Garden Friends and Foes – Part I

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We’ve all been there.

You wake up, make yourself a cup of coffee and head down to your newly planted garden, excited and anxious to see how much it’s grown over the last 12 hours since the last time you visited. You walk up to your eggplant starts to see if they’ve started pushing out those beautiful lavender nightshade blooms and  you stop dead in your tracks.

You’re bewildered.

How could this have happened? Why, just last night your Black Beauty’s and your Caspers we’re fine, and now, overnight, they look like Sonny Corleone’s bullet-riddled 1940 Lincoln Coupe.

Upon closer inspection, you can see exactly how. There’s a tiny, minuscule,  black savage of an insect boring through that foliage like there’s no tomorrow (which for that bug, theres unfortunately 45-60 more tomorrows). You’re new to gardening so you have no idea about this little beast. You probably assume it’s some kind of aphid because that’s all you ever hear about.

Fuming, you do some research to first, find out what it is and second, how to get rid of it.

Flea beetles on eggplant.
Source.

We have all been there.

Unfortunately for our ancestors, Google didn’t exist. In fact, it didn’t even exist when our parents first got into gardening. If they didn’t have their own parents knowledge to fall back on, research, for them, was a little more time consuming and costly.

Fortunately, for us, Google does exist and no quicker than you’ve rattled “black bug on eggplant” into Google does it answer: “How to get rid of flea beetles”. In fact, there’s even a video of it. Not just a wall of text. Someone took the time to crate a short film about it! This is the amazing thing about the internet. All of the information you need for the situation you’re currently facing is right at your fingertips.

Unfortunately, you’re going to be googling a lot more during the growing season if you’re new to gardening and have no idea what to expect when it comes to garden pests. Chances are, you’ll probably just start to kill any bug you see, and this is what you definitely don’t want to do, because guess what? Some of those bugs are your friends. Some of those bugs do the killing for you.

Thus begins a series on garden friends and foes.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to outline some of the more common garden friends and foes for you so that the next time you’re on a raging insect killing spree, you stop and think back to what we’ve taught you.

If you can’t seem to recall the information, it’s going to be turned into a permanent page for future reference of the included information right here.

So, while we’re on the topic of flea beetles, why don’t I finish?

Garden Foe: Flea Beetles

Identification

You’ll know when you have flea beetle issues by the tiny holes riddling the foliage of the plant. Amongst those holes you’ll probably actually see the little guys, though they are more active at night. They can be black, brown, bronze or striped are are only 1/10 of an inch long. Flea beetles tend to munch on the foliage of potato, tomato, cole crops (cabbage family), corn, beans and beets and they especially love eggplant. They’ll jump just like fleas at any sign of disturbance.

Of the plants they prefer, Flea beetles feed both on the roots in early spring as larvae and the foliage til July or so as adults. They generally stick to newly planted seedlings but are sometimes known to go for more established plants. However, they cause less damage and stress to these adult plants.

Prevention + Treatment

The key with flea beetles is to take preventative measures. The first course of action is to plant mature seedlings. This will ensure that if you do end up with an infestation, the plants are strong enough to combat it.

If you are transplanting younger seedlings, we recommend treating the soil with beneficial nematodes or covering the area with row covers. This will keep the adult beetles from getting close enough to lay eggs and keep larvae out of your soil.

Since you should be rotating crops anyways to ensure proper growth of your plants, your newly planted eggplant should be in a different location than the previous years and there shouldn’t be any larvae around to come up from the ground.

If you’re too late and they’ve already set up shop on your plants, you’re getting into pesticide territory. When applying pesticides, always start with the most natural and organic means possible. Effective products to rid yourself of flea beetles are insecticidal soaps, neem and pyrethrins, but be sure to always consult the consult the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI™) website for the best organic versions of these.

Hopefully, if you do have flea beetles, they haven’t completely destroyed your plants and you’re able to use one of these methods and start harvesting soon!

Now that we’ve gone over a foe, the flea beetle, why don’t we lighten up the mood a little and talk about a garden friend and hopefully a favorite on everyones list of insects: the lady beetle.

Garden Friend: Lady Beetle

ladybug

Probably one of the first insects we learn about as children, the lady beetle is one of the greatest friends a gardener could have, especially when it comes to aphids. Lady beetles are actually so effective that you can order them by the thousands to let loose on your garden and take care of a good portion of the insects that are causing you issues. Even their larvae crawl around devouring the little pests.

Identification

Because of our familiarity with them, lady beetles are awfully simple to identify in their red with black dots form. However, they can be red, orange, or yellow with black spots or without and can even be black in color. They generally have the same distinctive rounded, hard bodied shape with small black head. The lady beetle larvae and the eggs they hatch from aren’t so common though, so let me shed a little light on that so that you don’t unknowingly get rid of something beneficial!

Pictured above is a lady beetle larvae snacking on some aphids, a pest that we’ll be telling you all about in a future update. These pre-adult lady beetle larvae may not look like what we’re used to, but their appetite is just as ferocious, consuming their weight in aphids in a day, which could be up to 400!

Prevention + Treatment

The wonderful thing about the lady beetle is that when it comes to your garden, there is no treatment needed. These little guys will do no harm to your plants, fruit or anything you hold dearly, unless you have some kind of affinity toward aphids. When it comes to your house, however, you may find yourself with an issue on your hands come autumn since lady beetles, the Multicolored Asian Lady beetle especially, like to find a warm, cozy environment to winter over.

The first avenue to be taken is to plant gardens a fair distance from your house. It’s the aphids that attract the beetles and after a lengthy feast, when the time comes for the lady beetles to get cozy, the sun attracts them to that bright, warm exterior wall of yours, and they’re going to flock to it. Which is a second course of action: create some kind of deterrent from them being attracted to lighter colored walls. A screen with some taller growing plants such as arborvitae could do the trick, or you may want to decide to update with a new paint job. As these choices can be a little inefficient cost-wise, you could also use a home defense spray for insects.

None of these will be 100% effective, but they will certainly help. If you still can’t seem to keep them out, we advise that you call a professional pest control company for advice and treatment.

If you have any other questions or concerns with flea or lady beetles, or a bit of advice we may have missed, feel free to leave it in the comments below!

Stay tuned for next weeks installment of  “Garden Friends and Foes” when we’ll be discussing the Braconid Wasp and the Tomato Hornworm!

Also, for future pest troubleshooting reference, all of this information is going into a guide that you can see at the right side of our blog page or right here in a direct link.

What kind of pest issues have you been dealing with? Tell us all about it!

Comments

  1. Shifa on August 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm said:

    All our roses have been ravaged by some bug that’s putting holes on the leaves!! What can we do to prevent this??

    • That is a very good question, Shifa!

      Roses are typically under attack by sawfly larvae, which could either be a “rose slug” or a “pear slug”, two similar but different insects.

      We like to recommend that you initially attempt control organically so as to not eliminate beneficial insects from your landscape as well, as any kind of inorganic insecticide will likely deter or kill all insects, good and bad.

      A good organic route would be to use certified organic insecticidal soaps or Neem products.

      One organic product that we carry is Rose Pharm by Pharm solutions. It is an organic insecticidal soap consisting of peppermint oil, cottonseed oil and rosemary oil. We also carry an organic Neem oil by Bonide that would also be an excellent choice.

      If you find that neither of these are as effective as you’d like and you’d like to try other organic alternatives that we do not carry, the Organic Materials Review Institute is an excellent resource for finding out the right product for this.

      There are also inorganic alternatives such as Sevin that would likely be effective, but again, we strongly suggest an initial organic treatment.

      If you’d like to learn a little more about these insects, the Missouri Botanical Garden website has some excellent information.

  2. Shifa on August 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm said:

    Thank you! will out the products!!

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