Something has been eating my broccoli and kale plants. I haven't seen anything on it, so I'm not sure what it is. It started eating the leaves and has progressed to eating stems broccoli with leaves and some stems eaten and recently seems to have cut one of the broccoli plants down to the base of the stem just above the soil. broccoli cut down to the base of the stem

Particularly with the kale, sometimes I will see leaves cut off and left on the soil.

kale with leave left on the soil

I had been using bacillus thuringiensis - spraying it weekly and also after rain on the leaves. It seems to have not been very effective, if effective at all.

I also noticed similar damage to a christmas cactus that was left nearby the broccoli and kale. We moved it to the deck about 15 feet away, and the same sort of damage still progressed - cutting off the leaves and dropping them in or nearby the pot.

Christmas cactus damage

I'd prefer a solution that doesn't involve pesticides that can be harmful to humans.

Update Here are the only "tracks" (nondescript horizontal streaks) I found after one night. There was not any more plant damage that night.


Update 2 I had placed some cut paper towel tubes around the bases of the stems because at one point, I suspected cabbage loopers. Between 7:30 am and 7:00 pm, something knocked or pulled the tubes off and destroyed another broccoli plant, leaving most of the stem. And it ate a bit more of the kale too. Also, I saw some more tracks.

broccoli stem

enter image description here

detail of broccoli stem damage

detail of broccoli stem damage

detail of broccoli stem damage

update 2

I set up a camera in front of the damaged broccoli stem and a fresh cabbage leaf three times in the day and early evening in the same spot but did not catch anything.

But I just saw a squirrel rooting around on the deck nearby, sniffing and nibbling at some potted plants. squirrel in pot

Update 3

I ended up building a cage to enclose the kale plants that remained. Still not sure what the pest was, but the cage seemed to prevent further damage.

  • Point a camera at the area overnight, adding a little light if needed - I'm guessing 4-footed browsers, not insects. Or on the low-tech side, rake the soil very smooth in the afternoon/evening, and check for tracks in the morning.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 18:05
  • @Ecnerwal now that you mention it, I have seen a skunk walk by there some evenings. I haven't seen it eat anything though. I've smoothed out the soil, so we'll see what shows up.
    – Mike Eng
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 18:24
  • If you've got tomatoes with bites and pulled off the plant, you more than likely have rats. Now rats wouldn't decimate your broccoli and kale as shown. That would be deer and or rabbits. Those teeth marks on the broccoli stems would be rabbits or rats, not deer. Like I said, you probably have more than one animal trying to survive and finding some un-fenced un-protected calories. Squirrels have never been a problem in any of my un-protected gardens. Probably because I feed them, I feed the bunnies, I feed the deer. We have a huge compost pile with lots of hay. Works well for us.
    – stormy
    Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


Ouch! It hurts to see such damage to your garden. I have very similar symptoms except not to the same extent. In my case (in california) I suspect either squirrels or voles/mice. Have not figured out what it is but don't rule out that possibility as well. I also have a net covering it but these guys get under it and eat my kale and other vegetables.

In terms of the solution, once you identify whether it is a squirrel or vole or something else you can try the appropriate solution. Try putting a net on the plants to see if it helps.

  • 1
    Voles and mice eat from the bottom up not from the top, leaving the bottom. Squirrels aren't that interested in vegeys. Possible for sure, though.
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 19:19

Skunks, perhaps but rabbits almost certainly. Have you seen any track? Deer are very obvious as well as any animal's track. This looks like rabbit to me, since I've been feeding rabbits and having to protect everything I don't want eaten. Big semicircular bites. Any other leafy plants getting eaten? That Christmas cactus has been over watered by the way. Go out at night and sit quietly. Throw some salad leavings near these plants and watch. Deer or rabbits are my guess. Have to know what the true bandit is before being able to set up a defense program. For rabbits the plan is a simple 3' high field wire fence buried a few inches into the soil. For deer, much more complicated. Do you have any motion detector cameras lying around? Grins. Rabbits are wonderful WEEDERS. I had to have a couple of old guys come in with the big weed wacker mowers last year to get the grass down before the grasses went to seed. This year not a blade of grass, or weeds or shrubs (other than bitterbrush) can be found.

  • updated the question with a photo of all I could see for tracks. I'll do some more detection when I get a chance. One thing to note is that there are many feral cats in the area (which may deter some animals), and it's probably too populated for deer.
    – Mike Eng
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:59
  • 2
    Too populated for deer - Hah. Good one. Rats with hooves...
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:13
  • @Ecnerwal Interesting, well, I've never seen deer anywhere in this town (Providence, RI). I suppose it's possible though.
    – Mike Eng
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 19:09
  • I have to admit I am more of a wilderness aficionado than most others. I've seen deer in the middle of Seattle. I know how to track and am pretty observant and have lots of experience in residential landscape design, installation. I've had to convince owners to MOVE their play areas away from 'green belts'. Big cats as well as bear are learning these cities offer food and since we are consuming their wilderness they are learning to adapt. And I doubt you'll ever actually be able to see these guys. Track yes. I have to go check out your new photo...
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:22
  • 1
    Mike, did you say you smoothed an area to be able to catch track? Good job btw. To take pictures of track you have to get shadow. Don't take pictures at noon and if it is overcast you can use a decent flashlight, get low to be able to see shadows of the detail. Ecnerwal, 'Rats with Hooves"? Tch tch,grins! Feral cats will not only control rodents but baby bunnies as well. Once bunnies get to teenage hood they are pretty much safe from domestic cats feral, stray or 'neighborhood' cats. My question is why just the kale and broccoli? Rabbits eat everything. Deer might be more discerning.
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:30

Squirrels would be my guess, also. If we hadn't seen squirrels rooting around in our radish plot, I would never believe they would go for strong tasting vegies. They made short work of them. Our garden is fenced in, and rabbits and ground hogs can't get in.


I just stumbled upon this page and too was curious what is eating your plants. Same thing happened to me two years ago, all of my broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower was being eaten right through the base, and sometimes the crown was left on the ground nearby. I never did figure out exactly what it was but after having a few run ins with several porcupines chewing the branches off many of the locust trees in our yard, I did some research and found out that they are quite intelligent, good climbers, and are able to fit under very small holes or gaps in the fence. Also, did I mention that they love the braccias family? They are able to stand on their hind legs and reach up a little higher to chomp at the stalks from ground level as well. After googling images, there came up quite a few of porcupines ravaging these plants in the garden. Just wanted to share this information.

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