Every gardener who has ever dealt with Japanese Beetles loathes them. Every gardener who hasn’t dealt with them fears them. They are most definitely a pest.
Each summer Japanese Beetles emerge from the ground and begin their voracious decent upon gardens everywhere – chomping away at our beautiful flowers, food, and plants. While they were once contained to the eastern part of the United States, they have now begun to move west and are becoming pests for many American gardeners. Japanese Beetles are not native insects to the USA; they have no natural predator here like they do in Japan. This is why they are such a problem for us…there is nothing here to eat them and keep the natural predator-prey cycle going.
Many so-called gardening experts will encourage new gardeners to treat their beetle infestation with harsh and harmful chemicals like Sevin – however, this dangerous for several reasons. First, while Sevin may indeed kill your Japanese Beetles, it may also kill beneficial insects we want to keep around the garden. Sevin can and will make animals around your home sick if they come in contact with it. (Also, it should be kept away from small children and humans!) Last but certainly not least, Sevin is a harsh chemical we obviously wouldn’t want to consume – so we don’t want to risk it getting washed into our food garden or on our food crops and plants.
There are better, natural ways to eliminate Japanese Beetles.
- Buying and using Japanese Beetle traps is one possible solution, but they are hard to manage. They often fill up quickly and lure in more beetles than they can hold. You will need to keep a close eye on the traps and put out several. You might want to order an entire case of traps. Not to mention, trap bags full of dead beetles rotting in the sun are very, very smelly.
- Hand picking. You can pick the beetles off by hand as you see them on your plants – but this is tiresome and tedious work. If you choose this method, you should kill them after picking them off by drowning them in a bucket of water. Do NOT kill them by stomping on them or crushing them as this emits a pheromone that can actually attract in more beetles! Perform this chore daily to keep chronic and large infestations at bay.
- Red Cedar Oil. Remember your grandparents who stored their sweaters in cedar drawers to keep the moths away? The same principle applies here. You can buy natural sprays made with red cedar oil online or at specialty gardening stores, or you can make your own. The red cedar oil method is especially effective on roses.Make your own recipe #1: Take 2-3 red cedar planks (about a foot long) and put them in a large 2-5 gallon bucket. You can cut them to make sure they fit in the bucket. Pour hot water over the planks and let them steep in the sun for 24 hours. Make sure the wood is fully immersed in the hot water at all times. After steeping, pour the liquid into a clean sprayer and apply to your beetles.Make your own recipe #2: Buy a small bottle of red cedar oil and add 30-40 drops of it to 16 ounces of pure water. Add to your clean sprayer and apply. (You may want to adjust strength.)
- Vacuum them away. Using a shop vac or handheld vac, suck the beetles up just like you would dust bunnies! Make sure you empty the canister and kill them in a bucket of water afterwards or you may keep going in circles.
- Try a potion of cloves and hot pepper. Many farmers and old-time gardeners swear by this method. Add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic and a few crushed hot peppers to a pint of water. Add in a drop of vegetable oil or dishwashing soap. Mix and spray on the plants early in the morning. Some finer gardening shops also sell garlic sprays for this very purpose – but be careful to make sure there are no chemicals or toxins added before buying.
- Bring in the birds and ducks. It is said that ducks love to eat Japanese Beetles and some birds, like Starlings, do also. However, most of us don’t want to raise ducks for this single purpose. You can, however, place birdbaths and feeders near beetle infested areas to entice them to eat a few “extra snacks” of beetles along the way. It certainly couldn’t hurt, and most gardeners are bird lovers anyway!
- Use smart garden design where possible. If you can, place your fruit and rose plants (that Japanese Beetles love) as far away as possible from large parcels of lawn.
Combining several of the above options is your best bet to dealing with Japanese Beetle infestations naturally and organically.
Lastly, remember the organic gardener’s golden rule – insect problems are always much worse in non-organic gardens, because the balance of nature is severely out of whack. Whatever you do, and no matter how tempted you might be, stay away from chemical fertilizers, sprays, and treatments. The natural route is more challenging work indeed, but it is better for everyone – plants, animals, and the planet.