Why Do My Hostas Have Holes in the Leaves

Hostas, a hardy perennial, originated from the Far East. Introduced first to Europe in the late 1700s, the hosta plant made its way to America about the mid-1800s. Today, the plants can be found throughout the country as it grows in a range of hardiness zones. Hostas generally are low-maintenance plants and boast more than 2,500 different cultivars (cultivated varieties). However, hostas have a natural enemy, and this enemy may be the reason your plants have holes in the leaves.

Basics of the hosta plant

The leaves of the hosta plant are broad, emerging from a central crown and developing into a mounded form, describes the University of Minnesota Extension office. Depending on the variety, hosta leaves may range in color from grass green to yellowish-green and multicolored patterns of green and white. The texture of the leaves also varies depending on the cultivar.

According to Master Gardener Gretchen Heinke from the Ohio State University Extension office, “All hostas bloom in summer with spikes of lavender to white, lily-like flowers, which can be quite showy…All fragrant hosta flowers are hybridized from Hosta plantaginea.” The flowers of the hosta plants can attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Its leaves, however, often attract slugs.

Hosta leaves and slugs

The leaves of your hostas can appear to be one big buffet to a slug. Often home gardeners blame the holes in the leaves of the hosta plants on cutworms or other insects. Generally, the culprit is the slug. Snails also will chew and leave holes in hosta leaves, but typically, it’s the slugs that munch on hostas in the United States. The holes the slugs leave tend to be irregular-shaped.

Slugs become active as the early spring days begin to warm. The creature prefers moist conditions and is most active at night. During the day, you may find slugs attached to the underside of your hosta plant’s leaves, as the slug seeks respite from the sun and heat. Recognizing a slug is easy. It looks like a snail without a shell, legless and usually it leaves behind a slimy trail as it moves across the leaves of your plants.

Ridding hostas of slugs

Tim Gibb, an Integrated Pest Management Specialist from the Purdue University Extension office, recommends three methods for removing slugs from your hostas. These methods include handpicking the slugs off the plants, baiting it with a beer trap, or using a commercial slug bait trap.

  • If you decide to handpick the slugs off the hostas, the job is best done in the evening when the slugs are most active and easiest to see. Gloves should be worn. Place the slugs in a bucket filled with soapy water to kill them. Once they are dead, you can add their remains to your compost bin. If you don’t compost, simply place the slugs in a garbage bag and dispose with the trash.
  • A beer bait trap is simple and means you don’t have to touch the slugs. Gibb suggests placing a “small amount of beer into a flat, open, container buried in the soil up to its lip.” Add enough beer to cover the bottom of the container, about one-quarter inch. Slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer. The yeast attraction tempts the slug to crawl in, get drunk, drown and die.
  • Commercial slug bait uses a chemical in pellet form to kill the slug. The slug bait needs to be deposited in the areas where the slugs hide during the day—shady areas such as under plant leaves or under any debris in the soil. Check the hiding areas each morning after laying bait and remove the dead slugs.
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