Do you sometimes go out in the morning to find pieces of your plants have disappeared overnight? Identifying the culprit can be difficult, but this is a bit like one of those television detective shows where you have to weigh up all the evidence before you can nail the guilty party.
Get the names
First, clear the names of any suspects that couldn’t possibly have caused the damage. For a start, you know it’s not a sap sucker — they siphon juices out of the plant — so that eliminates aphids, mealybugs and mites.
Rats can also eat plant parts, particularly starch-filled sections such as bulbs, swollen stems or ripe fruit. Rats are definitely garden undesirables that can be controlled with a rat bait (called a rodenticide). Choose one that’s most suited to your needs, and make sure you follow instructions carefully. Here’s a tip when baiting outdoors, place bait inside a T-shaped piece of plastic plumbing pipe where it will be protected from the rain and from inquisitive dogs and cats.
Birds are rippers and tearers. They use their beaks to tug at pieces of plants and they’ll rip through the bark searching for fat, juicy borers. If birds are causing lots of plant damage, try some of the bird repellents, or resort to physical barriers such as netting.
Check for caterpillars. It’s amazing how much plant material they can still chomp their way through. Cabbage grubs, lily caterpillars, lawn armyworm, super-sized hawk moths and codling moth caterpillars are chewers to look out for at this time of year. Dipel, a naturally-occurring bacteria which is harmless to humans, is a non-toxic control for caterpillars of the moth and butterfly family.
Other chewers are grasshoppers, weevils, earwigs and beetles. A low toxic synthetic pyrethroid, will control many of these pests.