(japanese) beetle juice

beetle-soupOK, SO I’M A HOMICIDAL MANIAC AT THE MOMENT. What are you busy offing in your version of Trouble in Paradise?

Besides drowning Japanese beetles in bowls of soapy water, I have my eye on some rabbits who seem to be working their way through the place. Wish my neighbor, Herb, who has a knack for trapping every manner of thing, hadn’t gone to Maine for the summer. Herb? Oh, Herb?

With the Japanese beetles, I’m long past the beetle-bag phase of my gardening career. I think that those lures just attract more beetles, and are just plain ugly. I lure them instead to their death-by-drowning by leaving in some appealing plants I wouldn’t normally grow, like a volunteer hollyhock that just sprouted in the vegetable garden.

The beetles really love it, and it seems to keep them out of the nearby climbing rose. Each day I visit the hollyhock and knock a handful more into the soup, as I do at a particular patch of ferns they really love that look like hell, all rusty-brown and tattered, but act as the trap I desire. (What plants are your beetles feasting on, either unfortunate choices or ones like my lone hollyhock that you’re using as a decoy?)

The way to reduce the beetles population, if it’s possible at all, is to reduce the population of grubs they come from, with natural inoculants like nematodes or Milky Spore. We’ve talked about this a little on the Forums, in a thread about moles (who love the grubs that become the beetles…one big chain of garden havoc).

So tell us now, truthfully: What is in your sight lines for getting real, real gone?

  1. laura t. says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I read about knocking those japanese beetles into the bucket of soapy water, so out I went into the backyard ready to de-bug my new pussy willow shrub. No one told me, however, that as soon as you start knocking, they start flying! They were bumping into my head! I dropped the bucket and ran in the house, deciding to ride them out for the last couple of weeks. At least while on the pussy willow, they are not on my roses or other more precious things!


  2. margaret says:

    Welcome, Laura. Yes, willows are another favorite of the beetles, so they make a good “lure” away from your roses if you get lucky. I hate when they all start flying, too, but am persevering over here, one bucket at a time.

  3. Phillip says:

    This is the first year I’ve had so many Japanese beetles. I’ve found that nothing gives me greater satisfaction than squishing them between my bare fingers. As for deer, they are always a problem, but I’ve found that the deer sprays are very effective – except in early spring and late autumn when their choices are less abundant. Actually I wish I could squish them between my bare fingers too!

  4. Barbara says:

    I’m with Phillip. I’ve started to squish them sans garden gloves. The population has exploded and it’s take no prisoners time.

  5. margaret says:

    @Phillip: I don’t think it’s humane, but for some reason I always include the soap. The bubbles hide the floating bodies.

  6. Leigh Williams says:

    Good heavens, such catastrophes. We’ve been so dry here in Austin that I’m not sure any insect life is surviving — I’m certainly not seeing much evidence of it. Fortunately we should have four inches of rain in the next few days. On the down side, that will usher in mosquito season.

    My solution for furry varmints is cats . . . lots of them. Mice, rats, vole, moles, rabbits, and squirrels don’t bother us a bit. Our six are so tough they even scare the deer away!

  7. Linda Pastorino says:

    my worst nightmare are the beetles. They come earlier and earlier each year. June’s end on the persicaria first. I get one week of perfet raspberry colored blooms then thousands are out there.
    Then next into the rose garden after the first bloom of roses and then I don’t see roses again until end of August or even September. I used milky spore diligently every three years on 2 acres of property dropping it by the spoonful every few inches. It never worked. I had bagged preperations spread twice a season, and it didn’t work. I had systemic spraying done and that also didn’t work. I used traps and left them outside my borders, it seemed to do some good but there are too many. I’m calling in the national guard next spring summer season to rid the property some how some way. I gave my daughter an allowance for every beetle dropped into the soapy mess. There were so many she gave up!
    My other lovely friend is the woodchuck eating his way through my vegtable garden. Trapping hasn’t worked yet with my Have a Heart. Yellow apples are all still there. I only caught the stray kittens so far. My 10 foot tall tomatoe plants have all been pulled down, the brussel sprouts never sprouted and the kale and swiss chard is mowed down. I do not have rabbits nor do I have deer. I see them coming across from my neighbors yard, pillaging then leaving to go home….

  8. Kittie says:

    I just returned from a hort./nursery show.
    A fellow there touted praying mantis eggs (put outside in bushes – each on hatches 50-250 ). He says they’ll hatch as soon as there are enough warm days & will be 1-1 1/2 inches long when japanese beetles emerge in June. They will then eat the beetles.
    Anyone have any experience…?

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Kittie. It is true that praying mantis will eat beetles of various kinds (and many other things) but hmmm…how to get the balance of beetles to mantis plus the timing right and insure the mantis eats every last “bad” bug? So it sounds theoretically plausible…but I am no animal trainer who manages to get even her cat to perform on command with precision. Will be interested to hear how you do with them.

  9. Deirdre says:

    The blossoms on my Franklinea haven’t opened yet, but when they do, the Japanese beetles will be there. lolling around and feasting. Soapy water always has worked well for me. If you’re grossed out when they fly around (and who wouldn’t be), try knocking them off your plants in early morning or in the evening, when they are less active and less likely to fly around.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Deirdre. Yes, perfect timing: early or late day when they are out of it. Good idea. Thanks for adding to the conversation, and hope to see you again soon.

  10. Andrew says:

    Oh, what a sore subject. Pole beans, and so far Neem oil has helped, but only marginally. I prefer the squishing method, myself, even to the point of sacrificing a leaf or two if necessary. My high score for one day is 22 mushed beetle bodies.

    Decreasing the grub population is difficult in a neighbourhood, though clandestine Milky Spore applications on the neighbour’s yard is becoming more and more of a possibility.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Andrew. Twenty-two is definitely an advanced practitioner. Good for you. I love the idea of sharing the Milky Spore; reminds me of those guerilla garden programs where they go from lot to lot in urban areas throwing wildflower seeds over the fence, rather than continue to look at weeds or debris. Go for it. Tee hee. (Actually, why not just offer to buy it for them, too, if it’s in the budget?) See you soon again.

  11. Bobbi says:

    Hello – I am a novice at the computer and while looking for the Obituary of Conseulo Vanderbilt Balsans birth March 2, 1877 – death in Southhampton, Long Island, New York Dec. 6, 1964, somehow I got on the Garden Archives. I was interested in the methods for Japanese Beetles. They are chewing up my Hibiscus and I have used the “soapy water method” also. I picked 45 off, there were several clustered together, made it much easier.

    Early morning when they are on the screen, my husband flicked them off from the inside and I stepped on them outside. That worked also, early morning they are not as frisky and do not fly away. Very interesting that I happened onto this. I may never find it again, but, I have found many things while searching for information on Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt. I have even happened on someone doing research on the Vanderbilt Family.

    The computer is marvelous, but, I still find things by accident and then can never get back to it. I will have to make a note of this Website, so I can revisit. Thanks, happy beetle hunting, any other suggestions would be most welcome.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Bobbi. Just bookmark us to save the address. Not sure if you are Mac or PC, so can’t tell you exactly where the bookmarks are located (on my Mac, they’re right up top). Such a good story of how you found us, and I do hope you do so again soon.

  12. Joan says:

    I am OBSESSED with picking these beetles! They took up residence on my grapevines several years ago and have become worse each year. This year I did buy some nematodes from Gardens Alive, which seemed to help early on, but now they’re back. Nothing to do but vigilantly comb through the vines each day with soapy water in hand. I hope this will reduce the populations for next year. Yech!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Joan. Here, too, though I use a stand of ostrich fern as the lure and pick them off from there. Ugh, but strangely satisfying, too. Guess I don’t have to convince you! See you soon again.

  13. Donnie says:

    Hello All,

    I’ve been reading the comments on the loathsome JB’s. I am from southeastern Tennessee, near Chattanooga, and we get every kind of bug imaginable in our long summer swelter, including JB’s. Two years ago I had a very successful organic garden, but I had a big JB problem. I did the soap bucket drowning technique, and I guess you could say I was successful, getting dozens everyday.

    The key, as one person has already mentioned, is to take the battle to them in the early morning. They are lethargic then. I went out there everyday and knocked them down from my green beans and grape vines into their bubbly deaths with insouciant delight, but everyday there would be there again as sure as morning breath, sitting on the leaves, doing it “buggy style.” So this is what happened…

    After a while I began to realize that eating is just an afterthought to the mating, that they really weren’t eating that much leaf mass. Then I discovered, at least in my case, that they weren’t bothering the fruit of the plants at all. So one day I just said the heck with it and quite thinking about them. They wound up eating maybe 20% of leaf mass on both plants, but I had a bumper crop of both grapes and green beans. I skipped a year, but I’m back this year. So are the JB’s.

    So far I haven’t lifted a finger and my grape vines are so heavy they’re sagging down from the trellises and it’s all I can do to keep them off the ground. The green beans are flowering right on time, too, and the JB’s roll on(and off) with a Zen-like tranquility. Maybe they are here to teach us that preemptive war is not only not necessary, but futile. Either that,or how to copulate on the fly.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Donnie. Sort of “plant one for yourself and one for the bugs/animals” kind of approach, huh? :) I knock them into the soapy water and let them pretty much destroy a stand of ostrich fern that look great in spring but then the beetles latch onto…and they pretty much leave the other stuff alone between the two things (some drowning and offering a lure for them to feast on).

      Hope to see you soon again; thanks for your comment.

      Welcome, Marina. I had not heard about this before being available in a size geared for us homeowners, but have seen it listed for various beetles (like cucumber beetles) as well in Integrated Pest Management sites for farming, etc. Thanks to your tip, I found it listed at the Gardens Alive catalog, under the name Surround, in a manageable homeowner type of product. Thank you!

  14. cathy says:

    Has anyone used the systemic Bayer pest killer………It used to work in my old yard but haven’t seen much help in my new large yard…….Also I can’t squish them on my Fruit trees……….Although I too strangely enjoy this method on smaller plants………I am going to try the milky spore……and soap dish when they cleverly do the drop and roll

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cathy. No chemicals used here — not pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers — so no, I would never use their product (or similar ones from Ortho or whomever else among the loayers in the garden chemical arena). I have never thought they were safe. Guess we will be drowning beetles in unison as summer wears on, right? :)

  15. Jenny says:

    This was helpful, thank you. I also kept reading about ground up bone meal (diatomaceous earth) but never found any food-grade non-pesticide kind. So frustrating to read about a solution and then for it not to exist! This is my first year in the struggle, and I was told too late that I asked for it by planting raspberries. Can I do anything between now and next late spring to decrease the population?

  16. Linda Pastorino says:

    Hi Margaret

    I’m happy to report that the japanese beetle poppulation seems to be less this year on my property probably due to the dryness and heat. I saw them a month earlier than usual however they are no longer around. this is the first season in four that there have not been masses of them here. They did again as always start on the persicaria however the flowers are not eaten this year and my roses that bloomed were eaten and now are being left alone. I will be interested in that new pathogen when it’s released for use so keep us posted please!

    I also trapped my first ground hog of the season today. They have been laying waste my vegitable garden for the first time this year and have not been able to keep them at bay even with the natural sprays I used for them which worked years before. I have found several new tunnels so today the “have a heart ” worked and I caught one of the four family members. I let them go in parks which we are not supposed to do but then again it is better than letting them have their way with the harvest and or a residential area. They are also undermining stone walls and foundations. Try a rabbit size trap, they work it’s just a pain to know where to drop them off.

    love getting your e mail each week!

    1. Margaret says:

      @LInda: Thanks for the kind words…and yes, I am having more rabbits, woodchucks, etc. here, too — time for the Havahart traps. Good luck with yours!

  17. Mackenzie Carpenter says:

    There’s a reason why roses do their first and best flush of bloom in May and early June here in Pittsburgh… because the JBs aren’t around to destroy them! Can you imagine if they were? Too horrible to contemplate….

    As it is, I tried milky spore but it didn’t really do anything. We live near a city park with lots of green lawn.. so no matter what I do, the grubs will find some place to grow and then they’ll fly over into my garden. So I just stopped worrying about it, the garden still looks great.

  18. Todd says:

    Pepper Creek Greenhouse, Rockford, Il.
    We use the soapy water in the vase method at our greenhouse. I find that twice a day, early morning and late afternoon, works well to have them be less likely to fly. Notice though that they prefer to drop down first than fly away 90% of the time; so hold the vase imeadiatly below the flower you are cleaning, try not to disturb the rest of the plant and gently nudge, or directly pluck the beetle off and into the vase of water.
    The soap is used to break the water’s surface tension, so just a drop or two is all you need, without it they could hit the water, bounce off and fly away.
    Just a note, any cluster of beetles on a leaf or flower will have released an attractive perfume to bring other beetles to the party, so remove and dispose of any flower or leaf you find 2 or more feeding on.

  19. Ben says:

    I’m in Central Missouri, and this season has been hot and dry. It started early and has been brutally consistant. Consequently, JB are a crazy swarm this year. They’ve decimated my willow, dhalia, Prunus sp., and grapes. I’ve kept up a bi-weekly regiment of neem, but that seems to only be working for other pests.

    24 hours ago, I hung two of those trap bags. I’ve emptied them 3 times already, and collected over 5 lbs. of sun baked beetle bodies.

    I know in the years after large locust or mormon locust swarms, the soil is particularly productive. any reason not to compost them into my garden? there shouldn’t be any eggs/larva if they’ve roasted in the sun in their bags right?

    also, i think the soap just coats their wings so they can’t crawl out and fly away from the water.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Ben. You’re probably right about the soap’s purpose. Thanks. I have been drowning them for days suddenly, knocking them into the jar I keep at the ready — they are eating my canna leaves, damn them. I don’t see why not to compost the bodies (though 5 pounds sounds quite shocking! what a haul!). :)

  20. Mike says:

    We are putting a tablespoon of dawn soap on a gallon sprayer and hosing the plants and beetles in the evening. Right before sunup, it looks like no effect but as soon as the sun hits them they drop. My wife said she read somewhere that it works and it seems to. Try it and post your results. Maybe something else is happening.

  21. Sharon says:

    I’m picking a dozen of these off my prized rose nightly – it’s the most robust and nicest smelling of the 8 I have. They have been mating on the roses, and eating the petals. Raspberries were early this year, so they didn’t have a chance to swarm on those like they normally do. I gave up on the bug bags, as I was ending up with 10 lbs of bettle soup by the end of the season…

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