What is Stripping My Marigolds?

What Is Stripping My Marigolds

Marigolds, or Calendula officinalis, are sunny annuals that are loved by many gardeners for their summery vibe. Aside from their beautiful blooms, they are also popular for medicinal purposes, culinary use, and companion planting.

If you grow marigolds, you will likely encounter a few issues with common garden pests. There are certain insects and animals that enjoy snacking on these plants’ leaves and flowers. The next morning, you might find your precious flowers completely destroyed. And, for novice growers, it can be frustrating to identify the culprit behind the damage.

If you are wondering what is stripping your marigolds, let us help you find out!

Marigolds – your garden’s companion plant

Marigolds add great decor to almost any landscape, thanks to their cheerful gold, copper, and brass-toned colors. They produce flowerheads that look very similar to carnations. The most common marigold varieties grown in gardens include African marigolds, French marigolds, English marigolds, and signet marigolds. These flowers bloom brightly throughout the growing seasons and are fairly easy to grow.

Aside from their beauty, seasoned gardeners know that marigolds have other benefits, too. In a nutshell, these flowers are excellent for pest control due to their strong fragrance. For this reason, marigolds are often planted near a variety of vegetables or perennials to protect these valuable plants from common garden pests. 

Different types of beneficial insects are also attracted to marigolds, which is another reason growers use them as companion plants in the garden. By attracting these beneficial insects, they promote pollination and improve the health of the garden.

Unfortunately, these pretty flowers are not immune to pest infestations. Snails, slugs, and caterpillars love marigold leaves and flowers. The months you have spent growing and caring for your precious flowers can be wasted overnight, thanks to these invaders. Aside from snails, slugs, and caterpillars, the flowers can also be killed by injury or foliar damage caused by other insects and animals, such as aphids, rats, birds, and rabbits. 

What is stripping my marigolds? Here are the common culprits

Your marigolds could end up a favorite meal for various pests. If you notice holes, bites marks, cuts, or other visible leaf damages, it could be caused by one of the following:

1. Snails and slugs

Snails and slugs are said to be the most common enemies of marigolds. If you notice slimy tracks on the leaves and around your plants, then these pests are most likely the culprit behind the ruin of your garden. 

Snails and slugs will feast on anything leafy, including your marigolds. They love hiding on the lower leaves of your garden plants during the day, coming out at night to satisfy their appetite. This leads to a lot of frustration for many gardeners who can never seem to catch them in action. 

Since these slimy little creatures love eating leaves, some gardeners actually use marigolds to entice them away from other valuable crops in the garden. marigolds can be planted around your important crops and vegetables so that the snails and slugs do not reach the plants you want to protect. 

Keeping your garden clean and free from piles of leaves and other potential hiding places will also discourage pests from taking over your plants.  

2. Beetles

Beetles, such as the common Japanese beetle, find marigolds a tasty delicacy. These pests like to tuck themselves at the base of the flower while taking their nourishment from the plant. You can often see them heading towards your marigolds in the early evening.

Just like the other pests, beetles can be problematic in the garden as they will consume not just your marigolds, but anything green and leafy they can find. They enjoy feeding on both leaves and stems, leaving a lot of damage that can eventually kill your plants. 

Beetles are also carriers of disease-causing bacteria that can spread through your entire garden. If you do not intervene early, these bugs will soon be laying eggs and causing a larger infestation in your garden. 

3. Rabbits

Yes, even these cute little mammals can be a threat to your garden. Rabbits are voracious eaters and will have no mercy for your garden plants. These long-eared pests have a great appetite for almost any kind of fresh vegetation you plant, including crops, perennials, berries, and leafy greens.

The good news is that rabbits do not really like the strong fragrance of marigold flowers and will generally first go for other vegetables or fruits in the garden. That said, they will still tuck into the marigolds’ leaves, stems, and flowers if they are feeling hungry.

4. Rats

Rats are not huge fans of marigolds – these little creatures also hate the strong scent of the flowers. In fact, some gardeners use marigolds as a rate deterrent to protect other valuable plants in the garden.

But this does not mean that rats will not hurt your marigolds. During desperate times, they might still nibble on them and cause a lot of damage, especially if they do not have other options to eat. They usually attack at dawn and dusk and consume any tender greens or flowers they can find.

5. Caterpillars

Caterpillars feed on plants’ leaves until they are ready to develop into moths or butterflies. These wriggly little creatures can also assault your marigolds by chewing the leaves and creating irreversible damage to the foliage. If not controlled correctly, they can completely destroy or kill your plants – especially the younger ones.

While most caterpillars eat the leaves, others might cause more harm to the flowers. For example, marigold flowers, during their early stages of bloom, are vulnerable to damage caused by sunflower moth caterpillars. The larvae begin their journey on the plant’s florets. Later, they bore themselves into the flower’s head and feed on the plant tissue and seeds. Some might also drop to the ground and migrate to the underleaf litter.

Hence, it can be difficult to detect a sunflower moth caterpillar infestation at an early stage unless you cut open the flower head to check for larvae. You are unlikely to notice any holes in the flower petals. Instead, the caterpillars can cause your marigold flowers to turn brown which is often mistaken as the plant’s normal aging process.

How to get rid of marigold pests

Declaring war on your marigold-devouring pests may not be a piece of cake – you need to plan and strategize to prevent them from coming back. Depending on the severity of the damage, it might not be too late to fight back against these pests and save your beautiful marigolds. 

1. Pluck the caterpillars individually

The easiest and cheapest way to get rid of caterpillars is to pluck them manually from your plants. First, you need to prepare a bucket filled with soapy water. Next, pluck any caterpillars you see on the leaves and flowers and put them into the bucket. You can also clean the leaves with neem oil or homemade insecticide to remove any eggs.

2. Set up traps to get rid of slugs

A trap is one of the most humane ways to keep slugs off your garden. Although these pests can cause a lot of damage to your plants, they can be beneficial for decomposing organic material. So, the best route should always be the eco-friendly method unless you find yourself in a desperate situation. You can use rotting organic materials to lure the pests toward your snail trap. 

3. Use slug deterrents

There are many natural deterrents you can use to protect your marigolds from slugs and caterpillars. Most gardeners usually find a mixture of tea tree oil and citronella oil very effective. Other options include Greek catmint oil, lemon eucalyptus oil, cinnamon oil, lavender oil, thyme oil, and soybean oil. 

Although you can use the essential oils individually around your garden, we highly recommended using them in combination with other slug deterrents for the best results. Apply the mixture around the plants you want to protect once a week. Re-apply if it rains as rainwater will likely wash away the repellent.

4. Cover plants with mesh at night

Most garden pests only come out at night to devour your garden plants. Instead of watching your garden all night, you can cover your marigolds with mesh to fight off the pests – especially slugs and caterpillars. Choose a fiberglass mesh since it is more durable and non-toxic than the other materials available.

5. Use microbial insecticide

The perk of using a microbial insecticide is that it only kills caterpillars without hurting the other, beneficial insects. So, if you think caterpillars are behind the ruin of your marigolds, this may be the best treatment. We highly recommend Monterey B.t. since it is very effective against caterpillars but safe for common earthworms, bees, birds, and ladybugs.

Other pests that might devour your marigolds

So, you have done all the right things to protect your marigolds, but you still see signs of damage on the leaves and flowers. In this case, you might need to investigate further to determine some other possible culprits.

Other pests that might potentially strip the foliage off your marigolds are:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Squirrels
  • Aphids
  • Thrips
  • Whiteflies
  • Earwigs
  • Spider mites
  • Leafminers
  • Birds that target the slugs and caterpillars on the leaves
  • Lizards that feed on the insects found on marigold leaves and stems


Marigolds are a favorite snack for snails, slugs, and caterpillars. If you notice holes, bite marks, or leaf injuries on your marigold plants, these pests are likely the culprits. 

Other insects and small animals might also damage your plants. Traps and natural deterrents are often sufficient to protect your marigolds from being devoured or damaged by these unwanted garden visitors. 

We do not recommend using harmful insecticides on your plants as these chemicals can kill natural garden predators and beneficial insects. You need them too, to keep your garden healthy and beautiful.

Image: istockphoto.com / badboydt7