What Pest Is Eating Holes in My Plant Leaves?

It happens to the best of gardeners: Just when your plants are looking their best, holes appear in leaves. Figuring out what's eating holes in your plant leaves takes a little detective work, but common culprits leave plenty of clues. By looking at the holes in your plants, you can narrow down the suspects — and put an end to their hole-making. Recognizing these four common leaf holes can help:

1. Large, irregular holes within leaves.

When it comes to eating holes in leaves, no pests beat slugs and snails. These slimy creatures typically eat holes toward the center of leaves, not along the outer edges. They leave large, irregular leaf holes in their wake.

While slug and snail holes vary in shape, the hole edges are relatively smooth. Trails of slimy, silvery slug or snail mucus are the final piece of evidence that proves slugs and snails are to blame.

Leaf holes from slugs and snails are common in many types of plants, including basil, hosta, hibiscus, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. These pests do most of their damage at night. A nighttime stroll with a flashlight will help confirm your hunch is right.

  Slugs and snails eat large, irregular holes in plant leaves.

2. Large and small holes along leaf edges.

While slugs and snails start eating toward leaf centers, other pests aren't so picky. Caterpillars eat holes throughout plant leaves, often starting their feasts along the leaf edge.

Some caterpillar holes look a lot like slug holes, but you won't find mucus trails with these pests. You'll find lots of dark fecal droppings instead. Some caterpillars feed on leaves at night, but you'll find them hiding on the leaf undersides during the day.

Caterpillars range from 4-inch-long tomato hornworms to inchworm-like cabbage loopers that eat holes in plant leaves. Caterpillars enjoy many plants, including roses, hydrangeas, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cabbage.

  Caterpillar holes in leaves often start along leaf edges.

3. Skeleton-like holes throughout leaves.

Some leaf holes are unique, so there's no mistaking who's to blame. When Japanese beetles start eating plant leaves, the holes look similar to other pests. But the longer these voracious insects feed, the more distinctive their leaf holes become.

Japanese beetles eat holes in between leaf veins, leaving a lace-like skeleton of the leaf behind. They often congregate in large numbers as they feed on warm, sunny days. Except for the leaf skeletons, plants are often completely defoliated.

Japanese beetles feed on more than 300 plant species. Their skeletonized leaf holes are common sights on roses, hibiscus, hydrangeas, and more. These pests often eat holes in flower petals along with eating holes in plant leaves.

  Skeletonized leaf holes are a sure sign of Japanese beetles.

4. Small "shot holes" throughout leaves.

Another beetle's damage is almost as distinctive as Japanese beetles, but these holes have a much different look. Several kinds of flea beetles riddle plant leaves with tiny holes that look like miniature shotgun blasts.

These pests don't chew completely through the leaf, so flea beetle leaf holes have a windowpane look. Flea beetles eat holes in many types of plants, including roses, hydrangeas, broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and even fragrant mint.

Other small beetles, including cucumber beetles, cause similar-looking leaf holes. The longer they eat plant leaves, the more extensive the damage becomes. But cucumber beetles typically limit their leaf holes to certain plants, such as cucumbers and squash.

  Flea beetles cover plant leaves with small "shot holes.
Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0 US)

Once you identify the guilty pest, quick action stops damage fast. A broad-spectrum insecticide can help with insect pests. Sevin® Ready-to-Use controls more than 100 insects, including caterpillars, cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, flea beetles and more. But insecticides won't kill your main nemesis: slugs and snails.

Slugs and snails aren't insects — they're mollusks. That means you need a "molluscicide." With Corry's® Slug & Snail Killer ready-to-use pellets, you can get rid of slugs and snails in your garden and protect your plants against leaf holes.

The Corry's brand been protecting plants for more than 70 years. You can trust Corry's products to put an end to slug and snail damage and keep your plant leaves looking beautiful.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions.

Corry's is a registered trademark of Matson, LLC.

Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.