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What Causes Holes in Basil and 5 Ways to Prevent Them

It can be alarming to find holes in your fresh basil plant, especially after you’ve invested all this time in to caring for it and watching it grow. So what causes the holes to appear on your basil plant’s leaves and how can you prevent it from happening?

The main reason your basil plant’s leaves have holes is because pests are eating them. The most common pests that eat basil leaves are slugs, snails, beetles, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects such as aphids.

Let’s take a closer look at why basil plants have holes in their leaves and what you can do about it.

Photo of green basil leaves against a white backdrop
Photo by Duskbabe

Pests Love to Eat Basil

Basil is a popular herb used to add extra flavor and freshness to a variety of dishes. One of the best ways to include fresh basil in your meals is to grow your own plant, either in your garden or on your counter, for easy access. Pinch off a few leaves and toss them onto your food or shred them to sprinkle on as a garnish.

Unfortunately, there are many pests that also love fresh basil and will happily nibble away at it if they can. These little pests will leave holes as they munch their way through your plant.

Which Bugs are Leaving Holes in your Basil?

There are plenty of bugs in that love to get their pincers into your fresh basil plant. While basil has some natural insect-repelling properties, they don’t work against all insects. The most common insects you’ll find eating your basil leaves are slugs, snails, beetles, flies, and other soft-bodied insects.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs are a big problem for basil grown in gardens but can still be an issue if you keep your basil plant near an open window. When a slug eats through leaves, they leave a ragged hole behind. In addition to the hole, there is also a telltale trail of slime residue left behind on the leaves.

Like slugs, snails are big fans of your basil plants as well. They leave behind the same ragged, slime-covered holes that slugs do.


Beetles, and more specifically, Japanese Beetles, are a terror for basil plants. They love basil maybe more than humans do. The key to spotting their presence is the appearance of your basil leaves.

Japanese Beetles will eat through the basil leaves and leave the veins, which ends up making the leaves look like a lacy, web-like skeleton of their former self.


There are a few species of caterpillars that do enjoy a casual nibble on your basil leaves. Not all caterpillar varieties are dangerous to your basil plants, but there are some in North America that will leave behind holes in the leaves.

The holes caterpillars create are typically larger than the holes you’d find from other pests. They will also leave behind large amounts of droppings on your basil plant. You might even find droppings in the soil or on your counter.

Soft-Bodied Insects

Other insects you might find creating holes in basil plant leaves are soft-bodied insects, and you can usually find them on the underside of the leaves. These include:

  • Aphids
  • Spider-mites
  • Leafhoppers

5 Ways to Prevent Pests from Eating Your Basil Leaves

Preventing pests from eating your basil leaves is simple and easy to do. Here are five trusted and true methods:

Use Beer Traps for Slugs and Snails

Beer traps are the best way to prevent slugs and snails from digging into your basil plants. Place a shallow dish of beer underneath your basil plant at night when the slugs and snails are most active. In the morning, you should see them in the beer instead of on your basil leaves.

Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth to Repel Insects

A natural insect repellent is diatomaceous earth. It’s a material made from fossilized water plants and has been known to repel slugs, aphids, cockroaches, adult flea beetles, ants, and many pests.

Because diatomaceous earth is a pesticide, you’ll want to be careful when applying it. Be sure to read through the label carefully and follow the instructions to avoid any adverse side effects.

Use Netting to Cover Your Plants

Covering your basil plants with a mesh fabric or netting will help prevent many insects from eating the leaves. It’s best to use fine netting without large holes. You’ll also want to cover the plants loosely, so they aren’t restricted from growing big and bushy.

The downside to using netting is it limits your access to the plants. However, if you have a lot of pests that are ravaging your plants, this may be your best option.

Use Soapy Water Dishes

Like the beer traps, soapy water dishes can help prevent insects and other pests from eating your basil plants. Simply place a shallow dish of soapy water at the base of your basil plant. Any crawling bugs that fall in will drown on their way to your plant.

Hand-Pick the Bugs Off Your Plant

Another way to remove pests from your basil plants is to pick them off by hand. This is a tedious and sometimes gross task, but it works if you do it in time.

Is it Safe to Eat Basil Leaves if They Have Holes in Them?

For the most part, eating leaves with holes from insects and bugs isn’t dangerous to humans as long as the basil is rinsed clean.

If slugs or snails have eaten the basil, you’ll want to check the leaves for any slime residue. If you find any, be sure to rinse your basil leaves underwater thoroughly to remove them. The same goes for any basil leaves that caterpillars have eaten. You want to ensure you rinse off any droppings left behind by the little critters.

To be extra safe cook your basil to kill any possible bacteria that couldn’t be washed away.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to also participates in affiliate programs with other sites. is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.