Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, August 3, 2015

The trouble with Salvias!

I absolutely love annual salvias for  the rich color contrast they bring to my golden summer garden. They're also a nectar rich food for pollinators.

But, when I say food for pollinators, I meant the marvelous bees, hummingbirds and butterflies that visit the plant for nectar. I certainly didn't mean that I wanted my salvia flower buds to be eaten to nothing by the tiny Southern Pink Moth caterpillars!

That's exactly what has been happening to my annual salvias. The flower buds disappeared overnight, eaten by tiny caterpillars that I was sure had been eradicated from the garden years ago when I decided annual salvias wouldn't be planted at Clay and Limestone.

It was mid-summer 2009 when I noticed a pretty little moth nectaring on basil, its lovely pink color blended beautifully into the flowers and was only noticeable when I brushed against the container and it flew hither and yon. Yon being over to the salvia were it seemed perfectly comfortable. The moth's shape reminded me of tiny pink stealth jets and when I figured out that they were the adult stage of the voracious caterpillars eating the salvia and basil flower buds, they were christened stealth chompers.

Before the Southern Pink Moth landed at Clay and Limestone

They made a mess of my salvias and basil and I decided that the only way to stop them was to not invite them back into the garden. Which meant no more annual salvias would be jumping into my cart at the local nurseries. No more sweet little Salvia 'Coral Nymph', no more dramatic S 'Black and Blue' and, certainly, no more letting the basils go to flower.

Banning those beauties from the garden might have seemed dramatic at the time, but, I wasn't going to use a pesticide and I wanted to save the native fall blooming Salvia azurea from being chomped! It was new to the garden and I didn't want to chance losing is first season of bloom.

My garden has been Southern Pink Moth free until this year when I succumbed to the charms of annual Salvias 'Argentina Skies', 'Black and Blue' and S farinacea. Just after buds formed the Stealth Chompers struck! The buds were chewed to bits overnight and I could see the tiny caterpillars snacking on them... I cut the stems back and trashed the critters, hoping that any new buds would be safe. 

This morning while watering I saw three Southern Pink Moths nectaring on the Salvias. They are no more. There will be no more laying of eggs and there will be no more chomping on the flower buds~I am not letting them near my Salvia azurea, even if this is its seventh year of blooming in the garden.

A gardener has to do what a gardener has to do*. Looks like I am going to have to be on the lookout for any new stealth chompers. They must have come in on those new salvias.

*especially since the birds weren't chomping on the moths!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I can understand your frustration at having to give up planting such a pretty and beloved type of plant. I gave up lilies when I lived in Massachusetts because I just wasn't up to dousing them with anything to get rid of the red lily beetles.

    1. Thanks, it has been frustrating...and I will go back to not having these pretties in the garden.

  2. Hmmmmm. I have never seen this moth before. What a shame they are so destructive in the larval form.

  3. Do they only eat Salvia? I have started planting salvia, since it is so hardy in the hot dry conditions of Texas, but I don't need any more bugs chowing down on my plants.

  4. New to me. What a shame to be without salvias.

  5. Yikes! I'm glad we don't have those little pink critters here, as lovely as they are. (At least I don't think we have them.) I have perennial Salvias, and the native bees and honey bees love them. I don't use any chemicals and so far, the Salvias don't seem to be touched, except by the beneficial pollinators. Sounds like you're making the right decision, though. Argh.

  6. I enjoy your posts so much, Gail. You are not alone with insect invasions. I was highly insulted when I found aphids on some of my milkweed. How dare they invade my pollinator garden! I'm doing everything I can to grow plants for wildlife, and I'm not going to resort to pesticides. So I just smush them with my fingers or blast them with water!

  7. Oh my goodness! I haven't seen any in my garden and I hope I never do. At least now I know what to watch for. As always, your pictures are just astounding.

  8. Even though their pink wings look SO good against those blue petals, I understand what you must do.

  9. What a pretty pink moth! It's too bad they can't be persuaded to feast on something else. Salvia farinacea is a mainstay annual in my garden as is 'Black and Blue.' I sure hope these stealth chompers don't fly north!

  10. wow that is too bad especially with such a beautiful moth....glad we don' t have them.

  11. Gail, I just found your post, in 2017, while researching this moth who is currently sitting on my salvia Black and Blue. I've had the salvias for three years now and this is the first year that I have seen the Southern Pink Moth. Thanks for all the info. I'll keep an eye on the little bugger. By the way, I live in Milton, Georgia, just north of Atlanta.

  12. I haven't seen these moths, but my salvias definitely have several little caterpillars! I only first noticed them when I cut one for a bouquet the other day. I do have to say the caterpillars are beautiful! The ones I've seen have an ombre aqua color scheme.

  13. For a couple of weeks I noticed holes in fuchsia and salvia buds, no blooming, and just now see the little aqua caterpillars. If I discard those infected plants, will the new salvia that have not yet bloomed be safe? In Greenville, South Carolina.

  14. They are in central Pennsylvania now.I found lots of them all over my salvia coccinea and I have grown them for years to feed the hummingbirds.They are also on my salvia farinacea. So far none on my black and blue salvia. I am picking them off with tweezers and dropping them in soapy water. Will they be back next year?


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