I have a few California birch seedling trees growing in a pot outside, here in Vegas; they sprout leaves, then something comes along and eats all the leaves, then the leaves grow back, and then they do it again. I am not sure if it is a certain kind of bug or the ants I’ve noticed all around and in the pot. Is there a way to stop these leaf-eating bugs/ants, something I can buy or something natural that I can find around my house?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, John in Nevada: Is the foliage there one day and completely gone the next, or is this a gradual process starting off with little holes and after a few days there is little left of the leaves? Figuring out the culprit is the main objective at this point so you can treat accordingly. The ants may be living in the soil but typically do not feed or do much damage to the foliage. Have you noticed any other insect activity or anything unusual on your seedlings? If this is all happening overnight then you are dealing with a larger critter and a protective “cage” may be necessary to help prevent future nibbling. Chicken wire would work for this purpose. It is inexpensive and you can cut it to form a barrier between your plants and whatever the culprit may be. There are deterrents on the market made specifically for this purpose but are only effective on larger animals such as squirrels, rabbits, and deer. These organic products are available in both liquid and granular form. You can visit your local garden center to see what they carry, and make sure to follow the recommended application rates for the product you choose. If this is more of a gradual process, the culprit is going to be something much smaller and the deterrents will not make a difference. It really would be best for you to take a sample to your local garden center or to the horticulture agent at your local Extension office for the insect to be positively identified. This way you will know what you need to treat for. The good news at this point is that your seedlings are putting on new growth; they obviously are happy other than being chewed on, and once you figure out what is causing this and treat for it the seedlings should thrive.