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By Nash Black
For over 100 years farmers and gardeners have been plagued by a the summer invasion of Japanese Beetles. The iridescent copper and green bugs were first noticed in 1916, in this country, at a nursery near Riverton, NJ. Experts believe it may have been imported in the grub stage in a shipment to the nursery. There is no natural predator for the bug in this country. As it spread to other parts of New Jersey attempts were made by government officials to control it.
Chemicals were sprayed in a half-mile area around the heavly invested area. They tried killing the grubs by saturating grassy plots with diluted sodium cyanide, set traps, placed parts of the country under quarantines, imported beetle predators from Japan and even paid children for each quart of beetles they captured or killed.
These methods did not work – the beetles moved on to other places. Over the next 60 to 80 years they spread to most of the states east of the Mississippi River. Some western states tried to establish fierce eradication programs to combat this major agricultural pest before they became established, which is almost impossible.
A single beetle doesn’t eat much, but an invasion of them can cause considerable damage to crops and a home garden. They eat the soft tissue of a plants leaves between robbing the plant of it ability to make carbon dioxide necessary for its growth and survival.
There are few people today who do not recognize this famous garden plague whose life begins when the females mate, feed, and lay eggs during their two-day life cycle. Each female will lay 40 to 60 eggs at this time.
Many chemical defenses are dangerous and like antibiotics don’t know bad bugs from good bugs. Traps using flower and female scent seem to attract more beetles than they kill. Some gardeners have reported spraying infected plants with window cleaner – I’ve not tried it.
The following are some suggestions for plantings near your gardens that have been shown to be less attractive to the beetles.
Trees: red maple, redbud, tulip popular, dogwood, ash, sweet gum, magnolia, spruce, pine and northern red oak.
Bushes: boxwood, burning bush, forsythia, holly, lilac, yew, and arborvitae.
Flowers: begonia, coreopsis, larkspur, foxglove, hosta, impatiens, lantana, forget-me-nots, nasturtium, violets, and pansies.
One product does kill the larva – Milky Spore which contains a bacteria (bacilius popilae). Experiments have shown it kills the grub releasing new spores into the soil and remains in the soil for 10-15 years. Milky Spore is not affected by freezing, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or other lawn chemicals. It is harmless for food crops, around pools, and wells. It does not affect pets, fish, bees, other animals, plants, or humans. It may be found on the Internet or be carried by local garden centers.