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How to Beat the Japanese Beetle

japanese-beetle-romanceHave you been visited by the Japanese beetle this year? If you’re wondering, “What’s a Japanese beetle?” you are very fortunate. They are rather lovely creatures if you view them with an artistic eye. Beautifully iridescent, metallic green and bronze, they glisten and shimmer in the sunlight. They are shaped like a fat oval, about 3/8 of an inch long, and they can devastate over 300 species of plants and shrubs. Ever since they were accidentally imported to the US, they have been a plague to gardeners – especially organic gardeners. They have no natural enemies here. Birds don’t eat them, spiders don’t try to catch them – but frogs and catfish will eat them if you throw them into your pond. They are creepy feeling in your hair and on your skin, but they don’t bite.

I have lived in Missouri for 9 years, and last year was the first time I had ever seen one of these beetles. I did not get excited when I saw them because I did not know how destructive they were, how long they would hang around, or that they would bring their friends and relatives to my yard’s “buffet.” After the hoard had invaded my garden for about a week, I leaned that they could be knocked into a container of water and drowned, because they are very poor swimmers.

This year, I saw them first on my large porcelain plant, which they quickly turned into porcelain lace. Being busy with company and projects, I did not pay a lot of attention to them at first, thinking that they could not be as bad as last year – wrong! Suddenly, they were seemingly everywhere. They discovered the roses – light pink first, then yellow, then red – delicious! Then, they moved on to the yummy apple, peach, cherry and apricot trees. Next, the tasty raspberries, blueberries, black berries, rose of Sharon, and crepe myrtle. The Japanese maple was gourmet food! Lacey leaves and beautiful shiny bugs were everywhere in less than a week! The beetles were no longer beautiful to me! They had definitely become my enemy.

Japanese Beetle Behavior

Here is what I have learned about Japanese beetles so far, in no special order:

• Adults live for 30-45 days and the female can lay eggs every day.
• The eggs become grubs in your lawn that emerge as adults in late June.
• Since you can’t tell a male from a female, you want to capture and destroy as many as you can, as soon as you can.
• They send out scouts who return to the hatchlings and say, “There’s a grand buffet over that hill, follow me!” Don’t let the scouts return to give the message!
• They are like teenagers on summer vacation – they will eat almost anything, like to sleep late, love to party with each other, and will often be found in clusters or together with a love interest.
• The easiest time to catch them is early in the morning or at dusk.
• They love to snuggle in the center of roses or any other flower, and they can be found on top of leaves or on the underside. You need sharp eyes.

My Method for Controlling the Japanese Beetle

You need to take action at the first sign of these beetles. Capture every single one that you can. I use a plastic 2-quart ice cream container. I fill it about 1/3 full with water, and add about 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap. I swish it around to make suds and head out on my search. The dish soap will break the surface tension of the water and the beetles will drown almost immediately under the bubbles.

I make at least two dedicated rounds a day, early in the morning and again at dusk. And I often grab any that I see whenever I go outside for another reason.

Always place the soapy container underneath them when you see them on a leaf – whether it is one beetle or a cluster. When startled, they always fall downward. Often you can just tip a leaf or nudge them with a finger and they will fall into the container. If there is a cluster, whack the branch or flower on the side of the container and they will all fall in. A few get lucky and fly away, but if they land on their back – they are a goner!

Pheromone Traps for the Japanese Beetle

There are pheromone traps for sale that can be used and may be effective if you use them properly. However, studies show that traps attract more beetles than are actually caught, as the beetles tend to settle on nearby plants. You might be tempted to place the traps nearby the area where the beetles are doing the most damage… DON’T DO IT!!! The goal is to draw the beetles away from your buffet, not towards it. Place traps in an area that does not have foliage you want to save. If you place them in the midst of your yard you will also attract your neighbor’s beetles! Place the traps around the perimeter of your yard, as far from the “buffet” as possible.

It may take a few hours before you have visitors, but soon the traps will be filling up. When the beetles fill the trap to the narrow part of the container, it is time to empty the trap. We dump ours into a 5 gallon bucket, and feed them to the catfish. I do not feed the soapy beetles to the catfish. You can just throw the full traps away, but that makes them a pretty expensive convenience. We just dump the beetles into some water in a bucket and swish the contents around. Traps come with an extra bag, so I put it on, and then rinse the used bag out and use it again next time.

Spraying to Control the Japanese Beetle

I have found that a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of liquid castile soap in one gallon of water, sprayed on my special plants, makes them less tasty but not entirely resistible. Next year I will try a homemade neem oil spray and add crushed, soaked, and strained garlic into the mix.

Some suggest letting the beetles “ferment” in the sun in water, then grind up the beetles, strain the slurry, and spray that on your plants. These beetles don’t like the smell of their dead friends. I’ve tried fermenting and dumping the bodies around my roses. I can smell it, but the beetles did not seem to care at all.

The Bottom Line

Getting rid of these beetles the organic way is time consuming. We have several acres and estimate that I spend at least 2 hours a day hunting “the bugs.” But I know that beetles prefer the real thing to a pheromone, so I want to catch and destroy as many as I can to reduce next year’s hatch.

This fall I will be trying either milky spore or parasitic nematodes on the lawn, in the hopes of reducing the grubs next season. If you are not an organic gardener, you can check with the Extension office to see what chemicals they recommend using to destroy the grubs and/or the adult beetles. But, do try to catch them in soapy water – you just might enjoy teaching these little guys to swim…


Thanks to Barbara Dahl for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each

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COMMENTS(16)

  • Cynthia says:

    I also use the soapy water in a bucket method. We haven’t used the traps for years for the reasons you mentioned, namely attracting your neighbor’s beetles. We sprayed the parasitic nematodes some years ago, and were very pleased with the results. We saw very few Japanese Beetles for several years, but they’ve been gradually increasing, and I’m back to using the soapy water this year. The problem is that my Rose of Sharon and Crepe Myrtle are too tall to reach them all, and I can’t keep up with them, so I really do need to spray the nematodes again.

  • The Japanese Beetles have been awful this year! I tried hand picking at first, but the sheer number of them was nearly impossible to control. I was considering using milky spores, however I’m concerned that they’ll just migrate back to my property next year. Like you said, all of my fruit trees and roses are nothing but lace, and the grapevines and raspberry bushes are covered. I set up those traps around the perimeter of my yard and caught a few, but not nearly enough to stop the invasion. Maybe a really cold winter will help kill the grubs. We’ve definitely gotta do something about them! Thanks for the article. 🙂

  • Chara says:

    Japanese Beatles are edible.

  • Rosemary says:

    Excellent article! We live in Canada by the St Lawrence River just across from Massena NY. Same story, saw a few beautiful beetles last year and have been overrun with them this year… everywhere… fruit trees, berry patch, Japanese Maple devoured, Rose of Sharon… funny, they don’t like my vegetable garden with all the asters and marigolds and garlic. Thank you for sharing our misery in this article and for helping us with some solutions. I had No idea they lay eggs every day! I thought they would lay eggs and then die… wishful thinking!

  • Darlene says:

    I read that 4 o’clock plants attract and kill Japanese Beetles. I didn’t learn of this until later in the growing season this year, so I bought some seeds and started some. They took a long time to germinate, almost a month and only two did germinate. So my 4 o’clocks are still small and haven’t flowered yet. It doesn’t appear that any Japanese beetles are eating them yet – maybe they will come when the flowers appear – hopefully they will still flower this season. I intent to start a bed of 4 o’clocks early next year. Still not sure if this actually works but it is worth a try.

  • Barbara Y MN says:

    We have these lovely critters here in parts of MN also. I also have been putting them in soapy water early in the morning and in the evening. And I do agree that the bags attract more bugs than I need. Seems like all the neighbors for 1 mile around didn’t have bugs while I did. So no more bags.

  • Diane says:

    I would love to read about a sure fire method to get rid of stink bugs. They are eating everything here in Tennessee. Great information and thank you.

  • StoneyB says:

    I’m way to lazy to make the soap trap and deal with it. I much prefer the catch and squeeze method. It gives me such a pleasure to return the favor to the beetles, but I do on occasion carry a small water jug to dunk them in. Didn’t know they were edible (Chara’s comment) but I’ll give it a try. I did have one on a blackberry that I didn’t notice when I popped it in my mouth while picking. It was so prickly that I thought I had been bitten. I didn’t complete the deal. I do find it amazing that they seem to go from one crop to the next in some mysterious sequence. Roses to beans, to berries, to kiwis and back to roses if I don’t stop the process.

  • Diane says:

    “Some suggest letting the beetles “ferment” in the sun in water, then grind up the beetles, strain the slurry, and spray that on your plants.” That’s the answer right there. I have done this and it is the quickest way to get rid of them. Fermenting and dumping on the ground doesn’t work.

    If you spray, they leave to find tastier pastures and don’t lay eggs in yours.

  • Toni Jo says:

    Chickens love Japanese beetles and will eagerly eat them dead or alive.

  • nancy says:

    I used neem oil and castile soap on my organic garden this year to help fight the Japanese Beetles, but I also picked them off and put them in soapy water… they really ruined my garden this year.

  • Bill says:

    I have had a problem with Japanese beetles this year in Kentucky, and after much reading and a few experiments I’ve found a solution. I’m sure it’s not organic, but it doesn’t appear to harm the plants or any other insects. I’ve been using a level teaspoon of dishwasher detergent dissolved in 10 to 12 ounces of rain water in a spray bottle, and it gets rid of them (I assume they are being killed, but can’t be sure). At least once each day I spray the adults I see, and their numbers are reduced.

  • Deb says:

    Years ago, I discovered through trial and error, that planting garlic cloves in the ground – not too deeply – all around your plants, keeps away Japanese Beetles!! Tried it around my 6-8 foot Tall Lilies. They did not touch them. Tried with roses, too. I would try this with any plant they try to invade!!!

  • Iris Weaver says:

    Very helpful! thank you so much for sharing what you have learned.

  • Sondra Dudley says:

    I got started going over the articles and by the end of the things to me read, I realize I’ll be here for a while. Thanks for all the info.

  • cat says:

    Japanese beetles don’t like eugenol (from cloves) or geranium oil, so you could look for insecticides that contain those. Since both cloves and geraniums are anti-parasitic herbs, then planting antiparasitic plants with your other plants (companion planting) would be a good strategy. Another strategy is to use antiparasitic/antibacterial herb teas or essential oils with the water and soap. Good ones to add to the garden: wormwood, yarrow, garlic, geranium, mugwort (use a planter), lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and tansy. Neem essential oil is another one that can be added with soap and water in a spray bottle.

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