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Japanese-beetle mania

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Catherine Idzerda
June 22, 2012

This year, the intern got to write the Japanese beetle story—which just goes to prove that there is a God.

Not that I need convincing on the divinity thing. I come from a family uber-intellectuals who have all read Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. I’ve read them too, but my theology is more simplistic: There are snap peas, therefore there is God. I think the Latin translation would be: Pisum sativum sum, ergo Deus.

But I digress. The last time I wrote a story about Japanese beetles, I received shrieking phone calls and e-mails, and was denounced on a radio call-in show.

I was only trying to explain that battling beetles was complicated.

-Yes, Japanese beetle traps work, but they attract more beetles than they kill. University research has repeatedly shown this.

-Yes, pesticides work, but are you prepared to spray your whole yard? Keep in mind that pesticides also kill beneficial insects, especially bees.

-Grub killer applied to the grass early in the spring will work in yards and gardens with no vegetables.

Here’s how I deal with Japanese beetles: Sacrificial plants.

More than six years ago, UW-Extension Horticulture Educator Mike Maddox gave me some “Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate” (Polygonum orientale) seeds. The flowers grow seven feet tall and have hot pink flowers. They also reseed. Check 'em out.

Japanese beetles love them. I let them collect on the leaves, then scoop them off and toss them into soapy water. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get all the beetles, because these plants are just for them.

Mind you, I do try collect as many beetles as I can. Japanese beetles attract other Japanese beetles. It’s like tapping the keg at a frat house. Suddenly you’ve surrounded by a swarm of people, and some of them are campus police officers.

My friend Ann Marie uses zinnias as her sacrificial plants.

Sacrificial planting means little—or no—pesticide use.

What have you been doing to battle the beetles?



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