Plant Doctor: Hungry Caterpillars

Andrew Maloy gives expert advice and diagnoses nagging plant health and pest problems.

Q: My problem is caterpillars eating my mint plant. It is planted in a pot so as not spread everywhere in the garden. They are green caterpillars and seem to only have four legs front and rear. I’ve been growing mint for years and have never heard of caterpillars eating it.

A: It sounds like your mint has a simple case of green looper caterpillar which feeds on a wide range of plants. The adult is a moth, known as the silver Y moth, because of its markings. The caterpillar’s bright green colour makes it hard to see on many plants until the damage becomes obvious and the young caterpillar is also quite small and usually hidden underneath the leaves. It’s called a looper caterpillar because of the way it moves. The back legs walk first causing the body to form a loop then the front legs move next stretching the body out and so on.

Damage tends to be seasonal, mostly in summer and autumn, so your mint plants should recover especially if you give them a trim back and some fertiliser. If you feel like spraying, probably the best to use is the biologically derived Success Naturalyte, which is based on natural soil bacteria.