Ja­panese Bee­tle Bat­tle

Pro­tect your gar­dens and green­ery from the re­lent­less on­slaught!

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Al Ray­chard

Pro­tect your gar­dens and green­ery from the re­lent­less on­slaught!

Grow­ing along my front porch, a Vir­ginia creeper rises up from the ground 10 feet be­low. It twists around a 6x6-inch porch sup­port, and once reach­ing the rail­ing, branches are trained left and right to pro­vide the south­fac­ing porch deck some pro­tec­tive shade dur­ing the sum­mer.

Hon­estly, the plant isn’t very spec­tac­u­lar or showy. Once the leaves emerge from their buds in May, small, in­con­spic­u­ous clus­ters of green­ish flow­ers fol­low in June. These ma­ture into dark blue, grape-like berries in late sum­mer that last into fall and are rel­ished by house wrens, robins and other birds that dare to light close to the house for an au­tumn feast.

Be­yond that at the bot­tom of the hill is our veg­etable gar­den. Dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, it’s filled with rows of green and yel­low beans, beets, squash and other veg­eta­bles.

Sur­round­ing the house it­self are rock gar­dens filled with var­i­ous flow­ers and shrubs, some pur­chased, but most gifted by friends and rel­a­tives. Built over the years, they are part of our ru­ral utopia. We take pride in what we’ve built and work hard to main­tain it, but it has been a bat­tle.

The Bat­tle Be­gins

When we pur­chased our prop­erty, built the house, moved in from town and started land­scap­ing, we had no idea bat­tling deer, wood­chucks and other wildlife, as well as in­sects, would be part of the ru­ral rou­tine. Sur­pris­ingly, wildlife proves eas­ier to deal with than var­i­ous in­sects. One of the worst to cope with is the Ja­panese bee­tle, Popil­lia japon­ica.

Where They Came from and Where They Live

As their name im­plies, these iri­des­cent, cop­pery/green-col­ored lit­tle bug­gers are na­tives of Ja­pan. The first adults ap­peared on Amer­i­can soil in 1916 at a nurs­ery in New Jersey, be­lieved to have ar­rived as grubs in a ship­ment of iris bulbs a few years ear­lier. In Ja­pan, the bee­tles cause lit­tle dam­age and are con­trolled by nat­u­ral preda­tors, but Amer­ica was new ter­ri­tory, and with no nat­u­ral de­fense mea­sures, the bee­tles quickly moved west, north and south.

By 2002, two years af­ter we moved into our new home and started land­scap­ing and

en­joy­ing the fruits of labors, Ja­panese bee­tles had be­come es­tab­lished in nearly ev­ery state east of the Mis­sis­sippi. To­day, they have firmly ex­tended claim to ar­eas in at least eight states in the Mid­west and are push­ing west­ward. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Ja­panese bee­tles are now one of the most wide­spread and dam­ag­ing pests of turf, land­scape and or­na­men­tal plants in the United States as well as fruit, gar­den and field crops, with dam­ages and losses es­ti­mated at more than $450 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

What They Eat and How They Dam­age

As we quickly dis­cov­ered, Ja­panese bee­tles don’t dis­crim­i­nate when it comes to eat­ing. Over a few years, we toiled putting in ev­ery­thing from fruit trees and berry bushes to or­na­men­tal shrubs to peren­nial flower beds, not to men­tion a veg­etable gar­den. Ja­panese bee­tles thanked us and took ad­van­tage of it all.

We didn’t know it at the time, but out of ne­ces­sity and frus­tra­tion, we learned from our lo­cal ex­ten­sion ser­vice that the pests are known to feast on some 300 dif­fer­ent plant species. On their im­pres­sive menu are some of the most pop­u­lar and de­sir­able fruit trees, or­na­men­tal shrubs and flow­ers and gar­den crops.

In the adult stage, Ja­panese bee­tles are es­pe­cially drawn to beans, grapes, pep­pers, toma­toes, rasp­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, black­ber­ries, straw­ber­ries and ap­ple, pear and peaches trees. The adults will also eat the fruits and berries of these plants. Much to my wife’s cha­grin, roses are also a fa­vorite tar­get. In se­vere cases, the larva or grub will dine on the roots of these plants and many oth­ers. Chances are if you grow it, or if it grows nat­u­rally on your prop­erty, Ja­panese bee­tles will take ad­van­tage of it.

Typ­i­cally, adult in­sects be­gin eat­ing along the up­per­most part of a plant in full

“Ja­panese bee­tles are now one of the most wide­spread and dam­ag­ing pests of turf, land­scape and or­na­men­tal plants in the United States … with dam­ages and losses es­ti­mated at more than $450 mil­lion an­nu­ally.”

sun, con­sum­ing the green­ery down­ward be­tween the veins, even­tu­ally turn­ing the leaves into a brown­ish, lace-like skele­ton. If left unat­tended, the en­tire plant be­comes en­tirely or par­tially skele­tonized, if not de­fo­li­ated.

In the grub stage, along with or­na­men­tals, cer­tain shrubs and many gar­den plants and the roots of grass and sod are es­pe­cially sus­cep­ti­ble. As a re­sult, the plant’s abil­ity to take in wa­ter and nu­tri­ents is re­duced, es­pe­cially in hot, dry weather, even­tu­ally turn­ing en­tire patches brown.

Fight­ing Back

It took us a few years to re­al­ize some im­por­tant things about Ja­panese bee­tles. One is that in­fes­ta­tion is worse dur­ing some years than oth­ers. Mild win­ters with lessthan-av­er­age snow cover and soils that freeze more deeply fol­lowed by dry, warm springs seem to re­duce grub and adult num­bers.

Adult fe­male bee­tles in­stinc­tively lay their eggs in ar­eas with ad­e­quate mois­ture to en­sure off­spring sur­vival. And while older grubs are more tol­er­ant of deeper freezes and dry spring con­di­tions, even trav­el­ing deeper into the soil if nec­es­sary, in gen­eral, bee­tles in the grub stage seem to pro­lif­er­ate in nor­mal soil con­di­tions, and can with­stand high lev­els of soil mois­ture dur­ing wet springs. We’ve come to ap­pre­ci­ate those rare mild win­ters and drier springs. But, we can’t al­ways de­pend on Mother Na­ture to co­op­er­ate.

Another thing we’ve learned is both grubs and adult bee­tles cause dam­age, and controlling one life stage may not prevent dam­age from the other. In fact, it sel­dom does. Both must be dealt with separately, and be­cause Ja­panese bee­tles uti­lize such a wide va­ri­ety of plants (of­ten in large num­bers), com­pletely erad­i­cat­ing them is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. There are, how­ever, ways to min­i­mize the dam­age and fight back.

Pre­fer­ring not to rely on chem­i­cals un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, our first at­tempts at bat­tling adult bee­tles in­cluded at­tract­ing more birds to our prop­erty. Over time, sev­eral feed­ers, bird baths, a cou­ple of small foun­tains and nest­ing boxes were placed, and we planted shrubs and or­na­men­tals re­cep­tive to birds. Hon­estly, it’s dif­fi­cult to say whether the ad­di­tions have made an im­pact. I be­lieve they do dur­ing years of low in­fes­ta­tion when nat­u­ral foods are less abun­dant, and dur­ing years of drought when birds flock to our wa­ter sources. But, they cer­tainly haven’t hurt, and have added a level of aes­thetic ap­peal to our prop­erty.

We dis­cov­ered one help­ful thing by mis­take while deal­ing with deer and other wildlife in­vad­ing our veg­etable gar­den. Dur­ing our se­cond plant­ing sea­son, our beans were do­ing fine and were about ready to flower, but one morn­ing while vis­it­ing the gar­den, we dis­cov­ered the tops had been munched on overnight. The en­tire outer row looked like a freshly trimmed hedge. Be­fore it got out of hand, we started us­ing float­ing row cov­ers, leav­ing them on each day un­til the crops ma­tured, tak­ing them off dur­ing the day and re­plac­ing them at night when flow­er­ing. It solved the deer prob­lem, and even though adult bee­tles were still ev­i­dent, the plants were ma­ture enough to pro­duce.

Light-weight row cover ma­te­rial is rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive and easy to use, is read­ily avail­able at gar­den-sup­ply stores, and can be used on fruit trees, bram­ble bushes and even flow­ers. Fur­ther, it will not dam­age ten­der, young plants and will hin­der sun scald­ing.

Another mea­sure we’ve taken is to con­tin­u­ally plant shrubs, trees and

“… both grubs and adult bee­tles cause dam­age, and con­tolling one life stage may not prevent dam­age from the other.”

(above) Soon af­ter emerg­ing in June, July and Au­gust, de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, adult Ja­panese bee­tles start mat­ing. Eggs are de­posited into the soil where they de­velop into grubs, emerg­ing as adults the fol­low­ing year.

(op­po­site) An adult Ja­panese bee­tle on a daisy PHO­TOS BY AL RAY­CHARD

(above) Row cov­ers are an in­ex­pen­sive method of re­duc­ing bee­tle dam­age.

(be­low) Dur­ing pe­ri­ods of low in­fes­ta­tion, Ja­panese bee­tle traps can help con­trol dam­age, but must be placed prop­erly away from plants to be pro­tected. Be­cause Ja­panese bee­tles travel sev­eral miles to find food, traps can also draw more bee­tles to your yard.

(above) Adult Ja­panese bee­tles mate on a lily. (be­low) Adult Ja­panese bee­tles will feed on more than 300 dif­fer­ent plants, trees and shrubs, par­tic­u­larly grapes, one of their fa­vorite tar­gets.

PHO­TOS BY AL RAY­CHARD

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