Stop Leafminers in Your Garden

Thin whitish trails in leaves are a sure sign of leafminers. Use these tips to control the pest in your yard.


Leafminers are immature insects that feed between the upper and lower surfaces of leaves. The adults may be flies, moths, sawflies, or beetles. The adult female lays eggs on the leaf surface. When the larvae hatch, they tunnel into the leaf and begin feeding. Leafminers attack all kinds of plants, from vegetables to fruits, flowers, trees, or shrubs, although each species usually feeds on only one or two types of plants. In pines and other conifers, the pests are called needleminers.

Click here to see photos of common tree diseases.

Identifying the Pest

Leafminer larvae are tiny, and somewhat flattened to fit inside a leaf. As the larvae feed, they eat the green tissue inside the leaf, leaving a thin, winding trail covered by a papery sheath. The trail may contain small brownish black pellets of insect excrement, and if you look closely you may be able to see the larvae. When numerous larvae are feeding in a single leaf, their tunnels may merge, creating large blotches.

Leafminer Control

Because for most of their lives they're protected inside the leaf, it's difficult to control leafminers with insecticidal sprays. Damage caused by the pest is seldom severe enough to justify spraying except to make the plant look better. For ornamental plants, you can spray a systemic insecticide, such as acephate, to kill the tunneling larvae. Carbaryl, neem oil, or pyrethrin are effective if sprayed just as the larvae are hatching. If you see large, merged tunnels, the larvae may have already completed their life cycles, making insecticidal sprays pointless.

Control is more important for leafy vegetable crops because feeding by the leafminers damages the edible portion of the plant. Protect vegetables from egg-laying adults by covering the plants with a floating row cover. Secure the edges of the row cover to the ground so that no adults can enter. Remove and destroy affected leaves.

Host Plants

Leafminers may attack many ornamental plants. Some of the preferred hosts are:

Arborvitae, Aspen, Azalea, Birch, Bougainvillea, Boxwood, Butterfly weed, Chrysanthemum, Columbine, Cottonwood, Delphinium, Elm, Holly, Impatiens, Juniper, Lantana, Lilac, Locust, Magnolia, Oak, Pine, Verbena, Water lily.

Commonly affected food crops are:

Apples, Beets, Citrus, Garlic, Onions, Spinach, Swiss chard, Tomatoes.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles