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Bugs eating basil leaves.....

Last year I had a basil plant in a pot and it flourished. This year, I put it in the ground - same location where the pot was last year. Every morning I go out and more of the overall plant (leaves only) have been gobbled up. I don't see any bugs on or around it. I refuse to use Sevin and don't really want to use any chemical sprays. Any ideas on what's likely eating it and/or a solution to the problem?

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  1. Perhaps this is a furry varmint. You might try getting a piece of garden fabric such as Remay or Agribon. I've seen something called a garden blanket that is similar at our local gardening supply place. Sun and water can get in. Insects can't. You might also find a product like a bag that people put over plants to protect them from cold. If you don't see bugs and entire leaves disappear, it sounds more like an animal. If it's not bugs, fashioning a cage out of hardware cloth (its more like heavy wire screening). A friend used to have to make cages for her catnip so the local cats couldn't get at it. Could you have deer or rabbits or woodchucks?

    1. What you have is a brown beetle, similar to the Japanese beetle, which lives in the soil. It will definitely defoliate your basil. I never plant the basil plants in the same place every year. Also, I renew all the garden soil with compost and well composted manure. The third safe guard is companion planting. Over the years I have learned that white geraniums ( the Latin: Pelargonium alba) serves to distract the beetles from basil, so I set several white geraniums around the basil patch. If I plant basil in large pots, I use new potting soil and also pot up some of the geraniums and place them near by.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        Gio, is that the brown chafer? I have a similar-sounding bug that comes out in force around July. It eats up my basil, sorrel, sage...all the strong-flavored stuff. Thanks for the tip, I'll try planting some geraniums this year.

        1. re: Gio

          Do the beetles just eat the geraniums, then? Last year I lost a lot of basil to (what I assume were) brown beetles.

          While I planted the basil in a separate pot this year - I have a variety of herbs and some flowers growing on our apt's balcony - I'd rather not lose it if I can avoid it. :D

          1. re: nickblesch

            @ gimlis1mum: I've always been told by the Hort. professors that the brown beetle is the African Brown Beetle. The white pelagoniums always worked for me, also nasturtiums.
            @ nickblesch: The dang beetles appear in the soil in the pots too! Just pot up a few nasturtiums and white pelagoniums and place them around/near the basil pots.

          2. re: Gio

            i have those little buggers. I use Neem Oil, its Safe and Organic, mix with water
            and spray works wonders, good for almost all your plants, you can also water your plants with it.

          3. Thanks to both for the input. If the beetle lives in the ground, I wonder if the "blanket" or some other screening method might correct the problem.

            Actually, since it's only a single plant, I may just dig it up and pot plant it - that way I can better control it's environment and soil content.

            1. It might also be flea beetles. They go after the leaves and leave small round holes as evidence. They are near impossible to see and while they jump like fleas they can't attain the heights that fleas do which might explain why you had no problem with the pot last year. There are some things I actually grow in pots on a table outdoors to avoid the flea beetles.
              This year the lady at our local nursery said a solution to flea beetles is to sprinkle the plant and the ground around it liberally with hydrated lime powder. Since then I've noticed a number of area gardens with plots that look like they've got a covering of snow so I'm assuming that must be what they are doing. Another suggestion I've heard is to spray with a lime/sulpher mix also known as "Bordeaux Mix", often used in vineyards. Both are organic solutions.

              1. Digging up the plant and putting it in a terra cotta pot (@ 6") has corrected the problem and the plant is now flourishing. If the beetles live in the soil, they were potted with the transplant, so maybe they drowned with container watering. Whatever happened, I'll plant in pots from here forward - maybe a larger pot.

                4 Replies
                1. re: CocoaNut

                  I have mine planted in a pot, and the beetles are still cremating my plants. I need to do something quickly or I am going to lose my plants. :(

                  1. re: pwisn591

                    I sometimes go out at night with a flashlight to catch the little devils in the act. You can drown them in soapy water (carry a bowl with you). The bugs also seem to be attracted to light, so you could set a lantern/flashlight near the pots, then go out and catch the critters after a few minutes.

                    1. re: gimlis1mum

                      I feel like drowning them is too humane, lol. I (so far) seem to have had some luck by not watering the basil plant for a couple of days (90-ish degrees here) and letting wilt. The beetles all gave up and left, I started watering it again, and so far they haven't returned. /fingerscrossed

                    2. re: pwisn591

                      I have my basil planted in the same pot and soil as last year: Last year something ate all the leaves but this year, so far so good. Best crop I ever had. Maybe I'd better run outside now and check on them.

                  2. Lots of insects will devour basil, for me it's the stupid grasshoppers and green caterpillars.

                    1. Take a good look at the underside of all the leaves & the stems. I had a similar problem & couldn't figure out what could be eating such big holes in my beautiful lush new basil plants. Well - I finally caught the culprit - a huge green caterpillar! It was the exact same color as the healthy leaves (which it was eating). I must have looked at it 100 times before I realized what I was looking at! Sadly, I think it laid eggs while it munched, as all 4 plants have dropped all their leaves in less than 1 month's time :(

                      1. Agree with checking at night with a flashlight. You can give the plant a gentle shot of water and if there are grasshoppers, they will jump off but be momentarily stunned. Long enough for you to squish them! We had the green caterpillar as well but my son will invariably take that-along with leaves to feed it if I let it be known...Great way to hunt out Black Widows too.

                        1. might marigolds help?

                          1. Hi all - I am new to this board, deciding to join when I read this thread and got such wonderful help. I haven't fully filled out my profile yet, so forgive me. Quickly I am in Los Angeles, and my tiny "garden" is on my apartment balcony. One plant my husband and I bought was Basil, and it has been beautiful, until today's watering -- when we went to get it from the balcony it was gobbled up with tons of holes. Thanks to the posts here, we looked under every leaf and found a green caterpillar, which we quickly got rid of. Our poor plant though!!! We are going to try to find one of the suggested organic sprays to keep the caterpillars away. We haven't noticed any problem with other plants, but will this type of caterpillar possibly be attracted to some of our other plants? Thank you all so much!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: BalconyGal

                              I had terrible insect problems with the basil and mint this year, hoping next year will make up for it. You never know.

                              1. re: BalconyGal

                                There is a product called NEEM. The one I buy in Ma. is called Garden Neem.
                                It's organic and safe to use even on the day of harvest. I learned about this product by listening to a weekly organic gardening radio show.

                                Everyone I know that grows basil in thier garden has a problem with it being eaten. In Ma. it's white flies that devor it.
                                This summer I found basil plants with tiny leaves. It grows like a little shrub and it tastes exactly the same. I planted one mini basil plant and several of the regular size. It was the only plant that wasn't bothered with bugs!
                                I found it at the Lowes garden center. I like it better than the larger leaves because the leaves don't have to be torn or chopped. You can just strip them right off the stem just as you do with rosemary or Thyme.