Saturday, July 21, 2018

Rain and glorious roses -- and Japanese Beetles!

A deep pink rose (possibly Buck rose 'Hi Neighbor') planted with dianthus in my Paradise Garden.

Hello! The good news this week is that we've finally gotten some significant rain, after a month of zero rainfall. Thursday we got more than two inches, which, with the 3/4" we got a few days before, means we're back to normal precipitation for this time of year. A great relief -- I don't even have to water my numerous potted plants for a couple of days!

Everything looks fresh and green after the rain, and we've been enjoying lovely roses, lilies and other flowers the past few weeks. Here's a selection:

'The Fawn' rose and pink flowering tobacco against my front porch, on the edge of the Paradise Garden.

Another rose. I've moved my roses around so many times that I'm afraid I can't identify this one, despite efforts to keep track of them when moving them. This is probably a a Griffith Buck rose though.

The bubbling fountain with orange marigolds in the Paradise Garden.

But all is not perfect in my Paradise Garden.... we've been INVADED! Yes, by the same Japanese Beetles that have been wreaking increasing havoc in the Midwest in recent years. They've been observed in the United States for more than a century, but have been present in Iowa for only the past decade -- and last year was the worst infestation of them on record. I don't know how this year compares scientifically yet, but by my own observation and the many news stories appearing across the Midwest such as "The bug that ate Omaha," I'd say that they're pretty prevalent this summer.

They've clustered on my roses, devouring the flowers and leaving the leaves as skeletonized webs. They've done the same to our lovely hollyhocks, and even chawed down on marigold flowers and foliage (I'm quite surprised any insect likes such strongly-scented foliage).

Six or eight years ago, I treated our lawn with milky spore powder (a bacterium that is toxic to JB grubs), but I'm not sure that it has done much to help, since I still see plenty of grubs (one of the stages of Japanese Beetle life) under our turf in the areas I treated. But other than that effort, I've done little to battle them, mostly trying to ignore them and the damage they leave in their wake.

Until now.

This is only one Japanese Beetle -- usually a rose is covered in a large cluster of the buggers.
Puppy knows there are moles under our lawn, and the moles are there because they like to eat the JB grubs. This part of our lawn isn't too chewed up yet, compared to some other areas that I'll spare you from seeing.

Until now I've mostly tried to ignore the JBs, but last week I decided that, now that most of my two dozen or so rose plants have been moved to my Paradise Garden right next to the house and I can see how much damage the Japanese Beetles are causing, that it's just not acceptable if I can do something about it. It's not just the ugly clusters of beetles covering my rose flowers, but the unsightly skeletonized leaves of the roses bushes and hollyhocks. Enough.

My strategy is a four-pronged one:

1. Every evening when the JBs have settled down on my plants and are less likely to buzz around, I walk around with a container of warm soapy water and a butter knife. I use the knife to knock off as many JBs into the container as I can find (some evenings I've done away with 100+ of them). I've been doing this for about a week now, and I'm certainly seeing a lot fewer of them than when I started. It could be that their active phase, usually only 6-8 weeks, is nearly at an end, or perhaps the big rain we got the other day knocked them all to the ground (where they are busy laying their dastardly eggs...), or because of the cooler weather we're enjoying after the rain. Removing them by hand does help though, because when feeding on plants the JBs emit a pheromone that attracts even more beetles to the plant -- each one you remove prevents several more from being attracted to the same plant. It's important not to squish them though, because that releases even more pheromones. (And it would have been better if I'd started doing this as soon as they first started appearing -- but it wasn't until last week that I'd had enough of them.)

2. I sprayed an organic pyrethrin-based insecticide on my roses, hollyhocks and marigolds. I did this at dusk, after the bees go to sleep, to avoid harming them (there is no residual effect on bees, but it can harm them if they visit just-sprayed plants, so late dusk is the safest time to do this).

3. I am planning to treat my lawn for grubs in the next month, to try to knock back the future numbers of JBs, as well as reduce the mole (and dog) damage to our lawn. Because there are no neighboring lawns near me (my property is surrounded by corn fields) this may be more effective than for gardens in cities or towns.

4. I may try another milky spore treatment of my lawn, for the same reason.

Next summer, I will keep my eye out and start the soapy water treatment as soon as I see the first JBs, to get a good start on them before they attract large numbers. 

I may be fooling myself into thinking that I can do anything to eliminate this serious pest, but even if I can reduce their damage by 50% or so, that's still something, especially in my Paradise Garden, in which roses are one of the starring plants.

But enough about the Japanese Beetle scourge -- luckily, they don't seem to have developed a taste for many other flowers (yet...). Here are a few others:

We haven't yet had to deal with the dreaded Lily Beetles that have ruined these amazing plants for our British gardening friends (and I pray that we won't have to for some time yet). They sure are looking nice this time of year, and smell wonderful.

After my potted jasmine plant (Jasminum sambac) died this spring, I was on the lookout for a replacement. I found two -- a regular single-flowered form like I had, as well as this new double-flowered one, 'Summer Soul." A wonderful scent....

I'm never failed to be amazed by the size of the flowers on hardy hibiscus plants -- they really do look tropical!

A pelargonium I ordered for the first time this year called Geranium 'Appleblossom Rosebud,' an older heirloom variety, c1870, that is said to have been Queen Victoria's favorite geranium. If the story's true, I can see why.

It looks like we'll be enjoying cooler weather here for the next week or so, which is a relief after our usual summer heat. It's been pleasant to work outside, and I've actually been able to keep reasonably on top of the weeds this week, which is a great improvement over last year's weed-fest, and makes me feel a lot better about my gardens in general.

Hope you are enjoying beautiful weather and adequate rain, and that your gardens are not too terribly plagued by pests of any sort. Thanks for reading! -Beth


  1. Hi Beth, Your roses look beautiful (and uneaten!). Thanks for the info on not squashing the beetles. I didn't know that. Soapy water from now on! Any recommendations for disposal of the beetles? I would normally just throw them on the ground. Will that attract beetles? Better to bag them up?

    1. Hi Beth, I let them sit in the soapy water overnight to make sure they're dead and then dump out the water and JBs on the edge on our property. I'm not sure if they continue to emit pheromones after they've been dead for a while -- that's a good question that probably no one really knows they answer to. I'll see if I can find out though. Hope you aren't being inundated with the buggers in your own gardens. I'm so glad you stopped by -- thanks! Best, -Beth

    2. I have found that somebody comes and eats them overnight - probably raccoons!

  2. Your flowers are beautiful! I love those pink flowering tobacco plants and the heirloom geranium! Last year we had an awful time with Japanese beetles. I went around with the soapy water, but I think the grubs were almost worse. They decimated the lawn and even part of my veggie garden. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Indie! I'm sorry to hear that you had such a bad time with grubs last year. I'm glad to know about it though, so I'll be sure to treat our lawn this summer, and I hope that will help. Hope this year is better for your gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. Your flowers are looking beautiful in spite of the Japanese beetles best efforts. What a stunning lily. At least the lily beetle is small and easy to squash. It's also easy to spot, being bright red so you can easily rid yourself of it. I'm currently doing battle with the little beetles that are intent on devouring my asparagus fronds. I stand in the asparagus bed first thing in the morning and in the cool of the evening and catch as many as I can. (Mad woman in the garden!)
    Glad you've had a good downpour to freshen things up. Still no rain here - it's just not British!

  4. Japanese beetles have been horrible here for the second time in a row. They are devouring a linden tree in our South Courtyard that I was surprised came back after their attack last year, as well as the few roses left in our gardens. They eat my zinnia foliage and bury themselves the the flower petals of the zinnias and giant marigolds, which ruin them for my small flower business. They also just devour my Four O'Clock each year, as well.

    I have thought about doing the milky spore treatment, but I am unsure of how much this will help. I am afraid they'll just come back in from other places even if i knock them out in the courtyards.

    Have you had any problems with the water in your new fountain gathering bacteria? The fountain I have here has to be cleaned out majorly a few times a summer to keep it from clogging up the whole thing!

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