Spring has sprung, and my plants have finally started to come back to life after a long winter’s nap! Nothing pleases me more than to walk through my yard at the end of the day to do a little bloom hunting and see which plants have leafed out. Unfortunately, not all my evening plant walks leave me feeling rosy.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are easily identified by their shiny, metallic-looking wings.

Photo Credit: Lee Ivy

Japanese Beetle damage

Do your leaves look like this? (If so, the Japanese beetle left its calling card.)

Photo Credit: Lee Ivy

Come summer, instead of a peaceful stroll through the garden, I often feel like I’m trapped in beetle-mania. Japanese beetles invade my landscape every year, making it difficult to enjoy many of my favorite plants. Once I spot the first one of the year, the battle’s on!

Japanese beetles are actually quite an attractive pest, and they’re fairly simple to identify, sporting shiny, metallic-green and copper wings. It’s also easy to tell when they make their debut, because their damage leaves a classic pattern on foliage. Because they’re chewing insects and eat the portion of the leaf between the veins, what’s left of the foliage typically resembles Grandma’s lace doilies hanging on branches. And leaves aren’t the only plant part in jeopardy – flowers are at risk for becoming a beetle meal, too. (Even though the pest doesn’t attack all plants, it does enjoy sampling from woody ornamentals, perennials, fruit trees and even some grasses.)

Sadly, Japanese beetle management is a little more difficult than simply identifying the culprit at hand. Even with a combination of methods, complete control is a challenge. But if the goal is to keep this pest’s damage to a minimum, there are a few methods worth trying:

Plants can be dusted or sprayed with chemicals labeled for Japanese beetle control, like carbaryl, imidacloprid and other multi-insect products. Since newly susceptible leaves and flowers continually emerge, dusting and spraying may feel like an ongoing (and never-ending) process. But to achieve the best control, you must be persistent and apply chemicals carefully and accurately according to the pesticide label!

Japanese beetle bag traps get a lot of press because they’re very successful at attracting beetles. The only thing to consider is that they may likely attract more beetles to your landscape than if you hadn’t had a bag at all. It’s completely up to you. If you do choose to use a beetle trap (or “beetle magnet,” as I call it), place it very far away from your plants. Beetles will make a beeline for the pheromone in the trap, but they won’t all make it to the bag – some will choose to dine on nearby leaves instead. Keeping the bag away from your plants can help take away the added risk of your foliage becoming a feast.

My personal favorite control method is only slightly effective, but it’s lots of fun: handpicking! My husband makes fun of me because I pick handfuls of beetles, shake them up (my feeble attempt to disorient them), roll them on the driveway like dice, then stomp till my heart’s content. It may not do much good in controlling the pests for a long period of time, but it sure is therapeutic! And if you’re not into the stomping part of my method, drop your picked beetles into a bucket of soapy water instead – that works, too.

And last but not least, what about those grubs? Yes, those same white grubs that can do damage to your lawn are actually the larval stage of Japanese beetle development. So it only seems logical that if we control the grubs, our beetle woes should be over, right? Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. Adult beetles fly in for their plant meals, so unless grubs are actually damaging your lawn, pesticide use for grub control is often an unnecessary overuse of chemicals.

The bottom line on Japanese beetle-mania and management: “All you need is love”…and patience. Love your plants, and be patient while employing the strategies you feel comfortable using and find most successful. I know it’s hard, because I’ve got no love for these beetles either. (Now where did I put my stomping shoes…?)