HOME > Chowhound > Gardening >


Basil Bugs? Gardening Question.

Hey there.

I'm attempting a garden on my deck, and my basil plants are getting eaten up! It gets so bad entire leaves end up little bitten slivers. I can't see what's doing it; no caterpillars, slugs, etc, and I really don't want to use pesticide or- basically- anything not organic. Is there anything I can do to save them (other than just bringing them inside)?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It sounds like slugs to me. Slugs feed at night. It could also be deer.

    The best solution would be some kind of cover like a floating row cover. This is spun polyester that allows light and rain in but not bugs. Ask at a good garden center.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Tom from Raleigh

      Two years ago I had rabbits eating my basil, they striped the plants of all the leaves, you can find organic deer and rabbit away sprays at good garden centers. I wanted to catch and cook the little bugger figuring it was preseasoned

      1. re: chazzer

        Thanks for answering you guys, but I'm pretty sure it's not deer or rabbits; i'm on the second floor. ^-^
        I will look into the cover, thanks so much!

        1. re: DreamCyn

          Earwigs are another possible culprit. They often hide underneath pots. If you do use a floating row cover make sure there are no little critters trapped underneath it.

    2. Cut a long piece of the basil and take it to the garden center for advice. Put it into a plastic ziplock bag so that you don't spread whatever it is. Some insects are so tiny that you can't see them. It could also be something that eats them perhaps at night and then moves on after laying eggs.
      A row cover will do you no good at all if the plants are already infested with something. The cover will simply tuck them in snuggly or keep the new bugs inside if eggs have been laid.

      There are many good organic sprays on the market now that you can use which any good garden center should stock. The big companies like Ortho and Scott's are all making them now because consumers are demanding organics.

      You will probably need to cut the damaged foliage back and allow the plants to sprout new growth.
      After you spray the plants and kill whatever is eating them, they will bush out and grow healthy new branches and leaves.

      1. I'm focusing of the phrase "little bitten slivers" to think that it must be caterpillars doing the job because they are the only chewers that will leave the midrib intact at times. To see if it is slimers, snails or slugs, dampen a newspaper section, roll it up loosely and leave it near your plants overnight. If slugs and snails are around, they will camp out in the newspaper after a night of dining.

        1. I think basil must be catnip for bugs. I have no idea who the culprit(s) are, but I can never grow it from seed in the garden. It gets to be 2 or 3 inches high, then one morning it's all defoliated. My solution is to buy mature plants at Trader Joe's, about 12-16 inches high, and transplant. The big plants are either not as tasty, or they can survive the bug attacks better. In my experience the damage always happens at night, so if it's practical, you could just move the basil indoors at night and let it soak up the sun outside during the day until it's big enough to take care of itself. Or you could try putting a plastic bucket or something over the basil at night.

          On the other hand, maybe there are some ninja-bunnies out there, climbing up the walls in the dark of night to dine on your basil.

          1. It could be aphids or jap. beetle... or... or... the list is long. Check underneath a leaf. If there is this honeydew gacky lacy stuff it is aphids. You may even see them clinging to the stem. Crush them with you hand or spray them with a firm water spray and then with dilutes Joy in a water bottle. Or you could try neem oil. It is natural, but STINKS! It could be white flies or nematodes. Scrape off the top layer of the soil and put some fresh down. Ease up on the water.

            Basically, I start with the most benign thing like examine and pluck or shake then spray it with water, then the Joy then the Neem (order wise). No use plastering insecticide on the basil though.

            1. I've always had problems with Japanese beetles eating my basil. I would grow my basil in the garden and you could go over and shake the plant and the beetles would fly out! It was horrible. I know lots of people would buy those Japanese beetle traps but that just attracts more beetles, IMHO. I don't have a good answer for you if this is what's eating your plant. Good luck! :)

              1. order some live lady bugs on-line and they will eat your aphids who are nibbling on your basil without damaging your basil. A totally natural and organic solution.

                3 Replies
                  1. re: angelo04

                    Aphids are sucking insects, not chewing. If there are enough of them, leaves may turn yellow from loss of sap but no holes ever.

                    1. re: angelo04

                      It seems surreal to have to ORDER ladybugs; we are usually infested with them (in southern Ontario) so much that we have them indoors all winter long. we didn't have so many this year; perhaps that is why our basil is being eaten so much more than ever before (by bugs, not us!). the bugs are a little smaller than an upholstery nail, and a metallic-looking shiny dark purplish brown. they are there in the daytime, and sometimes we see many at once, chowing down very eagerly. we kill what we can, but they do fly and they fly away. any idea on what they are or how to control (eliminate!) them?

                    2. I'm growing a flush pot of sweet basil on my deck and every morning, I notice holes (bites?) and slivers missing from the leaves..today, I dug deep into the dirt and there were several round yellowish balls in the soil..I removed as many as I could and crushed them...liquid came out..are these eggs??..I'm using the joy spray bottle method and putting the plant indoors at night..hope this works!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: AngelaBH

                        Those balls might be fertilizer, like Osmocote.

                        1. re: p.j.

                          bermuda is correct about ladybugs. they eat about 15 aphids per day plus other harmful insects. used them for my tomatoes last year and they worked like a charm. i bought enough for my small garden {around 25 plants for around $10}. when i released them i figured they would just fly away but they stuck around all season and did the job.

                      2. One possibility not considered so far is birds. The most likely culprits are house or English sparrows (two common names for same bird), which eat many tender leaves but do not touch the ribs. They can be problems for basil, peas and lettuce, particularly bibb. Bird netting over the plants is the preventive treatment. Direct-seeded basil absolutely must be covered in my garden or it will be destroyed before the true leaves get any size. Containers on a second floor deck provide lovely perches for sparrows.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Eldon Kreider

                          It's probably a brown beetle. They live in the soil in the pots. If you either dig an inch or so down, you'll probably find them. Or, you can flood the pot with water, and they will come floating up. They are really hard to get rid of. Even if you kill the ones in the soil, more will fly in and take up residence on your plants.

                          1. re: pwisn591

                            The brown beetles feed at night which is why you don't see them. If you go out about 10pm or so, you will find them munching away at your plants. They are devastating to the plants if left unchecked. They killed two of my plants last year. They are also eating my jalapeno pepper plants as well. I have started using a product called Safer 3 in 1, which seems to be slowing the beetles down....but not completely eradicating them. It is approved for organic gardening.

                            1. re: pwisn591

                              We are losing our basil and they are starting in on the peppers, but not touching nearby tomatoes or parsley. I'm checking for beetles tonight and will try that 3 in 1. That might be the downside of mulch. It gives slugs and beetles a place to live.

                              1. re: Boston Garden

                                In my case is was brown beetles. They were out there at 10:00 munching away on the basil and peppers, but not touching anything else.

                              2. re: pwisn591

                                I'm with you on this. My four basil plants have been getting ravaged for about a week now here in Maine. Figured it was slugs and finally went out 15 minutes ago (it's 10:45 pm right now) to check on my plants. They had a total of about 20 soft beetles the color of a baked bean and the size of a small kernel of corn chowing on what's left of the foliage. I squished the little bastards!

                          2. I just saw your post. I am having the same problem, and my situation is similar to yours. I am on a second floor deck also. Today, I found out what was eating my basil plants. Locusts! It is ver difficult to even spot them since they are the exact same color as the basil. There are trees around and I noticed that my leaves were being eaten. On closer examination, I found two locusts on my basil. I brought my big pot indoors which I really didnt want to do. Perhaps someone has a cure for the locust problem. I live on the coast of New Jersey where there is plenty of humidity, and locusts tend to thrive in the august air.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: trishte

                              The only thing that's ever bothered my basil is caterpillars. Put some white paper on the soil in the pot and see if their little droppings fall on the paper. They're hard to see until they get bigger. You could use BT on the basil, it will kill the bugs, and when the bacilli die they're not harmful to anything.

                                1. re: angelo04

                                  Bacillus thuringesis- do a web search, there's a lot of info out there.

                            2. Brown beetles, similar to Japanese beetles, have eaten my basil plants in the past. To control them I plant white geraniums (Pelargonioum) around the basil planting. When I plant a few basil plants in a pot, I also pot up a white geranium and place the pot neat the basil... keeps the beetles away from the basil.


                              1. My basil plants in pots are getting eaten this year also, which is unusual. It's not snails, because there are holes in middle of the leaves. I have sprayed a few times with a pyrethrine based spray - supposed to be a safe organic pesticide. You can find sprays like this at the nursery. It is helping.

                                1. Some problem bugs seem to chew at night so would a small solar light stuck in the pot work to keep the nocturnal bugs away?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jeannewolf

                                    The infestation on everybody's basil is not deer, not bunnies, probably not snails or slugs. It's tiny green caterpillars called "loopers". The eggs for loopers are laid on the basil by white cabbage butterflies. The loopers feed at night and if you have enough of them they can strip your basil plant. During the day they can hide among the leaves and stems....almost impossible to detect. Sometimes they hide in the soil at the plants base.. You need to use a biological spray called BT. Ask at your nursery.
                                    Loopers love tender foliage, and one year they ate almost all the flowers on my bougainvillea .