Friday, May 2, 2014

Do plants grow without leaves?

We recently had a rodent eat all of the leaves off of our cucumber plants:

My husband had high hopes that they would recover. I, on the other hand, was not so optimistic and asked that we buy some more and replant. (my hypotheses: the plants wouldn't survive)

We replanted, but we left the chewed plants for an experiment to see what would happen. We also had a cherry tomato plant that had its leaves only partially eaten. We let that one be without replanting.

The result?

A month later both chewed cucumber plants were completely dead.


Leaves play an essential role in the process of photosynthesis - the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. I like to think of leaves as mini solar panels, using sunlight to make energy. Without leaves the plant has very little to create the energy needed for the plants to grow bigger.

What about the half-chewed tomato plant?

The tomato plant was only partially eaten by the rodent, meaning that the rodent left some parts of the leaves. The plant has recovered and is flourishing.

What experiment can you do at home?

You don't need a garden or bigger/expensive plants. Beans grow relatively fast from seeds. Plant 3 different beans in jars/cups. When they are big enough to have leaves, break all the leaves completely off of one, break the leaves half way off in one, and leave one to grow normally. Compare how they grow after that.

Personal lessons learned:

We made a crop cage for our garden before planting the new bunch of cucumbers. The new plants have not been targeted. We might blog about the crop cage in the future, but it needs a few tweaks first.


  1. This is so frustrating! I am glad you got a science lesson out of it, at least! I am curious to hear more about your crop cage, since we are having similar issues with our garden here.

  2. I feel your gardening pain! I am always battling the deer and birds. The deer eat EVERYTHING in our yard. I managed to grow several tomato plants and the dog started snatching off the tomatoes to play ball. He is in so much trouble!

    I love how you turned this frustrating situation into a wonderful science lesson. You made "lemonade" out of munched cucumber plants!


  3. but there still root, how can they die?

    1. We bought sprouts and replanted them in our pots. This happened shortly after we put them in our pots. It's possible that there wasn't enough time for the roots to really form (and it wasn't getting the energy it was expecting to get). We waited a few weeks to see if there would be progress, but the plants with no leaves died. The ones with some leaves left survived the rodent chewing. You can always experiment on your own with bean plants. Plant two. As one sprouts and leaves, rip off the leaves. Let the other grow as natural.

  4. I've got a mango seedling whose leaves were completely eaten by chickens. It looks almost like that picture posted above. Any chance of survival?

    1. Ours didn't survive. I recommend protecting your seedlings! We built a cage around our plants and have had much better success in our garden since this original post