Magazine article Sunset

What's Eating Your Petunias?

Magazine article Sunset

What's Eating Your Petunias?

Article excerpt

WHY ON EARTH HAVE my petunias stopped flowering, when just a couple of weeks ago they were in glorious full bloom?" Any gardener who grows petunias is likely to ask this question come late spring or early summer.

No, it's not because you forgot to fertilize, although that may slow flowering; so can neglecting to deadhead. But in either case, you'll get at least some new flowers. When very few flowers open--and those that do are chewed--you're undoubtedly seeing the effects of the geranium budworm (Heliothis virescens or Helicoverpa virescens, also called the tobacco budworm).

This voracious 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch-long greenish or brownish light-striped caterpillar eats pinhead-size holes in buds of petunias (as well as of garden geraniums, nicotiana, and border penstemon), which prevents the buds from opening. It also feeds on open flowers and foliage, often taking on the color of the flower it's been feeding on.

Geranium budworm used to be confined mostly to milder climates, but now even gardeners in cold climates such as Denver see its effects. The moth can survive not only through relatively mild winters, but also in protected areas around buildings and on geraniums brought inside for winter. …

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