Public Enemy Number One

Horticulture, News
A favorite spot of the Japanese beetles
Showing off the size of a single beetle

Being at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens these past few weeks, I’ve been in awe of how beautiful and lush all our plants look. I might be a little biased, but many of the plants in the garden look better than I’ve seen anywhere else before. I must have been blinded by beauty and couldn’t see the problem that was looming in the near future: the Japanese beetles were about to emerge for the season. I’ve been bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and deer flies since working in Maine, but since the Japanese beetles are messing with my beloved plants, they are easily my biggest enemy in the pest world.

It seems impossible that I could forget about Japanese beetles being here because we have just as many flying around at home in Illinois. These beetles were accidentally introduced to North America in 1916 and have since been making their way across the country in a “wave-like” pattern. Montana Williams, another horticulture intern from Colorado, had actually never seen a Japanese beetle until just last week, since the bugs have not yet made it that far west. I have been hoping the wave would die out a bit and we would start getting fewer and fewer beetles. But alas, I will have to keep wishing.

So why do I hate Japanese beetles so much? It’s easy: They destroy beautiful plants for their feeding needs. We would try to get rid of the plants they think are the tastiest, but that’s much easier said than done. The beetles feed on more than 300 different plant species! One of the plants I’ve noticed they are very fond of are roses and they will tear them to unrecognizable shreds. Luckily, the beetles are very easy to spot with their iridescent bodies, so you will definitely know if you have a Japanese beetle problem.

Now here is the second reason I dislike these beetles so much: They are tricky to get rid of. I know of people who have tried different insecticides and sprays in the past, but they don’t seem to affect the Japanese beetles very much. As far as we know right now, they don’t have a predator that will get rid of them naturally either. This leads us to the best way to rid yourself of these nasty bugs: hand picking. Yes, grabbing live bugs is definitely not one of my favorite things to do but they cannot hurt you in any way.

We like to use the soapy water technique here since it is immediately effective. I’ll explain: Fill a bucket with soapy water and head to the most beetle-infested area of your garden. Grab the Japanese beetles and toss them right into the water. (Tip: If you see a big gathering of beetles, try to carefully tip the plant over top of the bucket and brush them off into it. I’ve noticed that if you touch the bugs and miss the first time, they will fall off the plant and get away. This way, the beetles will instead fall straight to their death.) I know this may seem like a tedious task, but it is really the most efficient way of ridding yourself of the beetles.

The purpose of this blog post is to tell you that you’re not alone. No, the beetles are not just attacking your plants out of spite; it’s happening to all of us. Unfortunately for everyone, Japanese beetles are here and it doesn’t seem like they’re going anywhere for a while. Here at the Gardens, we are doing our best to fight off this plague of awful beetles to save as many of our plants as we can. Even if it means killing Japanese beetles one by one every day, one beetle can make all the difference. 

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (July 14, 2013)