The Q&A Archives: What's eating my Petunias

Question: My husband bought me a beautiful hanging basket of white petunias. Just a few days ago I noticed that the flowers have holes and some are half eaten. How do I treat this, and can I do it without using dangerous chemicals. My husband heard that cactus oil can be used as a insect repellent. Is that true and where do I get some?

Thank you,

Answer: The most common pest of petunias is the budworm caterpillar. This pest is the larvae of a moth; the eggs are laid on the flower buds and when they hatch the larva gorges on the insides of the flower bud. These caterpillars are difficult to control but Bacillus thuringensis (B.T.) and Bifenthrin are reasonably effective insecticides. If left unchecked, the presence of the caterpillars will cause your petunias to stop blooming. Bt is a biological control and harmless to pets, humans and most other insects. I don't know about cactus oil - I've never heard of it being used as an insecticide. Instead, I'd go with the tried and true Bt (sold as Dipel).

Best wishes with your petunias!

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