Chafer grubs in garden borders

Large white c-shaped grubs are sometimes found in garden most do not cause problems in gardens The group of beetles includes some that feed on decomposing vegetable matter and can be useful composters. A few chafer beetles can damage the roots of plants and some species can cause serious damage to lawns (see chafer grubs in lawns).

Rose chafer beetle on hogweed flower

Quick facts

Common name Chafer grubs (various species)
Plants affected Various
Main symptoms Roots are eaten by large white larvae
Caused by Larvae of a chafer beetles
Timing All year

What are chafer grubs?

  • Chafer grubs are the larvae of chafer beetles. There are nearly 20 species of chafer in the UK and most do not cause problems in gardens
  • The larvae have white bodies, brown heads and three pairs of legs the largest species, the cockchafer or Maybug (Melolontha melolontha) can reach 50mm in length. All chafer grubs feed in the soil or accumulations of rotting vegetable matter
  • The grubs are similar in appearance to stag beetle (Lucanus cervus), related species and dung beetle larvae. The former is usually only found associated with dead tree roots and can reach 11cm in length and the latter dung, neither are problems in gardens. If stag beetle larvae are exposed when digging around dead tree roots they should be recovered so that they can complete the life cycle
  • A few species of chafer can be occasional problems in garden borders, feeding on plant roots; these include the cockchafer and summer chafers (Amphimallon solstitiale). These have larvae that can feed in the soil for up to three years and occasionally damage the roots a variety of plants
  • The biggest garden problems are usually caused by the smaller garden and Welsh chafers (Phyllopertha horticola and Hoplia philanthus) (up to 20mm) whose grubs are mainly found under turf where they can destroy the root system. Animals such as foxes badgers and corvid birds often dig for these grubs in infested turf
  • One species of chafer grub is often found in compost heaps, areas rich in rotting vegetable matter and occasionally organic matter rich potting composts. This is the rose chafer (Cetonia aurata). The adult beetles are about 2 cm long and metallic green. The adults can cause minor damage to flowers of leaves but this insect may be considered beneficial as it helps the composting process as a grub


Where problem chafer species are present plants lack vigour and examination of plant roots will often show signs of being eaten. Large c-shaped grubs can also be found.

Damage to lawns can be more extensive, for more information see chafer grubs in lawns.


Most species of chafer grub do not need control, and species such as the rose chafer may be considered beneficial.

Non-pesticide control

Remove larvae of problem species from soil as they are found. Cultivation of the ground can briefly expose the grubs to predators, such as birds, and make the ground less attractive as egg-laying areas.

Biological control

You can buy pathogenic nematodes, usually Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, which attack the larvae by infecting them with a fatal bacterial disease. These microscopic animals can be watered into the lawn when the ground is moist and soil temperature range between 12-20ºC (55-68ºF). This biological control is available from some biological control suppliers and some garden centres. The ground around the edge of affected areas should be targeted to deal with larvae spreading out from infestation “hot spots”. The nematodes should be applied as soon as possible after purchase, following the suppliers’ instructions. It may be necessary to water the soil before and after application to ensure the soil is sufficiently moist for nematode activity and survival.

Pesticide control

There are currently no pesticides available to home gardeners or the treatment of soil pests.

See also...

Protect your garden

Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.