What’s Eating You?

We have managed to get our plants and seedlings past the killing frost, and now something is eating them. Some sleuthing will reveal the culprit.


Snails and slugs leave telltale slime trails, and generally eat the plant down to the stem.

Grasshoppers and crickets eat even more.


If your seedlings are cut right off at the base like a tiny tree cut for lumber, cutworms are the culprit. They live in the soil during the day and come out at night.

If your plant has been skeletonized, European earwigs might be the guilty party. Please don’t tell me the ‘books’ say earwigs don’t eat plants. My eyes tell me this species can devastate young plants and flowers.


Take a flashlight and go out at night and poke around. Chances are, you will see just what is doing the damage.

I seldom use chemical pesticides on my veggies. I have a number of things I use as controls first.

I keep broken pots and shards of pottery stuck here and there around the garden. Short sections of boards work, too. Pests gravitate to these areas in the morning and can be removed.

For snails, go out at night with a small pail of hot, soapy water and your flashlight, pick them off one by one, and drop them into the bucket. The hot, soapy water will kill them quickly, and is easier to do than stomping them (unless you enjoy getting your frustrations out this way). Leave the salt in the shaker. It takes too long to kill and poisons your soil. Just be sure to dump it all out in the garbage in the morning or you will have a nasty, stinky mess.


Slugs are harder to collect. A stick will usually lift them off the plant.

A bad earwig year is a bad year, indeed. One experience with finding a nest filled with hundreds of earwigs boiling out en masse is enough to give you the willies for the rest of the day. If you are not averse to using a can of Raid, use it when you find a nest like this, or try smashing them all. I haven’t tried the rolled-up newspaper trick I have read about to control earwigs, but it is worth a try. Place a few sections of rolled-up newsprint to welcome earwigs to destruction. Smash the roll of paper and throw it away in the morning.

I encourage you to incorporate wasps into your insect-eating arsenal. Unless you are deathly allergic to the venom of vespids, allow these creatures to nest in safe places away from constant contact from people.

I have witnessed many different species of wasps catching, eating and storing for their offspring all sorts of soft-bodied insects in great amounts. Most of the local species of wasps are fairly inoffensive and non-aggressive. I only remove nests that are around the porch or where I frequently work, and we do have lots of nests!

The image of the wasp shows a chewed-up ball of caterpillar, yum.


Learn to recognize the different ones. The caveat here is for the yellow-jacket, or meat bee. This creature is ill-tempered, aggressive and dangerous. The yellow-jacket is a more robust and compact wasp. Its hind legs do not dangle when it flies, it flies in a peculiar side-to-side motion, and it folds its wings when it lands. There are effective traps that will help control their numbers. Other wasps are not attracted to these traps. Keep a source of water close by, and sticks or fences where birds can perch. They eat a fair share of bugs, too.

We also have trouble with potato beetles, leaf hoppers and squash bugs. I have not found any effective biological control for these critters yet. I had a can of sticky spray called Tangle-Foot I used on yellow plastic cups attached to stakes, but someone gave it away, and now we can’t find it anywhere in town. There is a brush-on version of this sticky material that might work as well, but I haven’t tried it yet. All I know is that those yellow cups became covered with insects in short order!

When natural, biological controls don’t work, I use Ortho Bug-Geta, a pelletized insecticide that is applied around the plants, Neem oil or insecticidal soap in a hand-spray bottle or pressurized sprayer.

Petroleum- and chemical-based insecticides are too harmful and dangerous for use in your vegetable garden, in my opinion! Such powerful poisons kill all the helpful insects along with the damaging ones.

(Answer to the QUIZ: What is eating this plant?: Goldfinches! Yes, those sweet little yellow birds. At this point I don’t try to control them, since they eat bugs, too!)

Mitsy Krzywicki (pronounced Kriz wik’ ki), a former Record Searchlight artist, now enjoys life as an avid gardener, freelance graphics artist and amateur photographer. You can drop her a line at czygyny@yahoo.com

Mitsy Krzywicki

Mitsy Krzywicki (pronounced Kriz wik’ ki), is an avid gardener, freelance graphics artist and photographer.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments