Serendipity Gardens: Japanese beetles make garden home

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 22, 2018

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears biweekly. Email her at

This past garden season I experienced Japanese beetles for the first time in my garden, and it was not a happy occasion, let me tell you. This small beetle is iridescent copper-colored with a green thorax and head. The first one I found was on my kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate plants that I noticed the leaves had been chewed, so I started looking at other plants in the area. For years I have read about them in other parts of the country and thought we here in Minnesota were lucky to have escaped them — until I found one. The next place I found just two of them on one of my tropical hibiscus, so I quickly picked them off and squished them to death. Reaching the kiss-me’s was not as easy so I could only get a few of them within easy reach. I grabbed my camera to photograph and sent a photo to Al Batt to confirm my suspicions that it was what I feared it was. Next step was researching it online to see what I could do to get rid of them in my gardens before they spread. It was early July when I spied them and the articles said they lay eggs in August. The solution for ridding the adults was to pick them off the plants and drown them in a bucket of water with a small amount of dish detergent added.

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Over the years a friend of mine in Kentucky would talk about her experiences of them on her roses and I would always thank my lucky stars we didn’t have them in Minnesota because they really decimated the foliage on her roses. I guess I should feel lucky to have gardened for 50 years before I had my first experience with these nasty little beetles.

The University of Minnesota website said they will feast on over 300 varieties of plants and vegetation. Ugh! The next place I found them, and it is pictured in the photo with this column, was on sunflowers and then an ornamental grass. Since I do not use chemicals in my gardens it looks like the picking and dousing in a bucket of soapy water will be my method of getting rid of them.

Now fast forward to an article I just read in “Garden Gate” magazine on controlling them using zonal geraniums. Wow, that would be so easy if it really works, and why hasn’t anyone else mentioned this control method? According to the article, the beetles will eat zonal geraniums, but within 30 minutes of consuming the petals will become paralyzed. However, the article went on to mention that within 24 hours they usually recover, from the paralysis so that would be daily I need to check on them. Since my gardens are heavily planted and the beetles will drop to the ground this could be quite a task to check for the paralyzed beetles that I need to scoop up and drop in my bucket of sudsy water. I just may have to try this. Not being a fan of geraniums, I have grown zonals for the past 10 years because they don’t get so large in the cemetery urns that I plant, so I might pot up a few more containers and set them close to the areas where the Japanese beetles are and see what happens.

I mentioned in a phone conversation with my sister that I always seem to be the first person in the area to get all the strange things happening in my gardens like aster yellows, virus in bedding impatiens and now Japanese beetles, so I try to write about them so other gardeners will be aware of these problems.

Maybe it is my mission in life to let others know these things, but it sure would be nice to not always be the one whose gardens get struck with these maladies!

It is time to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” — Washington Irving