I’ve Got Holes In My Leaves And I Can’t See A Thing!

violet leaves with holes

Oh come now–you can see something–you can see the holes in your leaves! And those holes can tell you a bit about what’s making them, believe it or not!

What you really meant to say is you can’t see the critter making the hole. Maddening, isn’t it? But as I said earlier in the month when we began this adventure, don’t just grab a spray bottle of something. For all you know, you may be spraying a caterpillar that’s the larva of a butterfly. You really wouldn’t want to do that, I hope–not even if it is chewing your leaves!

Instead, it’s probably something like this. “Foliage damage, showing up on trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, with no visible sign of insect activity, is often caused by insects feeding at night, like Oriental beetles, earwigs, Asiatic garden beetles, slugs, and snails–” at least according to the UMass extension service.

Asiatic and oriental beetles, for example, feed at night on a variety of host plants, including certain perennials, causing damage in the form of very ragged foliage. Inspection of host plants during the day reveals no insects.

So what are you going to do? Go out at night, trying to catch the beetles, and spray when you see them?

Spray something really toxic that has some residual effect so that you’ll kill them whether you see them or not (I sure hope not!)

Or tolerate the damage, knowing that their life span is fairly short lived. In fact, in my yard, the oriental beetles (the little brown bugs that I knew beetles as “June bugs” growing up) are already gone.

And if it’s a caterpillar, might that not be the larva of a butterfly? Lots of butterfly larva feed on violets. Do you really want to kill that?


Earwigs, on the other hand, feed all summer long. Again, I tolerate the damage, because they are, for the most part, a “good” bug. They clean up debris in the garden.

Here’s some earwig damage on a marigold.

marigold chewed by earwig

I wondered what was chewing this. I didn’t think anything ate marigolds. Then I watered and saw the earwig run out. Voila! Sometimes it’s as simple as all that.

These petunias are in that same container. Normally petunias are chewed by a caterpillar that turns into a tobacco moth. This time I think I’m going with the earwig!

petunias chewed by earwig

Sometimes even the good guys can be destructive. But tolerate some of this sort of damage in the garden–unless you want to run out with a flashlight and peer underneath the foliage after dark. Or, as in this case, you get lucky when you’re watering!

In a very wet summer like most of the east coast is having right now earwigs tend to get a bit out of hand and run amok, eating whatever they find. And they can be a bit scary looking, with that rear set of pinchers. They’re harmless to you, and mostly harmless to your plants. So again, try to live and let live. No one’s really going to care about the holes in the leaves–and your garden might be a better place for it.

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