Ants, Gnats, Slugs, Cut Worms -- Leaf Eaters

PinesEverywhere(5b)June 19, 2012

Hello Hosta Lovers -- I've been reading various threads on here as well as doing Hosta Leaf Hole research. I planted 75 Hosta in March and all were thriving until about June 1. At that time, I split about 12 (watered those beds daily for two weeks) and now problems with pretty much all.

My questions to you experts relate to identifying leaf damage. How do you differentiate between:

Brown/dried leaf edges -- over watering or split shock?

Round small leaf holes -- ants, gnats, earwigs?

Elongated 1/2" gnawed-like holes or half-eaten leaves -- slugs, cut worms?

I've read your suggestions for attacking the slugs/cutworms (beer traps, ammonia traps, cornmeal, Sluggo, etc). I researched oil traps for earwig infiltration and certainly -- I stopped watering.

Can someone summarize some general rules for identifying culprits? As of yet ... I have not seen any worm-like creature on any plants (dawn, dusk, during rain, etc. but I have seen them while digging/planting and they are uggggly).

Here is a photo of one Hosta that is affected (this is one I split). For now, I am just spraying leaves with dish soap and water as that alone is keeping the ants and gnats off (thus the wet and bubbly substance)and it seems to help a little -- at least they are clean -- LOL. Surprisingly, the Hosta adjacent to this one (unsplit) had little damage showing.

I don't know which solution strategy to employ (or all of them) as I'd be setting beer/ammonia traps, oil traps and still topically spraying. With so many over 2.5 acres I need a plan -- thanks if you can help.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Surprisingly, the Hosta adjacent to this one (unsplit) had little damage showing.

===>> doesnt this sum up the answer for you ...

what possessed you to split them.. just as the high heat of summer started. and make you think .. there would be no leaf damage.. regardless of how much you water ... you raped them from the earth and cut them in half.. and now you wonder????

forget about ants and gnats ...

if you want to avoid this situation.. you do it in early spring.. before they leaf out.. gotta have a long term plan here...

or.. you do it.. in later summer or early fall .. after they already look ratty.. and then you wont notice it.. lol ..

its hard to tell.. but it looks like some of your leaf damage is ... YOU!!! ... just happening during the digging and cutting apart ... could any of it happened.. as you pulled the two haves apart ???

i dont know what to say about the dish soap ... if it makes you happy.. go for it.. i suppose you clean your house also???? ... lol


    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 11:42AM
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hostared(Z5, IL)

Hi Pines,
It sounds like your new to hosta addiction but what is done is done. Yes the best time to split a plant is in the early spring when the eyes of the plant are coming up. This is the only time I do the split if at all. I try not to disturb any of them unless I'm transplanting them. In the fall is another excellent time for transplanting. The ones you split may have stress they will recover. Just keep them happy and next year they will reward you as nice plants. If you lose some it just gives you another space to plant something else. :)

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:04PM
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Hostared, thank you for the very nice reply. Ken, thanks for the brutal honesty.

I suppose I should apologize to you Hosta lovers for my bold and cruel actions toward 12 plants out of the 75 I bought, shipped in tubs/boxes and planted in the cool rain. I accept full responsibility for my uninformed and insensitive "splits" of these selected Hosta on or about June 1.

Relative to Leaf damage (holes small and large, the apparent chewed leaf here-n-there, etc.), I'd still appreciate some general guidelines if they exist so I can identify Hosta leaf-eating culprits for my remaining 63 plants. Thank you in advance and here are photos of some unsplit Hosta with apparent damage that I am trying to learn from (a sample of the remaining 63).

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Looks like the watering might have boosted your slug population, and they come out at night.

So do the cutworms and the earwigs.

I think those are the three things you are showing damage from. Other than the inadvertent damage to the leaves of being split apart.

I get Sluggo Plus for the slugs. And I do the 1:10 mix of household ammonia SPRAYED on the leaves, or dumped into the soil around the hosta. The predators are not going to jump into the ammonia like the slugs do into the beer, so you have to apply it liberally around the roots and as far out as the spread of the leaves. The cut worms are in the ground, which is why you find them when you are digging, and then they come up to the hosta at night to feed. I think that is the same with the earwigs, but not really sure. I have so many insects here it is hard to sort out the good guys from the bad ones.

There are several other threads on this forum with good long discussions comparing damage from various means. Hosta Forum is a fast posting place, and recent topics can easily cover three or four of the pages. If you are not satisfied with a search you do on "slugs" or "cut worms" then I recommend just scrolling back for several pages looking at the subject lines.

For someone who just got hostas, you jumped into the plants with a lot of gusto. You'll do fine, they are very strong and shall survive. As Ken is fond of saying, you can throw them on the driveway and they'll live..... he is our resident expert, guru, and curmudgeon at the same time. :)

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 1:11PM
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Thanks moccasinlanding -

I think you are correct about my watering boosting the slug population (as well as attracting many insects and tons of worm-searching birds). We have experienced a drought and high-temps all June causing me to water lightly pre-dawn and at dusk which, literally, was feeding breakfast and lunch to the earth dwellers. However, I haven't watered all Hosta plantings that are now "holey" but the watered beds seem worse than the others.

Thanks for the kind and informative reply. I will employ the corrective and per-emptive measures you suggest as well as continue my research. I've had excellent Hosta experience (albeit in the City) and jumped in a new rural environment unaware of the many variables including soil, well-water, critters, insects, etc. Messing up these Hostas seems like bad karma as they are so robust -- now I am fretting about everything else I have planted and checking, double-checking every bloom, every leaf, etc. LOL.

No worries on any of the responses -- I appreciate the help any way I can get it. I'll engage in some other forums and keep reading here to learn as much as I can (love the photos by everyone too).

Thanks and happy Hosta-ing everyone!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 2:13PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


You really have to see what you are dealing with to be sure. In that first leaf picture that could be slugs or worms. If I saw that I would make sure I had bait out and treat that plant with ammonia and water. The worms won't go away during the day. They often hide in the emerging new leaves so get in there and make sure you get all of the plant.

The second and third pictures are just mechanical damage. A stick falling from the trees above or an acorn or something tearing the leaves. The last picture looks like small round holes. That's definitely slugs.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:03PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

BTW, don't worry about Ants and Gnats unless they are inside your house.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:22PM
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Thanks Steve -- I'll be setting out a variety of traps tonight, tomorrow and over the weekend to "assess" the situation. I intend to take direct and focused action patch-by-patch. I'll bring in the chemicals when needed.

Thanks too for isolating the physical/mechanical damage as I won't worry about those. :)

P.S. I do have an Ant issue in the house (minor) but I'll save that for another forum. I'm outside all the time anyway!!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 5:44PM
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Yeah Steve is right... The first pic is the only one that looked like pest damage... I would guess cutworms/caterpillar... Due to the elongated eating... Slugs generally eat rounded holes...
Second of all... You sound like you are freaked out lol... Take a pill... Your plants don't look that bad...your hostas are at the will of nature... Just like a child... You can't put them in a bubble...
Don't stop watering... Just water in the mornings... So the surface has all day to dry.... And water more... Less often... Like a half inch, twice a week... At a rate where the soil can absorb what you water and then dry out....
Main hosta pests are slugs.... Though deer and rabbits and other wildlife will munch on them... They aren't a huge problem... Ken mentioned the other day he doesn't worry much about caterpillar because they pupate so fast... Which is very true... They tend to seriously damage quickly... But its for a short duration during the season.. and a mature hosta will recover easily during its next flush of leaves...
Hope this helps...

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 10:36PM
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John's Post:

--> You sound like your freaked out
--> Just water in the mornings
--> Main hosta pests are slugs

Thanks John for the calming words and more specifics on watering and hole sizes/causes. After eating 3 cans of Tuna Fish and finding two lids, the first round of traps were set (the beer is always here, so that wasn't a challenge).

And yes, we have slugs, slugs and more slugs. Ugg. The traps farthest from the house were disturbed and pulled away from the Hosta with most of the beer gone and slugs minimal or tipped onto the ground. Now what? Drunken skunks, woozy racoons, tipsy possums? Good grief. The beer traps aren't feasible as I can't eat 70 more cans of Tuna and I certainly don't want to encourage nocturnal critters to drink.

Getting the Sluggo Plus and Ammonia today. New watering routine already implemented.

Thanks all for guiding me in this quest to save the Hosta and vanquish leaf-eating pests. (Wink wink -- a little drama and humor to make this a worthwhile read).


    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 5:47AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

wonder what happened to my 2nd reply after your second set of pix ...

i hate when i hit SENd.. then close the window before it goes ...

any chance it came to your inbox??


    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 10:17AM
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Hey Ken --

Nope, didn't get a message via email but I have successfully received messages from others.

Let's blame in on the "holes" or the "slugs". Yuk yuk.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:15AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


anyway.. i suggested.. that if you have to repeatedly dig it up and split is to FIT A SPACE.. that you should find one the fits the spaces.. and give up the hard labor ...

besides the fact that it is a rather ugly PLAIN green hosta.. and unless it was highly fragrant.. that you could do sooo much better ...

and then i went on a spin about enabling .. lol


    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 12:12PM
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kskaren(z5 MO)

John (i-like-to-grow)... is it... just me... or are you... beginning to talk.... like Ken?

(snicker, snicker!) ;)

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 1:59PM
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From Ken's Post:

--> if you have to repeatedly dig it up and split is to FIT A SPACE..
--> the fact that it is a rather ugly PLAIN green hosta..
--> you could do sooo much better ...

Ahh yes, I forgot you asked me why I was splitting them at all. Long story short, we've been trimming almost 100 unkempt trees. The initial Hosta plantings provided nice surrounds for several trees/aprons. The splitting of the plantings in June was a misguided attempt to do a several more beds/surrounds. By no means was I trying to fit a "rather ugly PLAIN green Hosta" into a certain space but rather to put green where too much plain dirt existed.

Besides ... "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder" says Plato! I like their greenness and simplicity.

I do have a few specialty Hosta that are tiny babies and untouched by Slugs (as of now). I'll take good care of them and maybe be able to post pictures in a couple years as evidence that I've diversified and learned from ya all.

Thanks Ken, for the interest.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 2:21PM
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Okay, come on everybody, give Pines a hosta name which is tough as nails or slug proof, grows quickly, and is not ugly as sin.....or PLAIN.....whatever...

I'd opt for one which makes seedlings so she won't be hocking the family farm to buy new plants. BUT, I think I see an EMPRESS WU in Pine's future too.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:02PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

The four awards of merit for the Benedict performance medal would be good choices.
2011 Benedict Garden Performance Awards of Merit

H. 'Satisfaction' (C. Wasitis)
H. 'Silver Bay' (D. Dean)
H. 'Cathedral Windows' (H. Hansen)
H. 'Olive Bailey Langdon' (R. O�harra)

Along with Benedict Medal winners Sagae, June and Blue Mouse Ears.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 4:54PM
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why is there something wrong with Ken huh? If you got a problem share it huh? lol

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 10:49PM
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gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)

BT is the best thing for cutworms. It comes as a liquid or a powder that you sprinkle on the plants. BT isn't a chemical. It's actually a bacteria that's toxic to caterpillars when ingested. It's not toxic to anything else, unless you're talking about another related bacteria that's toxic to mosquito larvae (that's what's in Mosquito Dunks). A cutworm is a caterpillar, so when it takes a bite of a plant that's been treated with BT, it loses its appetite and goes away and dies.

I don't know about you, but I don't have time to go outside every night with a flashlight and a bottle of ammonia hunting for nasty little hosta eating creatures. Slug bait is a relatively simple way to take care of the slugs.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:01PM
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I agree that Satisfaction is a great choice. I have two and they don't have slug damage, but they are in pots. Even if you wind up planting in the ground, until you know where you want them to go permanently, a pot is handy to move around.

I also have Sagae, which is magnificent, although I just got mine and it will have to grow up, but I bet, Pines, your husband will love it even. I have Cathedral Windows on order, but I have two Stained Glass (the parent of Cathedral Windows) and I have one June. I don't think you could go wrong with any of the hosta Steve listed, they were winners because they grew well in every part of the hosta-growing world. And they've been around long enough that they are available for a decent price.

Be cautious about shopping at big box stores though,

The information in this thread led me to restock my chemical arsenal, mostly through Amazon, since I really do not like to come back to a hot car in an asphalt parking lot. Not my idea of a good day activity.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:31PM
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Moccasinlanding, Steve_mass, Gardenfanatic, i-like-to-grow, Hostared, Ken_Adrian and HostaHillbilly

Thank you all for the interest and great advice. In continuing news ... the slug deterrent has been applied and although the Slugo Plus product was not available at Home Depot, I purchased the Ortho Bug-Geta-Plus and hope it is effective. The ammonia treatments start today when I head-out two-fisted with spray bottles. This part I won't mind as I walk around and check things every couple days anyway.

Next .. A BIG 'OLE THANK YOU ... to Moccasinlanding and Steve for the nominations of what to plant that are semi-exotic and hardy. I am christening an entire new project "Member Selections" for your choices on my behalf. This will be in a pristine new area, under pines, with a wandering walkway and boulders. It may take months to complete but project is next up.

I've included a link to some non-plain, healthy Baby Hosta that I do have (tags are long gone, so I apologize for not knowing their identities -- but I'll learn them as I seek out my knew Hosta suggestions by you). There is also a BEFORE photo of the Member Selections Hosta Garden that I'll be starting as a "Thanks" to you all.

Stay tuned.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photo Bucket Link to Baby Hosta Pics

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 6:30AM
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kskaren(z5 MO)

Nice place, Pines! All I gotta say is, you better have a big, and I mean REALLY big, garden for Member Selections! You'll have it filled in no time, and there'll still be tons of hostas on the list!!


    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 9:09AM
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Thanks Karen!

I do have an "over flow" area in my back forty that can be prepared as well so I am happy to accept suggestions. Been checking out the Thread on HOTY also where many of you regular member's have posted your personal Hostas and gardens. Very impressive and inspiring. :)

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 9:42AM
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