What Is Eating My Buddleia leaves and How to Treat Them

What Is Eating My Buddleia leaves and How to Treat Them

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Buddleia is one of my favourite shrubs and I really do enjoy the butterflies that sometimes arrive in their masses. If you’re lucky enough to have hummingbirds (I know I don’t as I’m in the UK) I know they also love butterflies bushes too.

Buddleia is about as hardy as shrubs come but what I have experienced and been asked about is what is eating my buddleia leaves. For most people, it’s likely to be caterpillars, usually from moths including the Mullein moth which are brown but the culprits are their larvae that are black, white and yellow striped caterpillars. This is not surprising as, after all, this is the reason we plant buddleia to attract butterflies.

however, there are other culprits including Japanese beetles, Leaf miners, rabbits and of course aphids but they don’t actually eat the leaves leaving holes in them as rabbits and caterpillars do.

What Is Eating My Buddleia?

Damage to your butterfly bushes typically stem from animal activity. You’ll find various insects attracted to the plant apart from moths and butterflies. Some of the common pests eating your buddleia include:

Caterpillars leaves holes in the leaves and can eat the whole lead often just leaving the veins

Mullein caterpillar thats like to eat buddleia leaves

As already mentioned, the most likely culprit is caterpillars. They bite irregular patterns into the leaves before moving to the next one. There is no real way to avoid this but they are unlikely to kill the plant anyway, it just looks unsightly. The easiest way to remove them is by picking them off by hand which is chemical-free for those who try to avoid using any chemicals in the garden, sometimes this means going out in the dark with a torch.

You can also use a pesticide spray, most will be suitable for caterpillars or you can use natural predators such as parasitic wasps which have also proven effective.

Japanese beetles

Japanese beetles that eat the foliage of many shrubs including buddleia plants

Attacking both foliage and fruits in different plants, Japanese beetles are a force to contend with.  These insects need to be controlled before they cause significant damage. The interesting thing about Japanese beetles is how they consume the foliage, leaving behind a skeletal frame. A plant with skeletal leaves cannot make food, therefore weakening the plant. They often eat the edge of the leaf first so are sometimes easier to spot first before they do too much damage.

You can tree to keep Japanese beetles from ravaging your garden by introducing parasitic nematodes, picking them by hand or utilising organic methods such as neem oil sprays. You can also use pesticides if you don’t mind using chemical sprays.

Read next: Why is my buddleia wilting

Leaf miner

Leaf Miner larvae tunneling through leaf

Leaf miners are one of the easiest to identify but they don’t actually eat the leaves and leave holes in this like caterpillars and Japanese beetles do. They actually leave behind bleached trails on the leaves. It almost looks like someone was doodling on the leaves.

Adult leaf miners are not responsible for the damage, but the larvae who consume and live in the leaf’s tissues. As with most pests. to get rid of these insects you can spray pesticides or use parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps are more effective as they will destroy the leaf miners regardless of the stage.


Rabbits are not typically drawn to butterfly bushes but it is not unusual to find them nibbling on the plants. If conditions are tough and food is limited, rabbits will nibble on some buddleia wood unapologetically. To figure out if rabbits are involved, scan the area for some droppings and erect a barrier or spray garlic oil, which is thought to be a natural repellent. I will leave how to deal with rabbits to you.

Read next: Why are my buddleia leaves turning yellow

Spider mites

Spider mites that are tiny but often spotted by there webs

Considered an arachnid, these little guys make homes on various plants in the garden. These spiders spin tiny webs on the plant and also feed off plant juices so they don’t actually makes holes in the leaves or eat the actual leaf and leave nothing behind. A few spider mites won’t cause the plant to die, it is only large populations that can start to become a problem. Large populations cause discoloured leaves and may eventually lead to defoliation.

The discolouration typically starts as tiny dots that spread throughout, causing the leaf deformity. Making use of natural predators, pyrethrin insecticides, horticultural oils, neem oil, and spraying a mixture of water plus rubbing alcohol has proven effective against these pests. You can of course use pesticides too.


Aphids that attack the new soft foliage of most plants

Aphids are the villains in most gardens because they come with additional guests and there not that fussy about what plants they will attack. These pests live in clusters and will suck the juices out of the foliage and then leave behind honeydew. The sticky substance attracks ants and sooty mould that affect the plants negatively. Aphids leave behind discoloured and deformed leaves that may drop prematurely weakening the plant.

Control measures for aphids include using natural predators such as parasitic wasps, insecticides, and insecticidal soaps, or horticultural oils.

Wrap up

Pests are part of the garden eco-system so it is challenging to avoid them regardless of the season. The best you can do is catch the pests early on before populations increase and spread to other plants or cause significant damage to the plant.

In general, buddleia are very hardy and some of the leaves getting eaten is not really an issue, they just look less appealing and it spoils the appearance of the plant if you get a significant investation. I have just learnt to live with it knowing they usually still produce masses of flowers over summer anyway and I’m going to prune them back hard in spring anyway which will encourage masses of new foliage anyway.

To learn more about other pests and diseases that effect buddleia read my guide here

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