Japanese Beetles ... they're every gardener's nightmare. These pests (similar in appearance to a June bug) have been in the United States since 1916, supposedly carried into our country inadvertently on plants from Japan. Since their introduction, they have been slowly making their way across the United States. I can't think of an insect I detest more and they arrived in full force to my Midwest garden about four years ago. At the gardening clubs I belong to, each avid gardener can tell you the exact date they saw their first beetle (and what plant it was destroying).
The adult beetle dines on more than 300 plants, with its favorites including: roses, grapes, crape myrtles, fruit trees, berry brambles, linden trees and Japanese maples. They defoliate the plants or trees by eating the tissue between the veins of the leaf, leaving the leaf with a lacy, skeletal appearance. The larvae, or white grubs, feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil (they're especially fond of turfgrass).
Control of these beetles is limited to a few options ...
- Hand-picking and destroying the beetle is the cheapest organic method, but with thousands of beetles present at one time this option is limited in its effectiveness.
- Plant selection: When possible, remove the beetles' host plants and replace with plants/trees that are not on their "favorites" list.
- Japanese beetle traps work by emitting a scent that allures the beetle to the trap. You'll end up with a bag full of beetles, but this method can actually attract more beetles to your area.
- Apply an insecticidal spray before their arrival and then reapply as needed when the adult beetles are present and active.
- Organic control (aimed at controlling the Japanese beetle grub) includes milky spore, nematodes and a naturally occurring bacteria (Btj) added to the soil. These methods are somewhat expensive, especially if they need to be applied to a large area. In most cases they take a few seasons to be effective, but once established they'll control the beetle infestation for several years.
I grow blackberries, raspberries and blueberries that I love and wouldn't you know, the Japanese beetles love them too. Last year for the first time, we had to use an insecticidal spray to control the beetles and protect our precious berries. This year, however, I have my beloved free-range chickens ... who have developed quite an appetite for berries and beetles. When I open the run in the morning, they make a beeline for the blueberry bushes, jumping for any berry or beetle they can reach. If I use a poisonous spray, I would be also be poisoning my chickens.
So what am I doing to control the beetles? Hand-picking ... and then feeding them to the chickens! If you can't handle a handful of squirming beetles then you can knock them off the leaves into a bowl of water. It makes a disgusting beetle-soup that the chickens love. I've read where some chicken keepers purposely put up beetle traps and use the beetles as a free organic chicken feed. Some even freeze the excess beetles to use as a protein supplement during the winter or offer them as a cold treat in the summer.
I have to admit, I enjoy watching the beetles meet their death and it makes me appreciate my chickens even more!
Though my older Buff Orpingtons seem to prefer the Japanese beetles on my blueberry bushes, my younger flock would rather jump for the berries. Here's a video of the little girls demonstrating their blueberry-picking techniques:
To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit ...the garden-roof coop.