The Q&A Archives: Broccoli Bones

Question: I planted my broccoli seeds about a month ago, my seeds germinated and started to sprout. The plants are about 3" tall in a row about 25' long. A few days ago, I noticed that about half the row of plants had all there leaves apparently eaten off. I have grown broccoli for many years and have never seen anything like this. Just the bones of the formerly promising sprouts are left. A close inspection reveals no insects or insect traces.

One more fact; this dead part of the broccoli row extends into an area of my garden that receives some pine tree needle deposits from a close tree - and this half of the row tests ph @4.5. Maybe this contributes to something.

Answer: It's not likely that dropping pine needles or low soil pH caused the disappearance of your broccoli leaves. Slugs and snails are voracious nocturnal eaters, so you wouldn't normally see them feeding, but they do leave a slime trail. The probable culprit is the Imported Cabbage Worm. These are the larvae of a small butterfly (white wings, edged with black and one black dot on each wing). The larvae feed exclusively on cole crops. If you haven't had them visit your garden in the past, consider yourself lucky! The plants may recover, so wait a week to see if any new sprouts appear. If not, remove and replant. You can avoid this problem in the future by using a floating row cover (like Reemay) over your seed bed to exclude the adults and keep them from laying eggs near your crops. Broccoli doesn't need to be pollinated, so you can leave the cover on until you harvest.

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