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How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

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There’s no more disappointing feeling as a gardener to come outside to check on your plants, only to find them riddled with holes and suffering. And while there are many different types of garden pests out there, one of the most aggressive can be the Japanese beetle.

These plant-loving bugs can devour a plant if given the opportunity. So what’s a gardener to do to learn how to get rid of Japanese beetles?

japanese beetles eating a leaf

How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

If you have ornamentals or vegetables in your yard or garden then chances are you have experienced the wrath of the Japanese beetle. I distinctly remember growing up and going to a friends house to play.

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Hanging in her backyard was this hourglass-shaped bag hanging on a stick that would occasionally move. We would scream because of course that’s what girls do. I knew there were bugs in that bag, but that’s as far as my nerve would let me get.

Now as a gardener, I easily recognize a Japanese beetle trap. Japanese beetles originated in Japan, and like other things, made their way to New Jersey in 1916. Now, they’re pervasive all across the United States. They can be a highly invasive species that loves ornamental plants and certain types of vegetables.

Understanding these invaders is a good start to getting rid of them, all without chemical pesticides. (Interested in a complete guide of Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden? Click here.)

The Life Cycle of Japanese Beetles

To learn how to get rid of Japanese beetles, you have to first understand how they live. Once you begin to see them on your precious roses the truth is they have already been around for a while. In fact, Japanese beetle larva over winters in the ground. (They look a lot like grubs.)

In the summer, as the weather begins to warm, they slowly make their way up to the surface and emerge early to mid summer. And your plants and flowers are ripe for the eating. (photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org)

japanese beetle grub

Japanese beetles can inflict double-damage. The larvae can feed on the roots of plants beneath the ground, and once the beetles emerge, they can devour leaves and fruit in no time. In fact, Japanese beetles can simply leave skeletons of leaves after they’re finished snacking.

So now that you know that Japanese beetles can be year-long pests, what can you do to take care of this problem without covering your yard with harsh chemicals and pesticides?

Natural Pest Control for Japanese Beetles

As with all natural pest control methods, keeping your Japanese beetle population in check is a multi-step process. In my Master Gardener class, we learned that all pest control is referred to as Integration Pest Management. It’s virtually impossible to rid your yard of certain pests entirely, but you can manage them.

Since adult female Japanese beetles do lay eggs in your yard or flower bed for next year’s generation, you want to prevent them from making it that far. If you can help eliminate them before they have a chance to repeat the cycle then your next season will be that much easier. So what are some ways you can do this?

  • When you begin to see the Japanese beetles on your plants and flowers, apply Neem oil spray. Neem oil is a natural product from the neem tree, and if you can spray the bugs early enough, you can prevent them from being able to complete their life cycle and go into the ground. The bugs must come in contact with the neem oil. (Wondering about other uses for Neem oil in the garden? Check out my post on how to use neem oil in the garden.)
  • Another technique that you can use to try to get rid of Japanese beetles is to use companion plants to repel them. Never underestimate the power of companion planting. Several plants that seem to repel Japanese beetles are
    • catnip
    • garlic
    • garlic chives
    • chives
  • In our front flower bed where we have several rosebushes, I actually planted onions and garlic this fall. It was more of an edible landscape plan than a pest control plan, but it has worked double duty. We haven’t had any issues with Japanese beetles so far, and the garlic growing in the front flower bed actually looks attractive. Chives are a beautiful herb to grow, and it’s a bonus that they repel multiple varieties of pests. They blossom with a beautiful purple blooms that would complement any shade of rose. So consider these companion plants as a method of preventing Japanese beetles. 
  • Another method you could implement is hand picking the beetles. This is time-consuming, but virtually guarantees the beetles are unable to lay eggs in the ground. Keep a bucket of soapy water nearby, put on your garden gloves, and simply pick up the beetles and drop them in the soapy water. This definitely prevents them from being able to reproduce and go back into the ground.

What about those hanging beetle bags?

And what about those beetle bags that I remember from my childhood? Are they a good technique for getting rid of japanese beetles? Well, it seems that trapping those beetles in a bag does stop their life cycle, but unfortunately, it also can draw more Japanese beetles to your yard.

This is surely not what you want. So I suggest leaving the bag at the store and instead of grabbing that bottle of Neem oil and a good pair of garden gloves

Japanese beetle bag from spectracide

But if time is limited and you’re overrun with Japanese beetles, there’s no shame in using a bag to help get a head start on next year. You can snag one from your local hardware store or from Amazon and call it done. There are several varieties out there, so choose what’s best for you. 

Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden

Are you interested in other ways to keep garden pests away without the use of harsh chemicals? My complete guide Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden has tips, prevention, and natural pesticides to help you have a thriving garden while still protecting your backyard ecosystem. 

I love the fact that there are so many options available to gardeners to help us control pests and can do so in a way that doesn’t hurt pollinators, our soil, and other animals that are a benefit in the garden. 

I’d love to know if you’ve used a different method to deal with Japanese beetles in the garden. Have a great weekend and happy gardening!

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