Petunias are lovely annuals that bloom from spring until frost. These fragrant flowering plants are easy to grow, making them a favorite of many gardeners. When your petunias are adequately cared for but still appear haggard or half-eaten, a few animals may be to blame.
Animals that love eating petunias include rabbits, voles, slugs, snails, chipmunks, deer, chickens, and squirrels. Each animal may target a different part of the petunia plant. Burrowing animals like voles go after roots, while deer and rabbits mainly target the leaves or flowers.
We’ll cover all the animals that can’t pass by your petunias without taking a bite and brush up on what the damage looks like for each animal and how you can stop them. Let’s get to it here!
Rabbits Love Eating Petunia Flowers
Rabbits are a common animal seen hopping around our yards. While they may be cute to watch, when they hop on over to your flowerbed they go from cute to enemy real quick!
According to Iowa State University, petunias are a favorite food of rabbits. They typically become moderately to severely damaged by rabbit feeding.
Damage from rabbits can happen during the entire growing season. They are more active when the weather is warm but not scorching hot. Rabbits are active year-round but since petunias are annuals and die back in the fall and winter, there’s little risk of damage at that time.
Signs of rabbit damage may include:
- Clipped stems: When petunias are first growing, rabbits may chew on the tender new shoots, cutting them at a 45-degree angle.
- Missing flowers: Rabbits will eat petunia flowers. Since petunias typically grow between 6 and 18 inches tall, they are at the perfect height for rabbit browsing.
If you have petunias in a tall container and notice only the lower flowers are eaten, you are dealing with a rabbit that can’t reach the top flowers.
How To Keep Rabbits Away From Petunias
For how small they are, rabbits can do considerable damage to petunias. While shrubs and trees can recover from rabbit damage, petunias that are clipped before blooming simply cannot.
To keep rabbits away, you have a few different options:
- Build a fence: a fence to keep rabbits out is the most effective and the most expensive option. It should be built from 1-inch galvanized wire mesh and reach 2 feet high. For the BEST protection, bury the fence 4 inches into the ground.
Yardgard’s Galvanized Welded Wire measures 24 inches high and 25 feet long. It contains 1-inch holes, which are the right size to deter rabbits.
- Modify the yard: Make your yard unattractive to rabbits by removing hiding places like brush piles, tall grass, and tall weeds. Seal the spaces under porches and sheds.
- Scare them away: Frightening devices can be an effective rabbit deterrent. Fake owls or snakes can be placed near petunias.
According to an article in the Historical Materials from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, glass jars filled with water can scare rabbits away as they will see their reflection and think another rabbit is close.
- Use scent deterrents: Rabbits dislike strong odors. Things like garlic, vinegar, cayenne pepper, blood meal, and geraniums can be used to deter rabbits from your petunias.
You can read more about the scents that rabbits hate here.
Voles Target Petunia Roots
When we think of underground burrowers that cause damage, most people tend to think of moles. Surprisingly, voles are usually to blame when plants are damaged.
Voles are active year-round and are quite secretive. Petunias that are planted as annuals will have no fear of voles in the winter. The worst damage to petunias will occur in spring when the plants are first getting established.
Petunias that are planted as perennials in warm climates may have problems in the winter. For either type of petunia, check for these signs of damage to confirm the culprit is a vole:
- Dug-up petunias: Voles often target the roots of ornamental plants. If the petunias are dug up but there’s no damage to the flower or leaves, you’re most likely dealing with a vole.
- Wilting flowers: Voles may dig up petunias, but they will also target the roots while digging through the soil. As they munch on the roots, vital nutrients and water cannot reach the petunias, causing them to wilt for no apparent reason.
- Runways: During winter, voles construct elaborate runways under the cover of snow. Check for these in areas around your petunias as this is the number one sign of having voles in the yard.
Occasionally, voles will target new shoots as they come up from the ground. This is typically only seen with perennial petunias.
How To Stop Voles From Digging Up Petunias
Voles can be tough to deter because they are so secretive. They are fast and rarely observed for more than a second or two before they dive into a burrow or beneath a brush pile.
Vole populations have a high turnover rate, making trapping and baiting useless. As soon as the current population of voles is eradicated, a new population will simply take its place.
To get rid of voles, you need a little time and patience, as well as some creativity. Below are some tips to deter voles and stop them from digging up your petunias:
- Companion plants: According to the book Rats, mice and people: rodent biology and management, voles particularly hate the taste of great globe thistle. They also dislike daffodils, pachysandra, and boxwood. Consider planting these next to your petunias.
- Scent deterrents: Things like rosin and peppermint contain a powerful scent that voles can’t stand. Use these scents around petunias to deter voles.
- Encourage predators: Instead of creating a cleared yard with no trees or chopping down a section of a nearby forest, leave it up to promote hawks, owls, and other predators of voles to stick around.
- Eliminate hiding places: Make the yard as unattractive as possible to voles. Trim bushes so that the bottom is open, eliminate brush piles or stacks of stone and keep the grass mowed. Keep wood stacked neatly and, if possible, off the ground.
You can read more about how to deter voles here.
Slugs & Snails Will Devour Petunia Leaves
When we think of animal pests, slugs and snails aren’t the top ‘animals’ we think of. After all, aren’t they closer to insects than animals?
Snails and slugs are mollusks and are closer to octopi than anything else. We don’t have an octopus or mollusk list, so here we are!
Slug and snail damage to petunias happens mainly at night and can happen from spring through summer. These slimy pests prefer cool temperatures, high humidity, and darkness.
Snail and slug damage are different than other animals on our list, so it will be easy to identify. Check for these signs:
- Ragged holes in leaves: Snails and slugs have rasping mouthparts that will leave ragged holes in the leaves of petunias.
- Slime trails: Silver streaks left on petunia leaves is a sign that slugs or snails are present and feeding on leaves.
A heavy infestation can severely damage petunia plants, leaving the leaves skeletonized. However, small populations of slugs and snails are manageable.
How To Prevent Slugs And Snails From Snacking On Petunia Leaves
Feeding at night makes it hard to catch snails and slugs in the act. If you’ve seen some of the signs of slug and snail damage listed above, there are a few things you can do to keep your petunia leaves healthy.
- Avoid overhead sprinklers: overhead sprinklers will get the entire plant wet, making it easier for snails and slugs to crawl their way up to the leaves. Opt for hand-watering the soil only.
- Use traps: containers filled halfway with beer or yeast and water can be buried in the soil so that the top of the container is flush with the ground. Snails and slugs will be attracted to the yeast and fall into the trap.
- Create a barrier: Snails and slugs get a little shock when traversing over copper. Copper tape such as Kirecoo’s Copper Foil Tape can be placed on the ground around petunias.
- Deterrents: According to an article in the Journal of Crop Protection, garlic is one of the most effective repellents for slugs and snails. Use the scent or the actual plant near petunias to deter these slimy pests.
There are many natural enemies of slugs and snails as well, especially birds. Try to eliminate the places that slugs and snails can hide by sealing any cracks in the foundation, raking dead leaves, and picking up unused flower pots and garden tools.
If you’d like, I encourage you to take a look at our article on why snails are in your garden in the first place!
Chipmunks Prefer To Eat Eat Petunia Flowers
Chipmunks are a common sight around our yards. Their distinctive black stripes make them easily recognizable.
While chipmunks aren’t a HUGE pest of petunias, they’ve been known to nibble on the flowers and dig holes in flowerbeds that disturb roots.
Damage from chipmunks is most likely to happen early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This is when chipmunks are most active. Chipmunks are inactive in late fall through winter, feeding on stored food caches and only coming out on very warm winter days.
Signs of chipmunk damage to your petunias include:
- Chewed flowers: Chipmunks may target petunia flowers, but they don’t always eat the entire flower. Look for flowers that appear chewed.
- Dug-up petunias: While digging, chipmunks may dig right through flower beds, uprooting vulnerable petunias.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, chipmunk burrows can be extensive, reaching 3 feet deep and 30 feet long.
- Wilting plants: As chipmunks dig through the flowerbed, they may damage the roots of petunias. This can make it difficult for water and nutrients to reach the rest of the plant, causing wilting and other signs of stress.
How To Keep Chipmunks Away From Petunias
Even though chipmunks aren’t as big of a nuisance as rabbits or slugs, they can still cause unsightly damage to petunias and the yard in general.
To keep these pesky (but adorable) rodents away from your petunias, try some of the tactics below:
- Raised beds: Planting petunias in a raised flower bed will help avoid any damage to the roots from chipmunk burrowing. This will deter chipmunks from nibbling on the roots as well.
- Eliminate hiding places: Stacks of old boards or stone, brush piles, untrimmed bushes, and tall grass all provide chipmunks with a place to hide from predators. Consider eliminating these places to make your yard less attractive to chipmunks.
- Companion plants: Things like daffodils, lavender, marigolds, and allium are distasteful to chipmunks. Consider planting these near petunias as a deterrent.
- Clean up bird seed: Chipmunks LOVE bird feeders, especially the seeds that fall to the ground. Keep seeds clear from the ground by either cleaning or using a catcher tray.
Songbird Essential’s Seed Hoop is a great option for a catcher tray. It comes with adjustable straps to fit almost any birdfeeder. The falling seed is caught in the tray and provides a secondary feeder for any birds that are platform feeders.
You can read more about our tips for the best chipmunk repellents here.
Deer Love Eating The Whole Petunia Plant
White-tailed deer and mule deer are the two most common deer species that bother petunias. In the wild, deer are skittish animals that are easily scared by people. However, those that live in suburbia may be accustomed to humans and are less fearful.
The less fearful deer are, the more likely they are to come into your yard and munch on petunias. Deer damage is most likely to occur early in the morning or late in the evening. Deer are active year-round.
Even if your petunias are perennials, deer do not target the roots of the plant so damage in the fall and winter is unlikely to occur. Spring and summer are when petunias are most vulnerable to deer damage.
Check for these signs of deer damage on your petunias:
- Ragged bites: Deer lack upper incisors and do not make a clean cut when they eat leaves and flowers. Check the damage, if it is clean-cut, it is more likely a rabbit. If it’s haggard-looking, it’s more likely a deer.
- Missing flowers: Deer have been known to eat the entire flower of petunias. They can reach down to the ground or as high as 6 feet.
- Trampled petunias: While browsing other plants, deer can easily trample an entire flowerbed of petunias, leaving them looking flat and haggard.
How To Repel Deer From Petunias
Deer are persistent when it comes to browsing for food. However, there are a few ways you can repel them.
For the most part, deer are skittish animals. If you see them munching on your petunias you can scare them away by yelling loudly or even just walking toward them.
Since deer browse more often when we’re asleep, there are other ways you can passively deter them from your petunias.
- Build a fence: Fencing is the most effective but also the most expensive option to keep deer away from petunias. The fence should be 6 feet high to prevent deer from jumping over it.
- Scent deterrents: Deer have a keen sense of smell. If they smell something off or alarming, they will vacate the area. Scents like peppermint, lavender, cayenne pepper, and soap can all be used to deter deer. Here’s a full list of scents deer hate.
When using scents, it’s important to reapply the scent every week to keep the smell strong and effective.
- Motion-activated sprinkler: Motion-activated sprinklers are less expensive than fencing and nearly as effective. The Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler can be set only to spray at night when deer are more active. Or, you can set it to be active all day, just in case!
When it comes to commercial repellents, they may not be as effective as you think. Research from the Wildlife Damage Management Conferences found that deer became habituated to two major repellents: a commercial repellent which I won’t name and blood meal.
During the initial application, deer were repelled. However, after only a few days, deer were back and had no fear of the repellent. For this reason, it’s best to combine a few different tactics to keep these persistent pests away.
Chickens Love Pecking At Petunias
Whether you’re raising chickens for their eggs or just to have them as pets, they can be entertaining as heck to watch.
If you have petunias in the same area where you let your chickens roam, your pretty flowers could be pecked to bits by chickens.
Chicken damage is most likely to occur during the day when they are most active. Look for these signs of chicken damage to confirm your pesky poultry is to blame:
- Shredded petunias: While searching for insects and grubs, chickens scratch at the ground trying to unearth them. During this process, their claws can rake at petunias, shredding them to pieces.
- Torn leaves: Chickens will not only destroy your petunias while looking for grubs, they’ll eat the leaves of petunias as well. Damage will likely appear as torn leaves since chickens aren’t all that accurate when they peck at food.
- Dug-up petunias: Chickens love taking dust baths. To do so, they’ll dig a hole and ‘splash’ around in it. They’re not too picky about where they dig their hole and may decide your petunia flower bed is the best spot for a spa day.
How To Stop Chickens From Pecking At Petunias
Free-range chicken owners are often wondering what kind of plants are safe for chickens. On the plus side, petunias are non-toxic. On the downside, chickens will devour petunias if they’re hungry!
Chickens can be beneficial to have around, especially near gardens. They provide pest control and add nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately, if chickens are tearing up your petunias, it may be necessary to take action to deter them.
To keep your chickens away from petunias, there are a few things you can do:
- Provide alternative food sources: Plant things that chickens LOVE. veggies like lettuce and spinach are a favorite, but if you’re looking for something other than garden plants, try some from this list provided by Washington State University.
- Build a fence: Chickens may not be able to truly fly, but they can jump and flap to heights of up to 9 feet. That being said, a 6-foot fence can keep out almost all chickens.
- Use wire mesh: Place chicken wire or hardware cloth over the ground around your petunias. This will prevent chickens from digging for insects and uprooting your petunias.
Take a peak at our guide on keeping chickens out of your garden without fencing for more tips!
Squirrels Will Chow Down On Petunia Flowers
Like chipmunks, deer, and rabbits, squirrels are a common animal seen hopping around our yards and climbing up trees.
These bushy-tailed pests mainly go after food-bearing plants like apple, orange, almond, and walnut trees. However, they will scavenge petunias when other food sources are scarce or when squirrel populations are high.
Both ground squirrels and tree squirrels can damage petunias. Tree squirrels are a little more destructive than ground squirrels, but both can devour petunias or dig holes that damage the roots.
Damage from squirrels will most likely happen in the morning or evening when temperatures are a little cooler. They are less active when it is extremely hot or sunny.
Look for these signs of squirrel damage on and around your petunias:
- Missing or chewed flowers: Squirrels will eat the petals of petunia flowers, munching on part of it or clipping off the entire flower.
- Dug-up petunias: While digging a hole to store nuts and seeds for winter, squirrels can dig up petunias and damage the roots.
We all know that squirrels cache away nuts and grains for winter. What you may not know is that these food stores can be located anywhere and in multiple locations, some of which the squirrel will completely forget about!
How To Prevent Squirrels From Devouring Petunia Flowers
Squirrels are, well, squirrely! They’re tough to deter and nearly impossible to scare away with frightening devices.
The best way to keep squirrels away is by making your yard as unattractive as possible to squirrels. Here are a few suggestions to keep those pesky rodents away:
- Encourage predators: Squirrels prefer open spaces to densely vegetated areas – it makes it easier for them to spot potential predators. Try to create a yard that gives predators a chance to sneak up on squirrels.
Just note that this can cause other critters like mice to move in with the extra cover.
- Clean up birdseed: Use a catcher tray or commit to cleaning up fallen birdseed in the yard.
- Use hardware cloth: to prevent squirrels from digging up your petunias to bury nuts and seeds, place hardware cloth over the soil.
- Seal up your home: Squirrels are more likely to come around if they have a safe place to live. That safe place might be your chimney, the attic, or the space under your porch or shed. Replace broken tiles, siding, or screens to keep squirrels out of your home.
Take a look at our piece on the scents that squirrels hate for some natural oil based repellent options.
That’s All For Now!
You can expect to enjoy the colorful flowers of your petunias from spring until the first frost. That is, of course, unless you have certain pests around that eat them first!
Now, for a quick recap:
The 9 animals that love eating petunias include:
- White-Tailed Deer
- Mule Deer
There are a few things you can do to protect your petunias, with fencing being the most effective yet most expensive option. Scent deterrents can discourage some pests, but must be reapplied often.
A universal deterrent is to modify your yard so that it is as unattractive as possible to your target pest.
If you can’t seem to get rid of the pest that’s devouring your petunias, you can reach out to a professional near you using our nationwide pest control finder.
Also, if you aren’t sold on any of these animals being your culprit, take a peak at our guide on the insects that can eat your petunias!
Current approaches towards environmentally benign prevention of vole damage in Europe. (2003). In G. R. Singleton (Ed.), Rats, Mice and People: Rodent Biology and Management (pp. 233-235). Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
Gallagher, G. R., Peacock, J. L., Garner, E. P., & Prince, R. H. (2000). Conditioning and habituation of white-tailed deer to two common deterrents. Wildlife Damage Management Conferences – Proceedings, 34.
Schüder, I., Port, G., & Bennison, J. (2003). Barriers, repellents and antifeedants for slug and snail control. Crop Protection, 22(8), 1033-1038.
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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