I don’t suppose it should come as a surprise to anyone that plants called “succulent” should attract the attention of hungry creatures looking for a meal, yet it does.
I give many such folks a free pass because a large percentage of them – perhaps even most – have no idea that their plant is a “succulent”.
When I tell them, they are taken aback and eventually, sometimes, somewhat amused.
We call a plant storing water in its roots, stems, and leaves a “succulent“. There are several hundred kinds of succulents; you are probably most familiar with cacti.
However, you likely know aloe vera, snake plants, and a veritable host of others.
What is Eating My Succulents?
Critters like aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, mealybugs, red spider mites, slugs, snails, thrips, weevils, and white fly all love succulents. Also partial to these plants are larger creatures like beavers, chipmunks, gophers, mice, prairie dogs, rabbits, rats, squirrels, and even deer.
Succulents Provide Water and Nutrition
Once you understand the nature of succulents, a class of plants that store water, it is much easier to see how attractive they are to an entire catalog of critters.
What’s not to love?
Not only do these pests get a delicious meal, but they also get easy and safe access to water. (Imagine being a tiny bug and facing what to us humans is a puddle but to it, looks like a lake.)
However, it’s not only members of class insectivores that gorge themselves on succulents.
That’d be a somewhat unrealistic expectation, given that calories and water easily attract an entire army of interested, hungry, and thirsty creatures.
Many succulents are a vital part of the diet of creatures that range from small rodents all the way up to the mighty ungulates.
And by the way, humans also chomp down on succulents with as much gusto as any of the others, only we never call ourselves “pests”, chortle.
Critters that Eat Succulent Leaves
Aphids are the ninja or commando raiders of your succulent plants.
Although common, they are hard to detect, being only around a tenth of an inch long, making them difficult to see individually.
It is possible to mistake aphids for ants.
Although ants will crawl all over your succulents, they won’t pose a danger to them, as succulents are not a food source for ants until leaves fall off and begin to rot.
Caterpillars eat young leaves, attacking from between or within stems, depending on the species.
Whenever your succulent’s leaves disappear (apparently by magic, because you can never see the causative agent), you can bet your bottom dollar that caterpillars are at work.
The original biblical plague of locusts, if these fellas show up famished and in large numbers, your succulents will be goners in next-to-no-time if you don’t act quickly.
Your best counterattack is to make your plants dangerous and unappealing to the insects, so instead of spraying to kill the insects, spray to protect the plant.
If the first couple of bites convince the grasshoppers that they’d rather not, thanks just the same, then there’s a good chance that you will save your succulents.
You can tell the presence of mealybugs by waxy secretions and hardened bumps on the plant’s leaves and stem.
Mealybugs tend to attack plants in green, wooded, or shadowed areas, and greenhouses.
The effect of a mealybug infestation is that your succulent loses its vigor and dries up from the inside out.
5. Slugs and Snails
These are one of the easiest pests to detect because you’ll actually see them, sight unaided.
You might want to go full psycho on them even if you see only one or two snails on your succulents because these guys eat like there’s no tomorrow.
To worsen their effect, they focus on the fleshy parts of your succulents so that the damage they cause is irreversible. Sorry, but don’t take any prisoners with these critters.
6. Thrips, Red Spider Mites, Weevils, and White Fly
Much of the same advice as above applies, with different detections and treatments for each kind of pest.
My advice is to seek local expert advice, especially from garden centers, for the best and most relevant case-specific assistance.
Rodents that Eat Succulent Leaves
I might add that all sorts of rodents eat succulents with considerable pleasure.
Rats, mice, beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, and gophers happily tuck into succulents.
Whenever you find your plants’ leaves attacked with an astonishing lack of respect or delicacy, you should first suspect our rodent friends.
Their nocturnal raids are infamous for resulting in a plague of devastation, which won’t stop until they’ve wrecked your garden.
Unfortunately, the lack of self-regulation or self-discipline ensures that rodents eat until their bellies are full, stuffing themselves with your unintended largesse until they obliterate unseemly amounts of leaf flesh.
In this regard, they are a plague; you will have to treat them as such if you wish to save your plants.
(I don’t think it needs saying, but of course, it is doubtful that rodents have a concept of ownership. They don’t know they are trespassing; they are only making good use of what might strike them as “nature’s bounty”. If you decide to kill them, please don’t be cruel. Try to be as humane as possible. Thanks.)
Large Animals that Eat Succulent Leaves
The deer is the largest North American animal to feast on plant leaves of succulents. Those deer love some perennial sedums, which is hardly a surprise as sedums tend to thrive in droughty conditions.
Deer have long since worked out that by eating these plants, they can get a bite to eat and score a drink – basically, solve two problems at once.
Strong fencing is probably the best defense against deer-damaged succulents, although some clever folks try to offer deer more attractive alternatives as a bribe to get them to leave their succulents alone.
Fencing definitely is a great idea, but what about its efficacy?
(By the way, other people plant deer favorites to get the animals to visit their acreage to provide guest hunters with easier opportunities. However, in this article, I take it that your succulents are innocent parties that need protection, not cleverly – but malevolently – planted “plants”.)
Defending your Succulents from Attack by Harmful Agents
Defending your succulents against large animals is easiest. Fencing comes to mind, although determined rodent attackers will quickly figure out how to dig beneath or climb over the fencing.
They are like cotton-pickin’ ninjas that way. However, fencing will keep animals like deer off your succulents.
Many rodents detest the smell of mint, so planting mint around your succulents will provide surprisingly effective deterrence.
As an extra bonus, this tactic won’t cost you a leg or an arm.
Another tactic that employs scent is coyote or fox urine (which you can purchase from specialist stores in large quantities, although I hesitate to wonder where – and how – the purveyors their supplies).
Obviously, the prey of these animals will be reluctant to frequent an area that literally stinks of their fearsome foe.
People often suggest getting pets like cats. They also suggest dogs of specific breeds that chase and kill rodents, like Jack Russel Terriers, but I’ve never seen this tactic successfully employed.
For most other pests, insecticide is the key.
Try to determine what is plaguing your succulents so that you can get as specific an insecticide as possible to protect your garden while doing as little damage to its ecology as possible.
Taking care of houseplants and gardening are my greatest passions. I am transforming my apartment into an urban jungle and am growing veggies in my indoor and outdoor garden year-round.