fighting lily leaf beetles organically

lily leaf beetle 2IDON’T USE CHEMICALS, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fight unwanted garden pests. At the moment the primary skirmish is with the lily leaf beetle, Licioceris lilii, who happens to be my favorite color–a sort of Asian lacquer red–but otherwise much-loathed here. And so these days, I am out hunting, on a search-and-destroy mission for the small but voracious pests who also like Fritillaria and Polygonatum (Solomon’s seal) and a number of other garden plants not captured in their common name. Ready for a fight? Onward, organic gardeners, onward…and don’t forget to get the beetle eggs, too. Here’s how:

Much in the same way I deal with everything from tomato hornworms to adult Japanese beetles to Viburnum leaf beetle and tent caterpillars and even the occasional slug in a wet year, my approach to lily beetles is manual–as in pick and squish, or drown.

lily leaf beetle eggsYou have to get the adults, and also the eggs, which start out tan and then go from orange to red when they are close to hatching. They can be found wherever there are copulating adults (which is anywhere that adult beetles are, it seems from their flagrant behavior), on the undersides of leaves in uneven lines like a bit of a tiny zig-zag. Squish!

Since the beetles overwinter in the soil, the minute lily or fritillaria foliage emerges, there are hungry beetles to damage it, too–meaning if they’re in your area, you probably are already seeing holes. Even if you didn’t get started right away, begin hand-picking beetles and eggs now to minimize the exploding population; remember, these are sexy beasts, so keep removing adults and eggs or else.

You see, I’ve left the worst for last: the part about what comes between the egg and the beetle. The larval stage of this pest is extremely ill-mannered, covering itself in its own excrement as if to just dare you to touch it. It is also the most voracious and therefore most damaging stage, so knock off those beetles and eggs now, and avoid the filthy little slug-like slobs altogether. Work fast when you pick, since adults will quickly disappear by flying off the plant and turning upside down in the soil as camouflage.

The use of parasitoid wasps to cripple the beetles has been very successful in European tests, and in a few research studies domestically, but is not available as a consumer product nor widespread enough yet to help in most areas. (The Rhode Island link below gives an update on states that have released various species of the parasitoids.) If you have more than a few clumps of lilies, lily leaf beetle can be controlled in some stages (particularly the youngest larvae) with spray products containing Neem. Me? I’ll just be out picking.

more details on lily leaf beetle

THE LILY LEAF BEETLE, of Asian origin, has founds its way into six Canadian provinces and as many states in the Northeast, most recently making its way into northern New York State (where I am).

  1. Brigitte says:

    Hi. I love your posts. Non-related question: The front of my house has to get spray washed, and my property has been all organic for 10 years. Do you know what product I can use that is organic? The house has mossy, mold that has to come off.

    1. Julia says:

      My Cape gets the green hue I have vinyl siding and am mid-evil in regards to my beautiful moss growing from the house front (a future cinnamon fern planting bed)
      Using a utility bucket, a stiff bristle brush threaded into a stick cold water baking soda vinegar + 1 heaping scoop of arm and hammer powdered laundry detergent hose the siding say from the bottom of the windows down and from the corner to the door start at the bottom and brush entire length rinse and continue up for the out of reach use your garden fertilizer hose attachment I rarely see heavy green hue up above the top of 1st floor windows but consider a pressure washer rental if yours does I have used products that lasted barely a year this mix has lasted 5 yrs and I am just seeing the green creep back

  2. Susan K. says:

    They’ve been a terrible pest here in the real upstate NY/Finger Lakes region for years now. I’ve discovered by observation that they seem to overwinter in debris and litter, so I clean up as thoroughly as possible in fall, then make sure to put down fresh mulch around the lilies early in the spring. I also noticed that this year for the first time they seem to have declined somewhat – my fritillarias were largely unmolested, as were most of my lilies. Maybe, like the viburnum leaf beetle, they’re reaching a cyclical decline in the life cycle? We can only hope!

    1. Julie Slate says:

      I live in Northern NewYork. About 30 miles from Canada. this is the second year with them. I don’t believe in chemicals so when I see them I kill them by clapping my hands together around them ..cause they do jump off ..My orientals look terrible with the leaves all chewed and the flowers disfigured.

  3. Walt G says:

    I live in Dutchess county NY and have had these bugs for two years now,but this year there was hardly any damage.The reason grasp and squish.I will try the cinnamon this spring,but I will stand guard.This is war.

  4. Suzy says:

    I live in Webster, NY, and this is the first time I’ve seen them, and they’re all over my lilies. I’m used to bugs, so I just ignored them, until today when I noticed my lilies aren’t looking so great. What a drag!!!!!

  5. Lesley says:

    A light dusting of food grade Diatomaceous Earth saved my lilies. It also has seemed to kill the larva. What a blessing!

  6. EMY FLOWERS says:

    I am in Putnam New York and I now hace them. They did havoc on my lillies. How about peppermint oil and cinnamon? Just guessing.

  7. Richard says:

    My first sighting of lily beetles was last year after growing lilies for years. tried several insecticides & FOUND
    SOAP SPRAY INSECTICIDE was best. If the beetles fall off the plant when sprayed is a good indication it is working. I now, also have a bag of Diatomaceous Earth to dust in between sprays & spread a dusting on ground around the plant should do the trick… I was horrified when I first saw them after they had eaten all the leaves all the way up the stock. What drew my attention was the birds were landing on the plants & picking away at the stems & commented to the wife on that was the first time I had seen birds on the lilies eating aphids (I thought) & 2 /3 days latter went over to check. Now I know & so do you .. lol

  8. Zena says:

    I live in Hamlin N.Y. I have had Asiatic Lilies in my garden for 12 years and never had a problem until this year! The devastation and damage happened seemingly overnight!!! I was shocked! Found and researched the critters, of course it is the work of the Red Lily Leaf Beetle!! I have removed all I could find by hand… but I know there is more, to much damage for just the pair! Any tips would be appreciated for this novice!!!!

    1. margaret says:

      It’s a horror, I know, Zena. Besides hand picking and crushing any eggs you see on the leaf undersides before they hatch, Neem-based products are supposed to be good for killing the young larvae (not the adult beetles), sprayed every 5-7 days. More on that and other controls hopefully coming soon.

  9. Mary Porter says:

    Upstae NY in Mo tgomery cpunty. I love my liles and last year at my new house…omg. They were so destructive. Tried picking. Found the soap spray. I am now heading out in the morning on a search and destroy mission

  10. Opal says:

    Have you ever noticed these things ratting strawberry plants. I’m in Utah and I swear these buggers and in my strawberry plants and maybe zucchini plants

  11. Steve says:

    This post is as fabulous now as it was 10 years ago when it was written. Thank you! One thing I’ve found that really helps with the hand-picking regime. When you go out to do the thing, carry a few white terry cloth rags like you buy in the painting supplies section of the box store. When you’re picking adult beetles, spread them strategically on the ground around the stems and under the leaves of the plants you’re working on. If the beetles evade your grasp or soap dish by dropping to the ground, which they very often manage to do, they’ll fall on the rags, are easy to see, and seem to be so surprised by their unexpected landing pad that they don’t move for a while, giving you a chance to grab them.

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