Bug Magnets

If you go to the tab at the top of the blog header that says introduction, you can read a little bit about me. The second paragraph says that my first paying job in horticulture began at 11 years old when I was paid $1.00 a week to deadhead my neighbor’s yard full of petunias.

Mind you, this was in the days of the old-fashioned petunias–the kind that still had a scent, got you covered in sappy goo when you deadheaded–and in fact, still had to be deadheaded or they wouldn’t re-bloom.

Now, with all the fast growing new varieties like supertunia™ and of course the one everyone knows, the Wave™ petunia, deadheading is a thing of the past–unless of course, you are a sucker like me and still buy the old-fashioned,  scented petunias.


But every year I swear that “this year will be my last!” Because as much as I love them, for me, these lovely, scented petunias are bug magnets!

I mentioned this at a lecture this spring and I got a lot of blank stares. So I think this is a bit of a regional–or perhaps even local thing–at least here in Connecticut. Yet whenever I post about it, I get a lot of hits on the post. So I know a lot of you out there share my pain.


This year, I hadn’t even owned my pot for 2 weeks when it began to look like this! What are these things? At this point, they’re a little small to see, but there are caterpillars, pretty much the same color as the foliage of the plant, eating into the buds and pretty much ruining all the future flowers.

They go by the name petunia bud worm. And lest you think that’s all they affect, they also like geraniums (at which point, they become called geranium bud worms).

They are the larva of a nondescript moth, the tobacco moth. Apparently they also affect caibrachoa (million bells) which explains why my million bells are starting to show tiny holes and of course nicotiana (the flowering or ornamental tobacco) plants.

To get a better look at a more mature version of these critters, you can see my post from a few years ago here. But apparently, they are becoming pesticide resistant and once they are in the bud even Bt is not terribly effective.

My answer–rather than to load up annuals with a bunch of pesticides–is to just compost the plant. However, perhaps I should trash it instead. Maybe I am unwittingly maintaining the problem on my own property.

But, I think the answer is simpler than that: no more petunias or million bells for me. No plants means no bugs!


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