If your petunias and geraniums are budding but won’t bloom, the reason could be the tobacco budworm also known as the geranium or petunia bud worm.

Life Cycle of a Bud Worm

Here’s what they do. The adults start to emerge as a tan to brown small moth mid-March through mid-April. They seek out the buds of flowering plants or the terminal growth (the ends of new growth) where they lay an egg. They will lay many eggs over their short lifespan. After a short time, the egg will hatch and the larvae will instinctively bore into the end of the bud where they will devour the blossom from the inside. The larvae are yellow to green in color but will take on the color of the blossom they just ate. Red geraniums will turn the larvae red. They will emerge from the bud and slowly make their way to the soil, eating any tender growth they can find on the way down. In the soil they will start the pupation process and turn into an adult moth and the cycle starts all over again. There might be as many as five generations in one summer.

What Do Bud Worms Like to Eat?

Although the budworm moth was known to only inhabit the southern regions of the country, they are creating quite a problem for gardeners in the Northwest. They have been quite successful over-wintering in the soil as a pupa. They will attack almost any tender flowering plant but they are best known for eating the buds of petunias, geraniums, and nicotiana plants. They will also go after many vegetables, especially cabbage.

How to Get Rid of Bud Worms

Almost any insecticide will kill the budworm when it’s actively feeding but won’t do anything to the moth or pupa. A bacteria known as spinosad (spin-OH-sid) will attack the budworm throughout all stages of life. The most commonly known product that contains spinosad is Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. Just spray it on once every few weeks and the problem is solved. Call or stop by our Portland garden center to learn more about your options!

A lifelong Oregon resident, Drake has been passionate about plants since childhood, beginning with propagating and growing flowers at his grandfather’s nursery. He opened Drake’s 7 Dees in 1974, while earning degrees in Business and Horticulture from Oregon State University. He later expanded into the design/build side of the industry, allowing him to combine his passion for plants with his love of family by maximizing the quality of family time spent outdoors.

Drake is co-founder of the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association and is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager (LICM)—a designation that less than two percent of landscapers have attained. Additionally, Drake serves on the Board of Directors for the Portland Japanese Gardens, widely regarded as one of the seven best Japanese gardens outside of Japan.

Drake is married to former Oregon Speaker of the House, Lynn Snodgrass. Together, he and Lynn received the Farm Bureau President’s award in 1999 for their service and dedication to agriculture in the state of Oregon. Drake and Lynn have two wonderful daughters, two talented son-in-laws, and seven grandchildren. In his spare time, Drake enjoys camping, water and snow skiing, reading, and of course, gardening.