Curses! What's eating all my leaves!?

Melt In The Sun

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Oct 29, 2009
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OK, my experience with plants is very minimal (first house = first time we've had to think about it :oops: ). A couple of months ago, we bought several big pots and planted hibiscus in two of them (see pictures below).

Maybe 2 weeks ago, we started losing leaves from both bushes. Now, one is completely devoid of leaves; the other has about half as many as it should. Something is eating them! ::epds:: I can think of three possibilities:

1. Ants - we had an ant problem (yard and house; since nuked) at about the same time that we noticed the leaves falling off. There were ants on the bushes, but then again there were ants on just about everything. :grrrr: But, why would ants be interested in leaves? This isn't the jungle, and these aren't leaf-cutter ants. They were very interested in our powdered sugar! I did see one ant out there this morning.

2. Chipmunks - these things are everywhere! I've never seen one in the pots, but I must admit I don't quite spend all my time looking out the window. Do these things eat leaves? If these are the culprit, all I have to do is wait, since they insist on drowning themselves in my pool on a disgustingly regular basis.

3. Rabbits - seems most likely (they eat plants, right?), but I've never seen one in/around the pots. They prefer swarming my yard to drink water after the sprinklers go off, and leaving little trails of poop (they do it while running!). But, the damage seems too slow to be rabbits. I would think they could clean the whole bush out in no time, and wouldn't leave partially eaten leaves around.

:scratch:

Here is the one that's eaten bare:
[attachment=1:1tk8ihig]DSCN1317.JPG[/attachment:1tk8ihig]

Here's a close-up of the damage on the other plant:
[attachment=0:1tk8ihig]DSCN1318.JPG[/attachment:1tk8ihig]


Help please! DW is out of town til Sunday, and I'd love to have the problem fixed by then.
 

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Bama Rambler

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While I'm no plant expert myself. That looks a lot like caterpillar damage to me. But I'm surprised that you can't see them on the bottoms of the leaves.
 

Bama Rambler

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Maybe you just need to sit with camera in hand and wait on the aliens to come back and start munching on them. Then you could post a pic of them. Sounds like you're spending too much in the pool and not enough time guarding momma's plants!
 

Melt In The Sun

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Bama Rambler said:
wait on the aliens to come back and start munching on them
Now you're sounding like my dad...he's actually made a pilgrimage (if you could call it that) to Area 51. They wouldn't let him in, so he went to the "Little Ale-Inn" and had an Alien Burger with Extra Terrestrial sauce :roll:
 

TimS

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Sep 21, 2009
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Central Missouri
I agree with Bama that it looks like caterpillar damage. If you don't want to use pesticides, here's something that might work: 2 tbsp red pepper sauce in 1 gallon water, sprayed on with a normal garden sprayer. I have a real problem with chiggers around my pool. Since I have to spray the ground around the pool, the deck, and the pool itself, I don't want to use pesticides to get rid of them, but this works great. You can only smell it for the first day or two. I need to reapply it about every other month, but it works well. It doesn't kill them, but it does drive them off. It will survive a lot of rain before they come back.

Note that I have nothing against pesticides on flowers and plants, I just don't want to use them to treat the pool rails, where kids will be in contact with them. The solution is so dilute that I've had no problem with anyone getting it in their eyes even 5 minutes after treatment. And if I wind up spraying a bunch in the water while spraying the pool rails and the deck, it won't hurt anything, except maybe use up .00001 ppm chlorine. :)

I haven't tried this for caterpillars, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't work. I wouldn't think that it would hurt the plant any, but you might try it on a few leaves first to see what it does.

I offer this solution because I'm aware that some people are averse to using pesticides. In addition, you might well have the ingredients (pepper sauce and water) in your kitchen already.
 

no-mas

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Jun 16, 2008
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FL
Melt In The Sun said:
....I can think of three possibilities:....
It does look like caterpillars or beetles, maybe. Also, think smaller....Have you checked out the underside of the leaves for any very small pests? Do you check in the evening AND in the morning? And, now that the ants are gone, do they seem to be recovering?

Click here for some more ideas...
 

geekgranny

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Aug 20, 2009
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North Central Texas
We don't have many bugs as the hundreds of bird we feed pretty well keep bug populations down, along with other critters feeding on them. Last year, right after dusk, I caught the biggest copperhead, of the year, right at the edge of the pool decking, with a huge green bug in its mouth. Snake was almost "standing " up leaning about 12" of its length against the skinny pole for a landscape light.

The biggest problem I've had with squirrels and plants is their nipping buds off, especially Hibiscus, and then they don't even eat them.

Grasshoppers can chomp leaves like that. That also looks like caterpillar bites. I would think you would see a lot of damage to the branches rather than just stripping the leaves, if it was mammal. It looks more like insect munching to me.

My dogs love to munch off a couple of Hackberry leaves once a day so I keep a couple around, at bush size, for that.

My "foster child" Chaco, neighbors dog, over here several times a day, took a liking to Butterfly Bushes, and showed my babies how to "prune" them. Mine know not to do it any more but she sneaks in a munch, a whole branch, behind my back every once in a while. She's otherwise the Perfect dog. One of my bushes, about four years old, was just beginning to really fill out. It struggles a bit because it doesn't get a full day of sun. It now looks like a tree.

gg=alice
 

Melt In The Sun

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Thanks for the ideas all.

No-mas, I will check for smaller pests. I was looking for obvious caterpillars, and certainly could look closer (for other things, or just smaller caterpillars than I was expecting).

Tim, I have no problems using pesticides on them. I doused them pretty good with triazicide (lambda cyhalothrin) during the ant mass murder, but I'll take a closer look and maybe try again.
 

MikeInTN

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I have several hibiscus and every year they get infested with little green caterpillars (so do my knockout roses). If the temp is below 80, I spray them with malathion. Over 80, I use an insecticidal soap. Malathion works better, but you take a chance of burning the plant if you use it when the temps are fairly high. I will say though that my hibbies don't look like that - the caterpillars I have eat holes in the leaves.
 

257WbyMag

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Feb 23, 2008
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Try a little Sevin dust on the plants and see how that does you. 5% Sevin is fine. You will have to re-dust if your sprinklers kick on or if it rains.
 

midtngal

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Oct 26, 2007
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My experience with bugs on my plants is generally taken care of with Neem Oil. I use it for everything...even the yard. This looks like the little green worms/catepillars have been to town on those plants! Spray, spray and spray some more.....
 

geekgranny

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North Central Texas
midtngal said:
My experience with bugs on my plants is generally taken care of with Neem Oil. I use it for everything...even the yard. This looks like the little green worms/catepillars have been to town on those plants! Spray, spray and spray some more.....
Neem oil is one of the best. I use it in many forms including personal repellent from Neem Tree Farms. When I go visit the monkey rescue operation in the Yucatan, I (and everyone else) has to be careful about repellents and the "other ingredient". The Spider Monkeys are very sensitive to DEET and many synthetic carriers. So Neem is one of the best things to use.

I've been using Neem for years and it is even better as an insecticide than most things. Very safe and very effective and pretty safe for insects seeking nectar from the blooms. It is similar to "insecticidal soaps" but even safer and easier on the plants.

With anything you put on plants, including water, you need to apply it very early in the a.m. or late at night. Minerals in regular water can assist the sun in burning leaves. In humid areas it is best to apply things in the early a.m. to avoid molds developing at night.

People think the burning is from the water drops acting like a mangnifying glass causing burns. It's actually the minerals in water. Rain rarely causes burning on plants when the sun comes out.

gg=alice
 

geekgranny

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Aug 20, 2009
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North Central Texas
MikeInTN said:
I have several hibiscus and every year they get infested with little green caterpillars (so do my knockout roses). If the temp is below 80, I spray them with malathion. Over 80, I use an insecticidal soap. Malathion works better, but you take a chance of burning the plant if you use it when the temps are fairly high. I will say though that my hibbies don't look like that - the caterpillars I have eat holes in the leaves.
Knockout roses.......... boy, nothing touches mine and I don't treat with anything. Maybe its just the slight difference in climate. You have a bit more rain, slightly lower temps, and a more humidity.

With delicate plants I use a calcium reducer filter like the ones sold for misting/drip systems. It keeps a lot of the burning minerals filtered out.

Go for Neem. It is the best.
 

geekgranny

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Here's some itty bitty grasshoppers that were in my greenhouse in April after all "important" plants had been moved out. They are on an Amaryllis leaf. They were about 1/4 inch or about .5 cm. Their bites on plants were very different than normal sized grasshoppers. They are cute.



 

Melt In The Sun

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Ok, got some more evidence. I was unable to find a single insect on or near the hibiscus, but found something worse instead. In the first image I posted above, you can see one little bunch of brand new leaves. Here's what they looked like when I got home this evening:

[attachment=2:2geeyuj3]DSCN1322.JPG[/attachment:2geeyuj3]

:rant: That looks like larger animal damage. Once I saw that, I looked around a bit more carefully, and saw this on the other one:

[attachment=1:2geeyuj3]DSCN1323.JPG[/attachment:2geeyuj3]

And one more; this is on one of the other plants (pink lady slipper). DW said she caught a chipmunk in the act of chewing on it:

[attachment=0:2geeyuj3]DSCN1324.JPG[/attachment:2geeyuj3]

So, I was thinking I'd try and get some fine netting to put over them, at least til they grow some more leaves and the chipmunks hopefully finish drowning. Do they make such netting specifically for plants, or is it something I'll have to improvise? I eagerly await any better ideas too...thanks all.
 

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MikeInTN

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geekgranny said:
MikeInTN said:
I have several hibiscus and every year they get infested with little green caterpillars (so do my knockout roses). If the temp is below 80, I spray them with malathion. Over 80, I use an insecticidal soap. Malathion works better, but you take a chance of burning the plant if you use it when the temps are fairly high. I will say though that my hibbies don't look like that - the caterpillars I have eat holes in the leaves.
Knockout roses.......... boy, nothing touches mine and I don't treat with anything. Maybe its just the slight difference in climate. You have a bit more rain, slightly lower temps, and a more humidity.

With delicate plants I use a calcium reducer filter like the ones sold for misting/drip systems. It keeps a lot of the burning minerals filtered out.

Go for Neem. It is the best.
The insecticidal soap I have is NEEM-based.

I was told by my local Agricultural extension agent that it's the horticultural oil in the Malathion that burns the plants, and to avoid anything that's oil-based when the temps are over 80.

The little green worms start on the roses, and work their way to the hibiscus.
 

MikeInTN

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Melt In The Sun said:
Ok, got some more evidence. I was unable to find a single insect on or near the hibiscus, but found something worse instead. In the first image I posted above, you can see one little bunch of brand new leaves. Here's what they looked like when I got home this evening:

[attachment=2:tsfgy5fc]DSCN1322.JPG[/attachment:tsfgy5fc]

:rant: That looks like larger animal damage. Once I saw that, I looked around a bit more carefully, and saw this on the other one:

[attachment=1:tsfgy5fc]DSCN1323.JPG[/attachment:tsfgy5fc]

And one more; this is on one of the other plants (pink lady slipper). DW said she caught a chipmunk in the act of chewing on it:

[attachment=0:tsfgy5fc]DSCN1324.JPG[/attachment:tsfgy5fc]

So, I was thinking I'd try and get some fine netting to put over them, at least til they grow some more leaves and the chipmunks hopefully finish drowning. Do they make such netting specifically for plants, or is it something I'll have to improvise? I eagerly await any better ideas too...thanks all.
Netting probably won't work. The Chipmunks would just chew their way through it. You'd probably have to enclose with some type of hardware cloth.

Since you're pretty sure it's the chipmunks, I'd try the red pepper concoction that someone suggested earlier in the thread, or get some Squirrel Away and dust the plant with it. Squirrel Away is a powdered red pepper mixture you normally mix with your bird seed, but I'm sure you could dust it on the plant. Just make sure you don't get any in your mouth or eyes!!

(or you could get a cat...a skinny, hungry cat...) :twisted:
 

Melt In The Sun

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Thanks Mike, I'll try the pepper sauce! Any thoughts on the goofy fake owls? Some of our neighbors have them, but I have no idea if they work.