If you have noticed that your hostas are getting eaten by something, you might be wondering what animals commonly attack these plants, and also if and how you can deter them so that you can keep enjoying your plant’s beautiful leaves. Working out what the predator makes it easier to stop them from eating your plant.
There are quite a few predators of hostas, unfortunately, so you may find it’s a challenge to work out exactly what is chewing away at your plants. The commonest predators are rabbits, squirrels, deer, slugs, voles, and insects. You may be able to determine which you’re dealing with by the kind of damage your plant experiences. Examine the damage done and then you can take action.
What Does Rabbit Damage Look Like?
Rabbits and squirrels generally attack a hosta’s young shoots and leave the main plant leaves alone. You are most likely to see rabbit damage in the spring when the plant is growing and the rabbits are hungry.
If your plant’s shoots are all disappearing but the adult leaves are untouched, you are likely dealing with a rabbit attack (or possibly a squirrel attack, but these are less common). You should also look around for rabbit droppings, or keep an eye on your plant during the day.
Rabbits tend to be active at dawn and at dusk, so you’ll need to be up early if you want to catch them, but this should prove beyond doubt what is munching your hosta’s leaves.
You may be able to net your plant temporarily while its young shoots establish themselves. A wire cage will be sufficient to deter rabbits, provided they can’t slip through the bars.
Once the shoots have grown bigger, your hostas should be safe from rabbit and squirrel damage because the leaves will be too tough to attract these nibblers.
Alternatively, try sprinkling the leaves of your plant with cayenne pepper, or rubbing them with chili.
Because pepper is hot to mammals, making the leaves spicy will deter potential grazers and protect your plant from attack. You will need to be vigilant about doing this in order to make sure the plant’s young shoots are protected as soon as they begin to grow.
This spicy coating will need to be applied every time it rains, as the rainwater will wash off the chili and makes the leaves vulnerable again. This is quite a high maintenance way to protect your hostas, but it should help and won’t usually need to be done all year round – at least for rabbits.
What Does Deer Damage Look Like?
Deer love eating hostas, and they strip the leaves entirely away from plant stems. If you notice your hosta has only got its stems left, you are probably looking at deer damage. They are voracious feeders and will munch their way through plants at great speed.
Deer can kill hostas because they feed on them so heavily, so you will need to take action to protect your plant from deer. If you think deer are eating your plants, it can be very difficult to deter them, but there are a few things you can do.
Firstly, deer tend to eat aromatic hostas, rather than the plain-smelling varieties. If you’re about to plant hostas (or replace ones that have been eaten), take this into consideration when choosing your new plants.
Your other option is to put up fencing, but this will need to be at least six feet tall in order to keep the deer out. This can be expensive but does have the added benefit of keeping your other plants safe from being eaten as well.
If you live somewhere with a lot of deer, this fencing with often be worth the investment, especially if you have other plants in your garden that you want to protect.
Deer are hungry feeders and will go for all kinds of things, including food crops. Don’t just let the deer have their pick; put up a fence to keep them out and keep your plants safe.
You can try to deter deer by sprinkling the leaves with cayenne pepper (again, this is hot and not liked by most mammals) or using strong, aromatic oils such as cinnamon. However, this may have mixed success because deer are such keen feeders and may not mind a little bit of chili.
What Does Slug Damage Look Like?
Slugs and snails will both go for hostas. They are nocturnal feeders and can eat surprising amounts of a plant if they find it. However, they won’t strip leaves entirely the way deer do.
Damage from slugs is easiest to detect by looking for uneven but smooth-edged holes in the leaves. Slugs that are munching their way through your hostas will also usually leave telltale slime trails on the plant and the surrounding area.
Slug damage can do a lot of harm to your plant if unchecked, but it is very difficult to deter slugs.
The best way you can protect your hostas is to minimize the organic matter around them. Slugs need things to hide under and will hang out under dead leaves, bits of bark, stones, broken pottery, etc.
Some people make a habit of going out at night and checking for slugs and snails with a torch. They will then relocate any that they find to another part of the garden. However, this is quite an intensive way of defending your hostas, and may not suit you.
You can also use beer traps for slugs and snails, but many people feel this aggressive method is not one that works for them.
What Does Vole Damage Look Like?
Mice and voles will nibble at the edges of hosta leaves. The damage they cause will often take the shape of ragged edges, gnawed stems, and torn leaves. However, you will often not see the damage, because the biggest threat these rodents pose is to your hosta’s roots.
Burrowing underground, voles and sometimes mice may encounter hosta roots – and they will certainly eat them if they are given the chance. This will result in no visible hosta damage, which may leave you confused when the hosta wilts and dies, apparently for no reason.
If your hosta has been damaged around the roots, you might notice when you dig it out. Otherwise, you’ll probably be unaware of the damage.
It’s very hard to defend roots from this kind of damage, but it can be done if you are dedicated. Keeping down the amount of other foliage and cover around your plant may help to deter voles, and you can also dig mesh cages into the ground below the hosta.
A circle of mesh will be enough to stop most voles, and will still allow the plant’s roots to grow down into the soil. However, you will need to make sure that the net is fine enough to prevent the vole from simply digging through.
You can again put cayenne pepper or chili on the hosta’s leaves to deter any over-ground grazing that might be done by little rodents.
What Does Insect Damage Look Like?
You will rarely be able to differentiate between insects just by looking at what kind of damage they have done to the hosta. You will find that cutworms, various kinds of beetle, and grasshoppers all devour hostas with pleasure, and it can be very hard to stop them.
It is usually a case of manually removing them, and this can be hard work. Often, you will find that looking in the morning or evening is best. Take a torch into your garden so you can more easily see the insects against the leaves.
If your plant is being attacked by cutworms, try creating some cardboard collars to place around new leaves. Once the leaves have grown and become established, you can remove this fence; they will no longer be in danger of the cutworms.
Insect damage is often the most frustrating and difficult kind to deal with. Insects can cause a lot of damage in very little time, as they often come in large numbers and can decimate a plant. The bugs are frequently hard to spot, and very difficult to reliably remove.
There are some pesticides that will free your plant from insect guests, but these tend not to be very environmentally friendly and will damage other insects as well as the plant-eaters.
Predatory insects such as ladybugs are key to keeping down other pests in the garden, so use insecticides with care. Manual removal is usually the most planet-friendly option.
Hostas are vulnerable to attack by all sorts of animals and how you defend the hosta will depend heavily on the kind of attack it’s suffering from. Make sure you assess the damage to your hosta’s leaves so you can act against the right kind of predator.
Planting plain-smelling hostas, protecting the roots, fencing your garden, and removing insects by hand if necessary are the best ways to keep your hostas safe and their leaves intact.