Saturday, July 12, 2014

Japanese beetle is the new thistle

Last summer when I visited my Mom in Wellington, Ohio, I pulled about 1,500 thistles from her yard.  This year the thistle population is down -- having more to do with a springtime "weed and feed" application than my attempt at thistle dismissal, I imagine -- but her property is infested with Japanese Beetles. Hundreds of of them. Maybe thousands.
Mom tells me since she moved to the farm in 1945 she has never seen this particular bug. I've never seen a Japanese Beetle before, either (they haven't made it west of the Mississippi so we don't  have them in Utah -- yet) and at first couldn't identify the clumsy pests whizzing around my head, flying into the side of the house, and then seeming to almost accidentally land on plants. I thought "Gee, these bugs are actually kind of pretty," as they have iridescent copper bodies and green heads.  But good thoughts quickly evaporated when I realized how voraciously they were chowing down on Mom’s plants.  The larvae live in lawns and eat the roots of grass, so they kill lawns, too. 
After some research I put up two pheromone-baited traps; some claim pheromone traps make the problem worse by attracting even more insects, but we thought we'd give them a try.  I’ve also been hand picking bugs and sprayed the rose and some low-hanging tree leaves with an insecticide. I hate insecticides and have never used them on my own plants, but the bugs are so thick I felt compelled to make a careful application.

My Ohio brother and sister-in-law tell me the best way to knock these pests in the head is to treat the lawn with milky spore, which will kill the larvae -- but that can't be done until next spring.

In the meantime, I’m catching beetles. I’d rather pull thistles.
Damage to my Mom's ornamental plum tree after just three days of beetle chomping. The miniature lilac bush to the immediate right is completely unscathed as Japanese beetles only eat certain plants.
A threesome (in more than one sense of the word, it appears) of Japanese beetles on my Mom's linden tree. So far they are eating the leaves of her ornamental purple plums, a rose bush, and this linden.  Supposedly the beetles like hibiscus too,  but we're hoping they don't touch Mom's beautiful Kopper King.

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