What is Eating My Plants at Night?
Have you ever wandered into your garden late at night? It’s a different world.
It’s literally alive with creepy-crawlies. Don’t let the small size fool you.
One hungry caterpillar can eat holes through multiple leaves in a single night. So can slugs.
As for animals, a deer can do a magic trick by making a fully grown bush completely disappear.
When you wander into the garden to find bite marks on the edges of leaves, holes going right through them, half-eaten fruits scattered around, or entire shrubs chewed to a pulp… you absolutely have to know what done it.
Continue reading below to learn about the various nighttime garden raiders that never know when to stop.
What is eating my plants at night?
Wildlife that feed at night include rabbits, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, woodchucks, groundhogs, and skunks. They do a lot of damage. But so do insects. Nighttime feeding insects include caterpillars, Mexican bean beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, the tarnished plant bug, and slugs.
Nocturnal sharp-toothed wildlife
A few animals fit the bill for this category of plant-eating wildlife. Namely, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, voles and woodchucks.
Each can devour the plants in your garden right down to the stem.
Even then, voles can munch that too, making the roots disappear. You’d need to be extremely unlucky for your garden to literally turn into a wildlife sanctuary at night.
Deer and rabbits do the most damage
If you do find most of a plant mysteriously vanishes, chances are that a rabbit or deer is responsible. Those eat all parts of the plant, except the roots.
Voles destroy plant roots
Roots are eaten by voles and sometimes a chipmunk. Signs of those hanging around your garden at night are burrows in the ground.
Skunks could eat your plants, but they’d rather dig for grubs
Another animal that will dig holes in your garden is a skunk. They might eat your plants, but they’re more likely to stomp on them to dig the ground to hunt for grubs.
How can small cute animals do that much damage?
As cute they are to look at, don’t give squirrels the chance of eating your plants. They will return. Again, again, and again.
Squirrels gnaw on all leafy greens for the same reason rabbits do. To keep their teeth down.
Squirrels, groundhogs, and woodchucks tend to go for the large leafy green plants, and chew on vegetables, and take bites out any fruits you’re growing in the open.
Fruits are a preference for squirrels and woodchucks and they’re fond of eating the petals of petunias.
Insects that strip the leaves from your plants
During the night, your garden comes alive.
A huge number of insects feed on plants under the cover of darkness.
Caterpillars, cutworms, slugs, the potato beetle (which eats more than potatoes), the Mexican bean beetle, flea beetles, the Japanese beetle, and the tarnished plant bug.
Each of those is capable of doing some real intensive damage to most your garden plants.
If you’re seeing holes in the leaves of your plants, look on the underside of leaves late at night (like after 10 pm) for caterpillars or cutworms.
Actually, any worm on the leaves of plants at night is up to no good.
Remove them and toss them in your compost pile.
The potato beetle
The potato beetle eats any plant in the nightshade family. Plants this beetle goes at hard are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, the eggplant, and petunias.
These beetles feed at night. They’re oval-shaped, only about three-eighths of an inch long and have a yellow shell with black stripes.
The two main types are the three-lined potato beetle and the Colorado potato beetle that has narrower black stripes and a lot more of them.
Both are equally devastating to plants.
The Mexican bean beetle
The Mexican bean beetle is the same yellow color, but it doesn’t have stripes. It has a yellow shell with 16 black spots (if you care to count them).
They’re oval-shaped and about a quarter-inch long.
Imagine a ladybug with jaundice and that’s what the Mexican beetle looks like.
It’s related to the ladybug, and that’s the prey to set about these.
Ladybugs eat the larvae of the Mexican bean beetle, which is the part that does the most damage.
The larvae of the Mexican bean beetle eat through the leaves of any type of bean plant from soybeans to lima beans and legumes. That’s only their preference.
Given the chance, they’ll feed on any vegetation.
If you see these around at night, a simple solution is to plant another low-maintenance vegetable to distract this pest.
Whatever you don’t like that they do, use it as a trap plant. As examples, sacrifice a kale plant, some garlic, or maybe a beet or two.
The beans you’re having problems with, put a row cover over them.
Flea beetles and Japanese beetles
Other adult beetles that eat holes through your plant’s leaves are the flea beetle and the Japanese beetle.
Flea beetles eat small holes in the leaves of plants leaving it with the shothole appearance.
The Japanese beetle completely devours the leaves, skeletonizing it.
The tarnished plant bug
This gets its name for its distinct tarnished brown color with green markings. This is a bug that ruins every plant it comes into contact with.
If you start seeing small brown spots on the leaves of the plant that then die, there’s likely a tarnished plant bug (or a few) nearby.
Both the adults and the nymphs eat into the leaves, but unlike aphids, thrips and similar mites, these will kill the leaves they feed on.
As they eat into plant tissue, they release a toxin that kills the injection site they bit into.
At first, it’s tiny small dots. But as the leaf gets bigger, healthy parts of the leaf grow, the brown spots enlarge, leaving it malformed.
The tarnished plant bug eats all sorts of plants. Not just the leaves. On fruits, like tomatoes and strawberries, when that same toxic substance gets into the fruits, it causes catfacing – fruit malformation.
Of all the crops grown in the US, half of them is susceptible to being ruined by the tarnished plant bug. Fruit, vegetables, and flowering plants.
Slimy slithering slugs eat chunks out of plants. For their small(ish) size, they do a lot of damage. Not just on the leaves, but on flowers too.
The higher the protein in a plant, the bigger a target it is to a slug.
Frequently Asked Questions related to what eats plants at night?
What insects are predatory that won’t eat my plants?
Beneficial insects include tachinid flies, soldier beetles, ladybugs and lacewings. Each of these feed on smaller-sized pests like mealybugs, aphids and mites. The solid black colored ground beetle preys on caterpillars and slugs.
How do I stop things eating my plants?
Trap plants or trap crops are the most effective long-term fix. You’ll struggle to stop animals and insects eating your plants, so the next best thing is to give them something else. Trap crops are sacrificial plants. Different plants attract different animals and insects.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.