanks for reading!


      • august2june August 15, 2014 / 1:44 pm

        thanks so much Karla! Thrips. boo! I will try soap next year. The plants were so healthy all spring putting out tons of buds, and then it all went downhill just as it came time to bloom. Would it help to move the plants to a different spot this winter when they are dormant–new soil etc?

  2. gardendaze August 15, 2014 / 2:04 pm

    Sure thing. It might help moving them–but if any eggs go with the plants you might just risk contaminating another part of your garden as well. That’s the trade-off to consider.

    That’s the trouble with some of our insect pests–they strike just when things are looking great! I’m battling those pesky petunia worms as we speak. Nothing worse than lovely petunias all full of holes!

    Have a great weekend.


  3. Alexandria Pitts May 14, 2017 / 6:22 am

    My young shoots and leaves have just gone. Literally over night. No evidence of squirrels or rabbits at it and no other plant touched. I’m really upset as it was doing so well.

    • gardendaze May 14, 2017 / 8:21 am

      I’m sorry to hear that something is eating your astilbe. It’s so discouraging when we have plants we love treated as “salad” by wildlife in our yards.

      That’s exactly what happens when a plant disappears overnight. You say that you don’t see rabbits or squirrels. Perhaps not, although I can tell you that it took me weeks to actually see the rabbit that was eating my coral bells one year. I was totally mystified about what was happening to them.

      If you’re sure it’s not those creatures, there are still a lot of other wildlife suspects: woodchuck so, otherwise known as groundhogs, deer, and even voles (who generally live underground and eat plant roots, not plants–but once the roots are gone, the whole plant does disappear, either by falling over or, perhaps in your case, it might have blown away in a strong winds. I have gone out to find plants that were fine one day lying on their side the next. When I went to stand them up, they came out of the ground in my hand with no roots. Pesky voles!)

      So something ate your astilbe. You’re just going to have to do a bit of detection to figure out what it was. Good luck!


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