Lamb’s ear plants, with their soft violet blooms and fuzzy, light leaves, make for a stunning ornamental plant in your garden. These plants are incredibly hardy, and they don’t have many pests. However, a few resilient insects and critters can eat away at your lamb’s ear, potentially devastating and killing it.
To know what’s eating your lamb’s ear plant, check the damage for signs of common pests like slugs, snails, caterpillars, wool carder bees, and white-margined burrower bugs.
Since so few insects and other organisms consume lamb’s ear plants, identifying the creature eating your lamb’s ear plant is simple. In this article, I’ll tell you about the pests that eat lamb’s ear and help you identify and eradicate them.
Common Pests of Lamb’s Ear Plants
Lamb’s ear plants are pest-resistant, thanks to their soft texture and the tiny hairs on their leaves. These hairs give the lamb’s ear a cotton or velvet-like texture that most insects and animals avoid.
Taking a bite of lamb’s ear is like chewing on velvet or getting a wad of hair stuck in your throat. It’s very unpleasant and is sure to leave you with cottonmouth.
For that reason, it is unusual for common garden pests such as deer, rabbits, chipmunks, birds, and moles to eat lamb’s ear. In addition, most insects avoid it since chewing through those soft fibers on this plant’s foliage isn’t worth the work and discomfort.
However, there are a few pests that are willing to eat through these fibers to get to the delicious center of the lamb’s ear’s leaves.
Pests that eat lamb’s ear plants include slugs, snails, caterpillars, wool carder bees, and white-margined burrower bugs. Few other organisms will consume this plant, making it easy to identify the pests that have eaten your lamb’s ear.
Let’s take a look at these pests and discuss how you can identify them:
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails typically hate crawling on plants with hairy stems and leaves like your lamb’s ear plant. However, this plant has low-lying leaves close to the ground, making them accessible to these pests. The low foliage also makes a suitable hiding spot for these nocturnal and moisture-loving pests.
Once close enough, snails and slugs can digest and eat through the dense fuzz on lamb’s ear leaves, making them the most significant pest of this plant.
These pests need humid and cool conditions to thrive. They are sensitive to heat since they need plenty of moisture to keep hydrated, so they usually only come out in the early spring or late fall.
However, if you live in an area that does not get too hot in the summers and has high humidity, you might have to battle these gastropods all growing season.
They can also reproduce very quickly, and they can quickly overtake a lamb’s ear plant and eat it to the point that the plant dies. If you have snails and slugs, removing them is critical if you want to save your plant.
Track and Eliminate Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails produce a fair amount of slime, which helps them move and adhere to tricky surfaces, such as the undersides of leaves. As they travel, they will leave an identifiable trail of shiny, sticky mucus that will stay on your plant’s leaves until the rain washes it away.
So, to identify these creatures, look for snail trails on or underneath the plant’s leaves. Try shining a flashlight on the foliage or the soil around your plant if you have difficulty finding them on your lamb’s ear plant. Doing so will reveal any of the reflective mucus trails on it.
Keep an eye out for live slugs and snails on the plant. They prefer to hide underneath the leaves, where they can shade themselves from the sunlight.
To get rid of snails and slugs, you can pick them off by hand as you see them and discard them far from your lamb’s ear or kill them.
You can also make traps from cups. You should bait these traps with some vegetables, such as potatoes or cabbage, and a few cups of sugar water.
To trap the slugs and snails, bury the cup partially in the ground, leaving around ½ inch (1.27 cm) of the rim exposed above the surface. Then, place some sugar water and the chunks of produce in the container. Slugs and snails cannot swim, and they will drown if they fall into the trap.
You can also create a barrier of salt, sulfur powder, or metaldehyde around the plant. However, this method of killing the snails and slugs will not be as effective. It may kill a few pests and deter the rest, but you must rely on hand-picking and trapping them to see the best results.
While many species of caterpillars can eat lamb’s ear plants, some are more common than others. Two of the most common caterpillars that feed on lamb’s ear plants are cabbage worms and cutworms.
White cabbage moths produce tiny, bright green caterpillars (cabbage worms) that feed on various plants, including lamb’s ear. They are a common pest in vegetable gardens, where they feast on plants, such as cabbage, tomatoes, potato vines, and lettuce.
Cutworms are the caterpillars of moths from the Noctuidae family. These caterpillars “cut down” entire plants or leaves to feed on and will remove leaves or whole clusters of leaves from a lamb’s ear plant and slowly eat them. They are nocturnal and difficult to spot since they drop from the leaves and hide if you shine a light on them.
While these two caterpillars are the most common on lamb’s ears, you may find other common caterpillars munching on your plant.
Remove Caterpillars From Plant Leaves
Caterpillars are one of the easiest pests to spot if you know where to look. Since these immature moths are a favorite food of birds, they hide underneath a plant’s leaves while they feed. So, to see if these pests are your plant’s problem, upturn each leaf and investigate.
Manually picking off the caterpillars is usually the most effective way to eliminate them. To do so, you can pull them off with your hands or a pair of tweezers, toss them far from your garden, or kill them in a bucket of soapy water.
You can also treat your lamb’s ear plant with neem oil or a bio-insecticide like a Bacillus thuringiensis-based spray, which will kill the caterpillars.
Wool Carder Bees
Wool carder bees don’t precisely eat lamb’s ear plants, but they harvest the soft fibers on the leaves.
Female wood carder bees are solitary and create nests in rotten wood. Once these bees tunnel into the wood, they line the inside with soft fibers, such as those from lamb’s ear plants. Other plants that these bees can harvest fiber from include mullein and yarrow.
Since female wool carder bees frequent the fuzzy foliage of lamb’s ear, males lay in wait for potential mates on this plant. Once a female bee lands on the plant, the male will mate with her, and she will return to her nest to lay eggs.
The male remains on the plant to wait for his next mate, and he can mate with as many females as he can find before sundown. Because of this means of reproduction, wool carder bees can quickly multiply and take over your garden, harvesting all of the soft fibers from your furry plants.
These bees will not genuinely harm your lamb’s ear plant, so I usually recommend leaving them be. However, if there are plenty of bees harvesting the hair from your plant, they will leave your plant more vulnerable to soft-bodied pests like slugs and snails, which will be able to crawl up through the virtually hairless leaves.
Manage Wool Carder Bee Nests
Wool carder bees are easy to spot since they continuously return to your lamb’s ear plant to mate and harvest fibers. They look like hornets or yellow jackets since they have little to no hair and are predominantly black.
If you want to see one of these bees in action, check out this brief YouTube video:
If you spot these bees on your lamb’s ear, you will need to find the bees’ nests to eliminate them. These bees exclusively nest in rotten wood, so if you want them to disappear, you can remove wood from your outdoor areas.
If the bee has nested in a structure such as the support beams for a deck or porch, you can trap the female and her eggs inside by plugging the nest’s entrance with a bit of wax, silicone sealant, or any other type of glue.
White-Margined Burrower Bugs
White-margined burrower bugs feed on the seeds of lamb’s ear and several other plants, such as mint and purple deadnettle.
These insects won’t target the plant’s leaves. Instead, you’ll find them feasting on your lamb’s ear’s stalks after it has flowered.
Manage the White-Margined Burrower Bug Population
Adult white-margined burrower bugs are tiny black beetles with a white stripe around the edges of their bodies. However, nymphal beetles have black heads and reddish bodies.
These insects usually come in large troops, so it’s rare to see only one on your plant if they are present. The females lay their eggs in the soil beneath the plant and hoard seeds from the lamb’s ear to feed their young.
Since white-margined burrowers don’t eat lamb’s ear leaves and help to spread seeds, they are more of a beneficial pest than anything. For that reason, most people do not attempt to eradicate them.
However, if they have infested your garden, you can treat the soil around your lamb’s ear with diatomaceous earth to kill the nymphs and adults.
Lamb’s ear plants only fall victim to a few pests. Caterpillars, slugs, and snails are a cause for concern since they can kill your lamb’s ear. If you find these pests munching on your plant, you can manually remove them, trap them, or attempt to control them with a suitable insecticide.
However, wool carder bees and white-margined burrower bugs are relatively harmless and will not threaten your plant’s health. So, if these pests are on your lamb’s ear, you don’t need to eliminate them.