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What is Eating My Hostas? — The Guilty Culprits Exposed

What is Eating My Hostas? — The Guilty Culprits Exposed

Hostas plants are terrific for brightening up a shady spot in your garden. They work wonders in east-facing gardens.

Problem is, there are loads of insects that love the shade too. 

Paired with the abundance of foliage on these cold-hardy perennials, critters and some wildlife have plenty to feed on. 

Hostas may be spectacularly easy to grow, but keeping on top of animal control is an entirely different matter. 

 

What is eating my hostas?

Deer and rabbits can trim 4-foot hostas to bare stems. The most damage is done by nocturnal critters including slugs and snails. Groundhogs and voles can do serious damage, too. The one to really watch out for is the foliar nematode – a microscopic roundworm that feeds on the leaves from inside.

 

Deer

Wherever there’s a deer presence, hostas plants invite them. Deer willingly travel even up to a mile to forage for food. 

They won’t pass up the sight of a hosta. They’ll strip it of all its lush leaves, leaving you with a bare stemmed plant. 

The best deer deterrent is to hide your hostas behind a solid tall fence to keep it out of sight.

 

Rabbits

Rabbit season starts in the spring. They’ll eat up the early shoots. 

As the season matures, by summer, or whenever your hostas plant flowers for a few weeks, rabbits will chew the blooms right off.  

 

Squirrels

Whenever you have a plant that rabbits nibble, squirrels are likely to find it a delicacy, too. 

They both have similar teething patterns requiring them to constantly gnaw on vegetation to keep their teeth down. 

However, in the case of squirrels, they rarely feed on hostas. The only time they will attack this is when they need the water inside the leaves, typically during a drought.

 

Groundhogs

Groundhogs (whistle pigs) are a member of the squirrel family and these will eat hostas. 

They have a similar eating pattern to rabbits, in that, they’ll eat everything on the plant. The leaves and the stems. 

 

The difference between groundhog damage and the damage rabbits do to hostas

Rabbits have extremely sharp teeth they use to gnaw on hostas plants, leaving extremely neat cuts. 

Rabbits are precision nibblers so what’s left on the plant will have no ragged edges. 

Groundhogs don’t eat directly from the plant. They use their paws to tear parts off the plant, then eat it. As a result, groundhogs leave tearing damage on the plant. 

To keep groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, and voles away from your hostas, consider erecting a fence around it that’s at least 6-inches to 10-inches deep below ground to prevent them from burrowing under it. 

Speaking of burrowing, keep your mulch to under 2-inches thick. 

Any thicker can hide burrow holes that tunneling mammals (and rodents) can be using to get at your hostas. 

 

Foliar nematodes

In most cases, nematodes live in the soil, going at the roots of plants. The foliar nematode doesn’t. 

This goes right after the plant’s foliage, and since hostas are foliar perennials, this pest is a frequent visitor. 

These things start in the soil by using their sharp stylets to get into the roots, swimming up the stem and then into the leaves. 

Once they’re in, they use the veins on the leaves to swim around, feeding on multiple parts of the leaves. 

The typical symptoms of foliar nematodes are water lesions close the leaf veins. The spots you see start out as yellow before turning brown. 

The same symptoms show on all large-leafed plants, including the similarly sized leaves on Anthurium plants that turn brown due to foliar nematodes. 

These are microscopic roundworms with a rapid reproduction rate. Once they start feeding on the leaves of hostas, they’ll kill the leaves they’re feeding on. 

Eventually, you’ll see leaves yellow and brown then fall to the ground. Once there, if there’s sufficient moisture in the soil, they can overwinter and infect new growth. 

For the home gardener, the sad news is the only option you have is containment. Any leaves on hostas plants with necrotic spots, prune and discard them. 

Keep the ground soil dry and clear of fallen debris. 

Don’t compost any material from the ground where hostas are known to host foliar nematodes. They’ll infest your compost, infecting new plants you use it with. 

 

Slugs

As hostas are typically grown in the shade, it gives the slug the perfect feeding ground. 

These come out to feed at night, love moisture and nutrient-dense plants. If there was a checklist of things to include in a slug’s diet, the hostas plant would top that list. 

Combine warm temperatures above 50-degrees Fahrenheit and wet weather that leaves ground soil and mulch moist, you’ll have the ideal habitat for slug eggs in soil that can hatch in just two weeks. 

What starts as a garden nuisance, quickly becomes a nightmare.

In sufficient numbers, you’ll see considerable damage. 

Early spring is when these first become active in the garden. Given the huge holes they put in hostas leaves, it can ruin your plant for the rest of the season. 

To keep slugs (and their hard-shelled cousin snails) at bay, consider laying beer traps in shallow containers around the base of your plants. 

For some reason, slugs love the scent of yeast in beer, climb in, and drown. 

Other tactics are to use slug baits (molluscicides) in early spring to reduce their population.

Alternatively, make a perimeter with a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth around your hostas plants.

When slugs cross it, the sharpness scratches them causing them to die of dehydration. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions About What Is Eating My Hostas

 

What’s the most effective and fast way to stop animals from eating hostas?

Motion-activated systems! Most animals that eat hostas do so at night. Nearly most of them are terrified of becoming prey so they’re almost always easily scared away. Use motion-activated water sprinklers, or ultrasonic animal repellents, or even just floodlights to deter wildlife.

 

How fast do damaged leaves on hostas grow back?

Hostas leaves grow back fast, provided the conditions are favorable. Hostas leaves with holes from slugs or ragged edges from animals nibbling on them can be pruned off to regrow within a few weeks. Growth is slower later in the season.