What Is Eating My Petunias

Petunias (Petunia x hybrida) are herbaceous perennials commonly grown as annuals and admired for their diverse growth patterns and bloom features.

Petunias are relatively easy to grow; however, they are periodically afflicted by various pests and illnesses.

The tobacco budworm, also known as the geranium or petunia budworm and creates holes in petunia blooms, is one of the potential pests of petunias. A few other pests also cause discoloration or deformation of flowers.

In our guide, you can learn what animal eats petunias and what you can do to stop them. By the end, you’ll have enough information on dealing with affected plants using various methods.

Bugs that eat petunias

Why Are There Holes In My Petunias?

Small holes in flowers or buds, or the worm’s feces in or around the blossoms, are often the first signs of what eats petunias in your garden.

Tobacco budworm larvae eat the buds and ovaries of growing flowers, which may not open completely or appear chewed once they do. As the season passes, the volume and intensity of budworm feeding increases.

Larvae are most active and visible around nightfall as they spend the day hiding around the plant’s base. (Learn What Is Eating My Green Bean Leaves)

The color of the larvae of the tobacco budworm (Helicoverpa virescens) varies depending on the color of the flowers they eat, but they all show striping. The larvae feed for roughly a month before dying and pupating in the soil before emerging as adults.

The adult tobacco budworm is a moth with light green wings with brown tones and a few cream-colored, wavy bands that are about 1.5 inches across. In the early evening, adults lay eggs singly on buds or leaves. Each year, multiple generations of tobacco budworms emerge.

Control budworms in Petunias

Budworm Control

Hand removal of budworms is helpful to control budworms and fairly easy to do. At dusk, these bugs are easy to notice.

Pyrethrins, spinosad, and Bacillus thuringiensis are efficient insecticides if applied completely.

Variegated cutworm is the second most common threat to petunias after budworms.

Using fewer broad-spectrum herbicides permits beneficial budworm predator populations to thrive. In perennial potted petunias, removing the plant and replenishing the soil can address larvae pupating in the soil. Providing proper water and fertilizer, as well as dead-heading wasted blooms, allows the petunia to outgrow damage and produce many new blooms.

Petunia Flowers Additional Pests

Western flower thrips cause stippling or scarring on petunias and other herbaceous decorative plants and food crops.

Cyclamen mites, considerably smaller than spider mites, discolor, bronze, or stiff foliage, blooms, or buds. Pruning and eliminating contaminated tissue often work well. A vigorous water blast can help knock thrips off plants.

What Do You Spray Petunias With?

Caterpillars, tobacco budworms, and variegated cutworms love petunias. So do aphids and whiteflies. There are many ways to deal with bugs that eat petunias. 

Slugs and snails are garden pests. To stop them from eating your petunias, you must:

Use a natural insect repellent to keep slugs and snails away from your plants. Follow the instructions carefully to avoid leaf burn.

  • Burrow a 1-inch-deep container near the petunia plant, just far enough so that the rim is level with the ground, to create a beer trap.
  • Create a wet trap by placing a moist piece of wood near the petunias at night. In the morning, remove and dispose of any critters connected.
  • Slice a grapefruit in half and fill the halves with petunia plants. If you leave them out overnight, you’ll find slugs or snails connected the next day!
  • Break eggshells into tiny pieces and scatter them in the garden soil around the petunia plants.
  • Place birdbaths or feeders in your garden as birds can eat slugs and snails.
  • Place diatomaceous earth around the base of your plants. Direct contact with diatomaceous earth scratches snails or slugs skin, leading to death through dehydration.

How To Kill Aphids

Aphids are microscopic insects that can be found on the undersides of leaves or at the base of the stem on fresh plant development.

These insects suck sap from petunias, causing stunted growth and wilted leaves. Ants will get stuck in the sticky substance they leave.

There are safe and natural ways to get rid of aphids from petunia plants:

Insecticidal Soap

Using insecticidal soap to control aphids on petunias works well. Soap that kills insects and kills fungus is safe for your petunias, beneficial insects, and the environment.  (Read How To Keep Birds From Eating Grass Seed)

Chemicals in insecticides break down the cell membranes of insects. Damaged cells spill their contents, killing aphids fast.

Using insecticidal soaps is easy with these steps:

  1. In a 1:1 ratio, combine ivory liquid soap and warm water.
  2. Add one cup of oil such as vegetable, soybean, or peanut.
  3. Add your mixture to a sprayer to spray your petunias early in the morning or late at night.
  4. Spray petunias that have been affected.
  5. To get rid of aphids, apply the solution once per week.

Oil Insecticides

For getting rid of aphids, oil pesticides are highly effective, such as neem or horticultural oil. The following is the technique for utilizing an oil insecticide:

  1. In 1 gallon of water, add 2 to 5 tablespoons of neem or horticultural oil.
  2. Spray the tops and bottoms of your petunia leaves.
  3. Spray your growing plants until they are free of aphids.

Biological Control

Using beneficial insects, which are natural predators of these harmful insects, is an effective method of getting rid of aphids.

Aphid-controlling insects, including parasitic wasps, lady beetles, syrphid fly, and lacewings, are effective. The predators feed on the aphids, reducing their numbers.

The aphid skins are soon crusty and golden brown. The aphid population will probably decline within 7-14 days.

Birds eating such insects can help and are also a first sign you need to deal with a pest infestation.

Bacterium Insecticide

Petunia budworms and variegated cutworms, which feed on the leaves and buds of petunias, generate jagged edges or holes in the foliage.

Leaf-eating caterpillars can defoliate entire petunia plants. It is safe for people, pets, wildlife, and beneficial insects to spray the plant with Bacillus thuringiensis strain kurstaki.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) includes a naturally occurring soil bacteria that causes the caterpillar to stop eating. (Learn What To Spray On Hostas For Bugs)

The bugs and caterpillars die two to three days later. Before spraying the solution on the underside and topside of leaves, buds, flowers, and stems, Bt concentrate needs diluting with water to 1/2 to 4 teaspoons per gallon.

Oil Insecticides

In the past, horticultural oil could only be used during the dormant season because its high petroleum content could damage foliage.

Horticultural oils, such as all-season oil or summer oil, can be used to safely control aphids, spider mites, leaf miners, fungus gnats, and other bugs and pests.

Applying 2.5 to 5 tablespoons of oil per gallon of water to the top and underneath the leaves usually keeps bugs from eating petunias.

Another option is neem oil, which comes from the neem tree, thriving in USDA zones 10–12. This nontoxic pesticide safely kills mealybugs, leaf miners, bagworms, aphids, and whiteflies.

To combat pests, caterpillars, and more, one type of concentrated neem oil suggests mixing 2 to 4 tablespoons with 1 gallon of water. Spray the neem oil solution on your plant until it is moist, then repeat every seven to 14 days.

Pest control for Petunias

How To Get Rid of More Pests On Petunias?

Whiteflies, like aphids, feed on petunias’ leaves, buds, and flowers. This harms the plant, harming the blossoms and leaves.

To avoid this, hose down the petunia plants and thoroughly water the surrounding area to keep the dust down.

The petunia budworm (or tobacco budworm) can destroy petunias. Plant buds and blossoms are eaten, as with leaves and stems.

It is a 2-inch long caterpillar with greenish-yellow lateral stripes on both sides. It emerges in the spring and eat petunias until it matures into a brownish-green moth.

When the insects emerge at night, pick them off by hand.

Then, cut 2 or 3 inches of soil around the petunia stems. When you find worms within the trench, pour the soapy water solution or insecticidal soaps of dishwashing detergent mixed with water. You can also pour boiling water on them to kill them.

Spray the plant with a pesticide containing Btk, a bacterium found in dead or decaying soil debris.

What Is Eating My Petunias At Night?

Many animals, including rabbits and deer, enjoy petunias. Mules and fowl also eat them. Mice and squirrels will devour the plant.

You can protect your petunias from whatever is eating them. Install 2 feet high and 3 inches deep chicken wire around petunia plants to repel rabbits and up to 4 feet high to deter fowl.

Plant petunias in hanging baskets or window boxes to keep ground-grazers and other animals away.

Root, Stem, and Crown Rot can also affect petunias in areas of poor drainage.

Powdery mildew is another, and it doesn’t require soaking damp circumstances to grow, but it does show up when plants are too closely placed, impeding ventilation.

Small insects, bugs, mites, and critters are vectors for many plant viruses. However, such things as Botrytis Blight are from over-watering your growing petunias on your way to happy gardening.

What Is Eating My Petunias

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