Garden Detective

Did hummingbirds eat her succulents?

Hummingbirds love sweet stuff, such as sugar water in this feeder. They’ll also snack on honeydew, left by aphids, as well as the aphids.
Hummingbirds love sweet stuff, such as sugar water in this feeder. They’ll also snack on honeydew, left by aphids, as well as the aphids.

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: I would really like to know how to protect my potted succulents from being eaten and destroyed. I believe that hummingbirds are the culprit on my apartment balcony. I am not positive, however. Would there be any way to protect them and still enjoy them? I have wrapped them in plastic or newspaper covering, which can help, but then I am unable to see and enjoy them. Have you heard of this problem? Any ideas would be appreciated.

Cynthia Schmidt, Sacramento

Sacramento County Master Gardener Carmen Schindler: Succulents can be an attractive addition to any small patio or apartment balcony. They are drought-tolerant, require little care and can be grown successfully in containers. Like any plant, they can be vulnerable to some pests and diseases. It is likely that hummingbirds are feasting on the sugary substance left by insects.

The reason it may seem like hummingbirds are to blame is because aphids and mites make sugary excretions called honeydew, which hummingbirds are attracted to and will consume in addition to the insects themselves.

Hummingbirds are within the family of sap-suckers and have a sugar-centric lifestyle, which fuels their high metabolism during flight. To feed that metabolism, they are drawn to the sweet substance secreted from the wounds of trees and are likewise enticed by insects’ sugary excretions, which give hummingbirds the rapid boost of energy they need to maintain their body heat. However, nectar lacks protein and fat, so hummingbirds also feast on the aphids and mites.

Look for small, soft-bodied insects on the leaf surfaces. These insects can be washed off using a strong stream of water. Heavily infested leaves can be pruned to prevent the spread of insects to healthy parts of the succulents.

Cacti are also host for mealybugs and cactus scale. Either should be visible on the surface.

If you do not see any evidence of insects or chewing, the damage may be the result of environmental effects such as sunburn or frost.

For more information on managing pests on cacti and succulents, visit the University of California Integrated Pest Management website at

Carmen Schindler is a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County.

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