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1 to 14 of 14 replies hardy geraniums ....normally trouble free, are under severe attack from a tiny caterpillar which I do not recognise. It's about 1 cm. long .....sort of greyish and very skinny and although very difficult to spot,( because so tiny ,so few of them and they tend to curl up ) they are decimating the leaves of some of my hardy geraniums , which are now beginning to look like filigree / lace work. They are eating tiny but plentiful holes in leaves and seem to be starting at  ground level and working upwards....have not yet reached new soft growth.....but it won't be long now!!! How do I control them ?.... they are so tiny and elusive that picking them off is not an option. Would prefer an organic solution if possible since I do not want to  affect beneficial insects if it can possibly be helped. Urgent suggestions needed please!!




Hi Tallulah

it sounds like Geranium Sawfly, have you tried a pesticide based on pyrethrum?  Other organic option would be to cut the geraniums down to ground level and get rid of cuttings carefully and hopefully there would be time for them to regrow and flower again this year.  I'd give them a liquid feed as well.  Not sure if sawfly caterpillars live in the soil though so this may not work.

I had a problem with leaf rolling sawfly on roses a couple of years ago and the best cure I found was to go out and pick off the rolled up leaves every other day before they had a chance to drop to the ground and re infected next years growth.  I did work but I had to make sure I was on the ball.  Over the following autumn and winter I hoed the soil now and again to uncover any that may have made it down to soil level and let the birds get them.

Hope that's of some help or a starting point at least. 


I know them as geranium bugworm.....pest this hear.  Organic soap spray or systemic insecticide.  You can do 2 things....if you want to keep your flowers then spray thoroughly, esp UNDER the leaves or remove all foliage and spray whats left.  Growth and flowers will follow shortly.  You will need to spray again just before re-floweriing 

Hi, yes I've seen them for the first time this year in a customers garden. If you can I'd try to remove them manually by hand but that depends how big your plant is .... you could be there a while. Removing the pest infested leaves and leaving untouched ones will mean constant surveillance on the rest though.

Had berberis sawfly larvae a few years ago and they came back year after year! and did spray, but in the end got so fed up, took the plant out and replaced with cotinus. Hope your situation doesn't come down to that though. Good luck.

Jim Macd

Since you're posting in the wildlife section I really strongly urge you not to use any pesticide, even pyrethrum. Just enjoy them, be happy that you've got some little live bugs to feed the birds with. I'm growing nasturtiums this year JUST to attract cabbage whites and their larvae, I actually don't like the plant but the butterflies do and the birds like the larvae. Please don't get rid of them. Just accept them as part of lifes tapestry. If you attract other wildlife like frogs and hedghogs they'll all help keep down pests. I hardely ever see a hole in a leave and only ever get greenfly on campion, even my rose at the front is squeeky clean. Good luck.


jim Macd

oh how nice to know others out there are more with nature , than the chemical companys!! 

Wildlife must come first .


I'm with you Jim and Patty3! My Nastutiums (which I do like!) are being eaten by Cabbage White caterpillars but I am just letting them get on with it. Butterflies are doing badly enough without me killing off the caterpillars....I'm hopeless at dispatching anything though! I did however, aim the hosepipe full on at the cherry tree that was covered in black fly - it seems to have done the trick and the tree has been pest free for a few weeks now. It's all about balance really I think - try not to use any chemicals and let nature take it's course as much as possible where wildlife is concerned. As Jim says, a few plants can be sacrificed to let the insects feed and they in turn will attract the birds.


I've had a bad attack of Solomon's Seal sawfly. The birds weren't eating them and they were getting bigger and the leaves were fast disappearing. So I rubbed them of the leaves and squashed them. I don't like to use pesticides.

Ok.  There sometimes is a choice.  Spray against caterpillars or lose your plants.  It really is as simple as that. Sprays of any kind, slug pellets too are a last resort often not used at all for me.  

Ok, you buy a new see it being attacked by slugs, caterpillars etc.  howmany of all honesty....would sit back and say its wildlife so it's fine.  Some people can't go out at night to pick off that slug or physically remove every caterpillar.  If you have a wildlife garden you don't mind these attacks.  If your garden is precious to you you will take care of it and protect it.  otherwise you do not have that precious garden

I only have to read some of the posts here to see questions and  concerns people have about pests ruining their plants.  They are not anti wildlife people and should not be labelled as such

I garden as organically as possible. Very few .sprays hardly any slug pellets.....currently not using any......or chemicals.  Organic fertilisers too.  However, many people are losing their geraniums at moment to bug worm.....I'm not.  I anticipated and sprayed.  I will have my geraniums flowering all season long.  No point acquiring that special variety if your attitude is let caterpillars enjoy their lunch on it.  We are. entitled to care for our plants the way we see fit without judgement.  

I certainly wouldn't judge anyone for getting rid of the little blighters that are eating their plants - especially those special ones that have been carefully tended from seed, or have cost a fortune at the garden centre! I was merely stating that I like to strike a balance and let a few plants, such as some of my many Nasturtiums, be given over as food for caterpillars etc. If those pesky slugs run riot (slither riot?) as they did last year, then I will certainly be waging war again...even if I have to use a few pet friendly pellets! If the aphids go near my husband's memorial rose they will be spritzed the moment I see them. As I said, it's all about balancing things and judging how to react to what's being eaten by what!

Well thank you so much EVERYBODY for taking the time and trouble to reply to my   "crie de coeur" . I have read every bodies' responses  with great interest. As a result I have successfully managed to identify  the culprit ( so a BIG thankyou for that) and have been given a range of possible solutions and philosophies to explore. Whilst I respect Jim and Patty's positions ....I truly do....I'm afraid I will never be exclusively a wildlife gardener. I am a keen gardener and plants person first and foremost but I have a sympathy and respect for wildlife and would like to find a compromise which will however not entail my resident bugs being allowed to make a takeover bid for exclusive rights to  my whole garden. Consequently I find myself very much in tune with Verdun ( and also Lindsay4's second post). I believe I have at least  equal rights  with the local wildlife ,to enjoy my outdoor space and my cherished plants.. So with that in mind, I have used a systemic insecticide on special geraniums in sacred  key spots in my back garden..( at dusk so as not to affect my beloved  bees,ladybirds  or hover flies,  who , I understand, can still enjoy the nectar unharmed in the morning)....but the majority of my geraniums (mostly in my front garden) remain untouched for bugs to enjoy. Inspired by Lindsay I will grow a second batch of sacrificial nasturtiums in a space set aside for wildlife but I'm afraid I will use systemic spray on some in prime spots where I wish to enjoy the flowers. I am not trigger happy but I will stand  up for my rights to enjoy my garden whilst at the same time allowing and even creating a place in my garden for my uninvited ' guests'.I would be interested in the views of the ' wildlife' lobby on this position.

Jim Macd

Lindsay4 said it's all about balance. I couldn't agree more, if you get the balance right then the garden will look after itself. However using chemicals to kill bugs destroys the balance. Don't think I'm judging you, but because what does it matter what I think? I personally have found that I don't have any greenfly on my roses, I don't have any, that I notice at least, leaves eaten by slugs. I don't even see big slugs, I find the odd little tiny slug in the grass but I certainly don't see those 4 inch long ones that I see on a night across the road anywhere in my garden. I have so many birds, including masses of sparrows, and more kind of Tits that I can name that I don't have a problem with bugs. If you spray chemicals there will be collateral damage, that is the poisoned bugs will be eaten by frogs, hedgehogs, hoverflies, ladybird, garden birds , etc., and will inevitably succumb. We have dwindling numbers of so many of our birds, sparrows were once so common. If you can look yourself in the mirror in the morning knowing you've contributed to the demise of our British wildlife then so be it. But when you cry about judgement I think it's your own judgement that you're concerned about.

Anyway. Balance. Yes git it right but remember using chemicals WILL upset that balance. AND they persists.

When I moved in I did feel I had to resort to Roundup for couch grass and Astrantias which were everywhere. But I found I couldn't justify it when I saw my dogs eating grass that may have received a bit of wind blown weedkiller and when I thought that bit of couch could have been eaten by a caterpillar which was then fed to a wild bird's chick, I had to say enough! It was me who was the judge me who I had to look in the eye in the morning, me who had to live with potentially harming some other living creature. So, no, NOTHING, I put in my garden is worth that. No plant I buy is worth me not being able to live with myself! And I love my garden. I love my plants. I've got an HND in horticulture, I've sent my life in Horticulture. Don't think becaseu I don't 'protect' the plant I don't love it. I just have a bit of perspective. My garden isn't in a glass bubble on a shelf in a museum, it's part of the world and I have a responsibility to that world. A plant is a plant, it's food for something. Deny that and you've got a big fight on your hands. I prefer to be happy, I don't wont to live my life as Captain Ahab thanks. 

Well, I didn't mean to go on like that. Happy Gardening. 

People on a wildlife garden forum don't like some of the wildlife??? Missing the point, are we not?

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