Inch by Inch: Bugged

Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Features

Inch by Inch: Bugged

If you haven't seen them up until now, get ready.  The Bugs are finally here.  Led by the voracious and randy Japanese Beetle, the bugs that will make your garden miserable for the next couple of months have finally emerged from their grub stage and are living on your roses. 

They are late this year, due in part to a cold snap early in the growing season. But they'll make up for lost time.

If your roses are finished blooming, a few Japanese beetles won't kill them.  Dust them liberally with diatomaceous earth on a dry day and let them crawl all over the plants.  The diatomaceous earth, remember, cuts open the carapace of the insect, which dries them out.  It's perfectly safe -- you can put it on your own food or in your pets' food to kill worms -- and you can dust your animals with it to kill their internal pests, fleas and ticks on your dogs and cats, red mite on your chickens, and so on. 

If you have plants that are in danger from Japanese beetles because they are flowering or fruiting, you may have to take a different approach. 

Neem oil will eventually kill the beetles, but its approach actually requires that the insects eat a considerable quantity of your plant.  Neem oil will kill their appetites ...  permanently ... and they will starve to death eventually.  Chrysanthemum oil (usually in a product known as pyrethrins) will actually kill the insects.  In either case, make sure any produce is well scrubbed before consuming it, although both are approved for organic gardens.

Do not hang Japanese beetle traps downwind of your plants.  This will BRING the beetles to your garden, and once there, you'll have trouble getting rid of them. 

If you have chickens, and you can let them free range, put them in your garden during the time of day when the beetles are more active.  Chickens love Japanese beetles.

While you're at it, consider milky spore to treat lawn areas where the beetle grubs winter over.

The grubs ingest these bacterial spores, which germinate and reproduce within the grub's body and ultimately kill it. Over several years time, the milky spore bacteria builds up in the soil and acts to suppress grub infestations.

Bacillus thuringiensis japonensis (Btj) may also be used to control Japanese beetle grubs. Btj is applied to the soil, and grubs ingest it. Btj destroys the grub's digestive system and ultimately kills the larva.

Milky spore takes a few years to fully work, and if you have some of the beetles' favorites, you may end up with beetles in your yard anyway.  Next year, consider some companion plantings to ward them off ... garlic, white chrysanthemum, tansy, and other plants strongly discourage the Japanese beetle.

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