Hostas are a low-maintenance, shade-tolerant perennial with gorgeous foliage and fragrant flowers. There’s nothing quite as annoying as waking up one morning to find chew marks, holes, or missing crowns from your hosta. What is eating your hosta plant?!
The most common animals that love eating your hostas are deer, rabbits, turkeys, groundhogs, mice, slugs, voles, and snails. Damage may come in the form of holes in the leaves, chewed leaves, missing crowns, or dug-up roots, depending on the critter that did the damage.
Below, we’ll go over the 9 animals that love eating your hostas, how to identify the damage, and how to stop it!
Deer Absolutely Love Eating Your Hostas
Deer can be cute and majestic to see prancing around your yard, but when they get too close to your plants, they can become a pain in the you-know-what!
Your hostas are in danger with deer around. These hoofed pests prefer hostas over many other plants and will actively seek them out to munch on.
Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn. You can expect the damage to your hostas to occur near this time. In most instances, you’ll notice the damage the following day.
To identify if deer are eating your hostas, look for these tell-tale signs of deer damage:
- Missing foliage down to the stem: Leaves are what deer target when they go after hostas. If the leaves are gone down to the stem, it is most likely deer damage.
- Ragged cuts to the leaves: According to Burnsville Natural Resources, deer damage to leaves will be in the form of ragged cuts. This is due to the lack of upper incisors, inhibiting deer from being able to simply snip the leaves off.
- Tracks or scat: The area around your hosta may have obvious hoofprints or piles of deer scat to indicate they are the culprit behind your hosta damage.
The only good news about deer eating your hostas is that they will not eat the plant down to the roots, which means your plant can bounce back later that year or the following year with new leaves.
How To Keep Deer Away From Your Hostas
Deer can be persistent when it comes to eating your hostas. This is especially true if there’s a lack of nearby vegetation or if it’s a hot summer and everything else is brown.
Despite this, they CAN be deterred with enough perseverance and patience. Check out some of our suggestions below to keep those pesky deer away from your hostas.
- Scents and smells: Deer have a keen sense of smell, and you can use that to your advantage! Things like cayenne pepper, soap, dryer sheets, peppermint, vinegar, and garlic can all be used to repel deer. You can read more about the scents that deer hate here.
- Construct a deer-proof fence: Depending on where your hostas are planted, you can construct a fence to keep deer out. This option is expensive but effective. It’s also the best option if the deer in your area are habituated to people and are less fearful.
- Use scare tactics: Most deer are very timid. You can use streamers, wind chimes, hang up aluminum pie pans or milk jugs, or use pinwheels. These novel items are likely to scare deer off for a time.
- Motion-activated sprinklers: Sprinklers will give deer a good scare and cause them to prance off in the opposite direction. The Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler is an excellent choice with plenty of different settings to help you conserve water and not get sprayed yourself.
Rabbits Nibble On Your Hosta Plants
Cottontail rabbits may not have hostas on their favorite food list, but they will occasionally nibble on these plants and sometimes do a little more than just nibble.
Like deer, rabbits are active year-round. However, whether these fluffy-tailed critters are more active during the day or night is still up for debate!
According to an article in the Journal of Experimental Animal Science, rabbits can change between diurnal and nocturnal depending on external noise, food availability, and the presence of predators.
So, if your hostas are closely guarded by foot traffic, a family dog, or the kids playing in the yard, rabbits are more likely to eat your hostas at night.
Signs of rabbit damage will differ from damage by other critters. If rabbits are the culprit of your damaged hostas, you’ll likely see some of these signs:
- Leaves with clean cuts: Unlike deer, rabbits will leave a clean cut on the leaves and stems of your hosta plant. This clean cut is at a 45-degree angle and is the most obvious sign of rabbit damage.
- Missing flowers or stems: Rabbits won’t stop at the leaves. They’ll eat the flowers, stems, and even the fleshy roots of your hosta plant. However, more fragrant varieties of hostas will help deter rabbits from eating the flowers.
- Tracks and scat: Rabbit and deer scat can look similar. If there’s a pile of rounded balls, it’s a rabbit. If they’re more oval-shaped, it’s a deer. You can also look for rabbit tracks, but they can be difficult to discern from squirrel tracks.
Although deer favor hostas more than rabbits, rabbits are more destructive. If they feed for too long, they can strip a hosta down to its roots and it will not grow back the next year.
How To Stop Rabbits From Nibbling Your Hostas
Rabbits are a little easier to deter than deer because of their small size. Rabbits are also prey to a lot more animals than deer are, so they are especially vigilant and timid.
Here are some ways to get rabbits to stop damaging your hosta plants:
- Fencing: A simple or even decorative fence that is 3 feet high will deter rabbits. It can also be a cute addition to your landscape.
- Use scare tactics: Rabbits are afraid of a lot of stuff. Anything from human voices, car engines, whistles, or anything loud will scare them. This is a good option if you witness the little buggers eating your hostas and want to scare them away. Check out our full list of sounds that scare rabbits!
- Eliminate rabbit hiding places: The less attractive your yard is to a rabbit, the less likely they are to eat your hostas. Clean up brush piles, trim the space under your bushes and trees to make it open, seal the spaces under your porch and outbuildings, rake up leaves, and eliminate old boards or wood gathering in your yard.
- Use companion plants: If you plant something that rabbits do not like next to your hosta, it can be a deterrent. Wormwood, geraniums, mint, chives, lavender, and begonias are all excellent companion plants that give off a scent that rabbits do not like.
Rabbit damage can be more serious to your hosta plants than deer damage. Be sure to make haste to deter these fluffy little critters before it’s too late!
If you want some more ideas on how you can keep rabbits away, check out our article on the 10 scents that rabbits hate!
Turkeys Will Dig At Your Hosta Plants
Even though turkeys prefer forests, pasture fields, and marshes, they’ve recently become a common occurrence in people’s yards as well.
According to the University of Michigan, turkeys are omnivores and about 10% of their diet consists of ground-dwelling insects.
In their search for grubs and other insects, turkeys will scratch at the ground similar to a chicken. If those insects happen to be buried under your hosta plant, you can expect turkeys to give no mercy to your beautiful hosta while digging up their dinner.
In addition to shredding your hostas looking for insects, turkeys have been known to eat buds and leaves of many different kinds of plants, including hostas.
Turkeys are diurnal, but they feed most often right after dawn and right before dusk, so be vigilant during these hours if you suspect turkeys are damaging or eating your hostas.
To figure out if turkeys are to blame for the damage to your hosta, be on the lookout for these signs of turkey damage:
- Shredded plants: While digging for insects, turkeys will shred your hosta plant, look for torn leaves, torn stems, and freshly moved dirt around your damaged hosta.
- Loose soil or obvious scratches in the ground: Turkeys dig similar to a chicken and will scratch at the ground rather than dig a hole. Look for dirt that’s loose or scored.
- Tracks: As always, you can look for tracks to confirm the culprit of your damaged hosta plant. Turkey tracks appear as three talon marks with a dot below. They range from 3.5 to 4.5 inches long and about 4 inches wide.
Turkey damage can be quite severe if they dig at the roots of your hosta plant. However, most foraging does not impact hosta plants significantly enough to threaten the whole plant.
How To Stop Turkeys From Damaging Your Hosta Plant
Turkeys typically live in a flock where there is a dominant male and a group of females. Although, turkeys may travel alone as well.
Take this into consideration as you may be repelling not just a single turkey, but a whole flock from your hostas and other landscape and garden plants.
To stop turkeys from damaging or pecking at your hosta plants, consider implementing one (or better yet, a combination) of the strategies below:
- Move nearby birdfeeders: Turkeys will peck at the fallen seed from bird feeders. If your hosta plant is located near, or even worse under, a bird feeder, consider moving the feeder to a different location.
An alternative to this would be to use a bird feeder catcher tray. Songbird Essentials Seed Hoop connects to your birdfeeder and hangs below it to catch all the falling seeds. It also provides a secondary feeder for any birds attracted to platform feeders.
- Remove other attractants: Turkeys aren’t likely to come into your yard if there is no food. While it’s impossible to remove all the insects, you can remove other attractants like pet food, fallen fruit, and fallen berries.
- Prevent roosting: At night, turkeys will flap up into trees and roost for the night. If turkeys are choosing a tree in your yard, wait until dusk and then scare them away from the tree.
- Motion-activated sprinklers: Like deer, turkeys are quite wary of new and frightening things. Motion-activated sprinklers are effective at deterring turkeys.
According to the University of California, turkeys are smart enough to remember places where they have been frightened and will not return unless a long time has passed.
Groundhogs Love Eating Your Hostas
Groundhogs, woodchucks, pests, whatever you want to call them. Groundhogs can damage your hostas as well as other plants in your landscape and garden.
These large rodents prefer alfalfa, clover, cabbage, dandelion, and other leafy plants. Because hostas have large leaves, they are quite attractive to groundhogs.
Identifying groundhog damage can be made easy if you see the critter itself or see evidence of its burrow. Burrows are large and easily distinguishable from moles and voles.
If you haven’t seen a groundhog but suspect they are responsible for your hosta damage, look for these signs of groundhog damage:
- Multiple plants affected: Groundhogs will not mow down hostas like rabbits. They’ll take a few bites here and there and move on to a nearby plant. Check other plants near your hosta and if there’s damage to them as well, you are probably dealing with a groundhog.
- Dried out plants: the burrows of groundhogs can dig into the roots of your hosta. If your hosta seems dried out despite being watered, a groundhog burrow may be dug beneath.
- Stems and roots are intact: If your hosta’s leaves have been eaten but the stems and roots are still intact, groundhogs may be responsible. However, remember that deer also eat in this fashion.
Look for the presence of burrows in your yard to confirm that groundhogs are in the area. If they are, and you see the above-described damage to your hostas, you are most likely dealing with a pesky groundhog.
How To Prevent Groundhogs From Eating Your Hostas
Groundhogs are persistent when it comes to eating your hostas and other landscape plants and vegetables. They will climb over fences, dig under them, and laugh in the face of frightening devices.
How can you repel these resistant rodents?
- Choose the right time to repel: Spring is when groundhogs emerge from their burrows and look for tender new shoots. Focus your efforts during this time to deter groundhogs right away.
- Pinwheels: According to The University of New Hampshire, frightening devices are mostly useless against groundhogs. They just don’t scare easily. However, pinwheels seem to be their Achilles heel! Set them up around your hostas to deter groundhogs.
- Use predator scents: Fooling a groundhog into believing a predator is nearby is an excellent way to keep them away from your hostas.
How exactly can you obtain the scent of a predator, though? And which one? According to an article in the Wildlife Damage Management Series, bobcat urine is up to 98% effective at deterring groundhogs from problem areas.
Lenon Lures Bobcat Pure Urine is an 8 oz. bottle of bobcat pee. You can spray a small cotton ball or piece of rope and fasten it near your hosta. Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and all matter of creatures will be deterred. Keep in mind, it can increase more bobcats in the area if you have some near you.
Always read the label and directions before use.
Just note, this WILL have an odor. That’s why we recommend using something small at first. If cotton balls don’t work, move up in size until you find what works. You can also use other scents that groundhogs hate.
Mice Will Make A Meal Of Your Hosta Plants
The house mouse, mus musculus, lives in very close contact with human dwellings and yards. These places provide both protection and a food and water source for mice.
Mice may live in underground burrows or crevices between rocks or fallen logs. They will also live under mulch, which is commonly found around hosta plants in the landscape.
These pesky rodents are most active at night, which can make it difficult to catch them in the act of destroying your hostas.
Signs of mouse damage to your hosta plants include:
- Chew marks on stalks: Mice are tiny and can’t reach very far up your plant. If you’re seeing small chew marks near the base of your hosta, it could be a mouse.
- Missing leaves: Mice will use leaves as padding material in their nests. They may take the entire leaf if it’s early in the season and the leaves are small. Later in the season, you may notice tears or rips where the mouse has tried to pull or chew the leaf off.
- Damage to roots: Mice are attracted to the fleshy roots of plants and will make small scrape marks as they chew on hosta roots. Check for disturbed soil near the base of your plant paired with chew marks.
How To Stop Mice From Eating Your Hostas
These troublesome rodents have spectacular vision, hearing, and sense of smell. Appealing to these senses will be the most effective way to keep them away from your hostas.
- Vision: If you can set up a motion-activated light, the sudden burst of brightness will scare mice away by appealing to their keen vision.
- Hearing: Set up noise makers around your hosta plants. Hang wind chimes, soup cans with pennies, or aluminum pie pans that will make noise when the wind blows. The erratic noise patterns will scare mice away.
- Smell: Use scents and smells that mice hate to keep them away from your hostas. Things like cayenne pepper, peppermint, clove oil, and vinegar are all excellent deterrents. You can read more about the scents that mice hate here.
Another great way to keep mice away from your hostas is to make your yard less attractive to mice. Clean up pet food, fallen fruit, and fallen seed from bird feeders. Eliminate brush piles and keep firewood stacked neatly.
Voles Will Burrow Into Your Hosta’s Roots
Voles are a common rodent found in lawns and landscapes. They create elaborate tunnel systems that can sometimes cause turf and lawn damage if they collapse inward.
These pesky rodents are plentiful and can be hard to manage when populations explode, which can happen at any time of year. The most obvious signs of voles in your yard will be their runways and their burrow holes.
Burrow holes are the size of a quarter and may be located close to gardens and flowerbeds. Runways will appear as tunnels with folded-over grass in the yard.
Specific damage to your hostas may include:
- Chewed crowns: Voles will chew on the crowns of hosta plants, leaving small chew marks. This can be easily confused with chew marks from mice, so look for runways in addition to chew marks to confirm it is a vole.
- Wilting leaves: Voles feed on the roots of hosta plants, sometimes destroying them completely. If the hosta has no water, the first sign of stress will be in the leaves.
How To Keep Voles Away From Your Hosta Plants
Voles can not feasibly be controlled using traps or baits. As soon as a batch of voles is eliminated, new ones will move in.
The best way to deter voles from your hostas is by making your yard unattractive to voles. We discussed a few options for mice which can apply to voles as well:
- Remove pet food.
- Clean up bird seed.
- Eliminate brush piles.
- Make your yard as open as possible to encourage predators to take care of voles naturally. Mow the lawn, pull weeds, and avoid groundcover plants.
You can also use some of the specific tactics that voles hate.
Slugs and Snails Are Major Predators of Hostas
Slugs and snails are notorious for going after hosta plants as well as many ornamental and garden plants. These slimy pests will devour hosta leaves and leave a silver streak of slime in their wake.
It’s hard to catch slugs and snails in your garden eating your hosta plants because they are nocturnal feeders. You may catch them during the day if it is rainy and cloudy, but otherwise, they must come out at night to avoid drying out.
If you wake up to find your hosta plants are damaged by some nocturnal pest, look for these signs of slug and snail damage:
- Irregular holes in leaves: According to the University of California, Slugs and snails chew hosta leaves by rasping, meaning they use their mouthparts to make ragged, irregularly-shaped holes in the leaf.
- Slime trails: Slug and snail slime trails are not destructive to the plant, but it is a tell-tale sign that you have snails or slugs.
These are the two main signs that slugs or snails are damaging your hosta plants. The damage and prevention are nearly identical between snails and slugs, so whichever one you have, the tips below can help you keep them away from your hostas.
How To Stop Slugs and Snails From Eating Your Hostas
If you’re sick of seeing those ragged holes in your hosta leaves, it’s time to take action! Slugs and snails are small but can cause a lot of damage.
We have plenty of suggestions to keep these slimy pests away for good!
- Eliminate slug and snail hiding places: This goes hand-in-hand with making your yard unattractive to slugs. If they have nowhere to hide, they’re likely to find somewhere else to feed.
You can read about where slugs come from at night here to get ideas on what to modify around your yard and home.
- Use traps: You can use yeast or warm water with yeast to attract slugs and snails to traps laid in the ground that they will fall into. Empty the traps once per week.
- Place copper tape around your hosta: As strange as it sounds, slugs will not cross over copper tape. Use wide tape such as Kirecoo’s Copper Foil Tape which is 2 inches by 33 feet.
- Avoid sprinklers: Sprinklers make watering your hostas easy, but will also increase the humidity around your plant, making it more inviting to snails and slugs.
You can also utilize smells and scents to repel snails!
Predators Can Damage Your Hostas
This is more of an honorable mention as the animals we list here will not eat your hosta plant. However, they will destroy leaves and dig up roots if it means they can get a meal.
Animals that eat slugs, snails, grubs, moles, voles, or insects that inhabit your hosta will not hesitate to sacrifice your beautiful hosta for a quick meal.
Keep a lookout for:
- Ground beetles
- Ground-foraging birds
If you can’t seem to find chew marks, claw marks, digging marks (such as from turkeys), or slime trails, you may be looking at a simple case of a predator snatching a slug from a leaf or digging a grub from the soil.
Unless the predator continues to come back, there’s no real need to prevent this damage as it is probably a one-time deal. However, if it continues to happen, consider using some of the tactics above to make your yard less attractive to those predators.
That’s All For Now!
Hosta plants are an amazing addition to the landscape. They thrive in dappled shade and provide gorgeous foliage and fragrant flowers.
It can be frustrating to downright annoying when the hostas you’ve put time and care into are damaged by pesky animals.
Now, for a quick recap:
The 9 animals that LOVE eating your hostas include:
- Predators of animals that live near or on hostas
You can combat these voracious plant eaters using a few different techniques depending on the pest responsible for the damage.
It’s always best to try to identify what is damaging your hosta plant before taking action to deter that pest, as each pest has unique deterrents that work better or worse against them.
If your hosta plants are getting destroyed and you’re having trouble identifying the culprit, you can reach out to a professional near you using our nationwide pest control finder!
Curtis, P. D., & Sullivan, K. L. (2001). Woodchucks [Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet Series]. Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Jacob, J., Manson, P., Barfknecht, R., & Fredricks, T. (2013, November 29). Common vole (microtus arvalis) ecology and management: implications for risk assessment of plant protection products. Pest Management Science, 70(6), 869-878.
Jilge, B. (1991). The rabbit: a diurnal or a nocturnal animal? J Exp Anim Sci., 34(5-6), 170-183.
Schuder, I., Port, G., & Bennison, J. (2004, August 18). The behavioral response of slugs and snails to novel molluscicides, irritants and repellents. Pest Management Science, 60(12), 1171-1177.
Tebo, R. G., Bottom, C. R., & Nielsen, C. K. (2022, May 11). Foraging and travel success of wild turkey poults in southern Illinois grasslands. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 46(2), 1273.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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