Sunday, December 18, 2011

Things That Eat Lettuce

Identifying garden pests may take some detective work.

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Growing lettuce in the home garden provides a supply of fresh salad greens that range in color from pale green to purple, depending on the cultivar grown. Classified as leaf, head and romaine, each has its own distinct flavor and growing habits but faces the same garden pests.

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Slugs emerge under the cover of darkness and devour lettuce leaves. These annoying mollusks hide in cool, damp areas during the day and are particularly active during wet weather. Look for ragged leaves or big chew marks and slimy trails leading away from the garden.


Cutworms — fat, fleshy caterpillars that may be gray, brown or black — attack newly emerged seedlings by "cutting" them at the soil level, destroying the plant. Young larvae may attack the undersides of leaves in more mature lettuce plants, while adult cutworms may burrow into the head of lettuce and devour tender leaves.

Cabbage Worms

Both the cabbage looper and the imported cabbage worm attack lettuce. These worms are similar in appearance and size, but both can be identified by the color of their stripes. Cabbage loopers have a green body with white stripes, whereas the imported cabbage worm has a yellow stripe with a row of yellow spots on each side. Both burrow into the head to devour tender leaves.


These insects range in size from 2.2 mm for the turnip aphid to 3.5 mm for the potato aphid. Both winged and unwinged varieties feed in colonies, causing discoloration to the leaves. Aphids excrete a sticky substance called honeydew that causes sooty mold to grow. Aphids weaken the plants, making them susceptible to disease.

Animal Pests

Lettuce is a preferred food for both rabbits and groundhogs, which often feed at dawn and dusk. These voracious eaters can level a row of lettuce overnight, leaving you wondering what happened. Although you can buy deterrents for these unwelcome guests, fencing or trapping and releasing them away from your property is often the only effective method to rid your bed of lettuce of these animals.

Miscellaneous Insects

Greenhouse white flies, leafhoppers, beetles and an assortment of caterpillars all attack lettuce. Species differ among regions and may differ in appearance and feeding habits. Your local cooperative extension office can provide you with information regarding the most common pests in your area.

ReferencesNorth Carolina State University Extension: Pests of LettuceCornell University Extension: Crop Management Practices — LettuceUniversity of California Extension: How to Manage Pests — LettuceResourcesTexas A&M University: Pest Identification AidPhoto Credit Jupiterimages/ ImagesRead Next:

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