The Q&A Archives: Tropicanas

Question: I have 2 tropicana plants potted on my deck. One is the black variety and one is the green/golden variety. The green one has been infested with Japanese beetles. They have not touched the black one. I put up a beetle trap but it wasn't enough to distarct them from the plant so I purchased a Sevin brand spray. The spray has worked, but the plant looks dull and has lost its lustre. Also now that the beetles don't eat the leaves of the plants anymore they are now infesting the flowers. Is there a natural alternative to get rid of these beetles that will not take away from the look of the plant? Why are the beetles attracted to the green plant and not the black one?


Answer: Japanese beetles can be devistating to plants so I empathize with you! They are attracted by leaf color which is why one of your plants is affected and the other is not.

Many insecticides are labeled for Japanese beetle control on landscape plants. Examples include acephate (Orthene Turf, Tree & Ornamental Insecticide), carbaryl (Sevin and many other brand names), cyfluthrin (Bayer Advanced Garden Multi-Insect Killer Concentrate), lambda-cyhalothrin (Spectracide? Triazicide? Soil & Turf Insect Killer Concentrate), esfenvalerate (Ortho Bug-B-Gon Garden & Landscape Insect Killer Concentrate), and permethrin (Spectracide? Bug Stop Multi-Purpose Insect Control Concentrate and many other brands). Neem extracts (Bon-Neem) deter Japanese beetle feeding but may not be adequate against high populations.

Direct spray applications of insecticidal soap kills Japanese beetles on contact but does not provide any residual protection.

Here are some points to keep in mind when using insecticides for beetle control -

Japanese beetle flight is greatest on clear days with temperatures between 84o and 95o F and winds less than 12 miles per hour. This can bring new beetles into your landscape to challenge any control program that you may have. When these conditions exist, check plants frequently to see if beetles are starting to feed again.
A few beetles on plants, or some moderate damage, will bring in more. Japanese beetles apparently produce aggregation pheromones that will attract more males and females to feed and find potential mates. In addition, volatile odors from damaged plants may attract more beetles. These conditions also can keep beetle numbers high. Keeping numbers and damage low can mean fewer new arrivals.

Japanese beetles begin to feed at the tops of plants and move down as defoliation occurs. This makes damage obvious, in terms of brown leaves and esthetic damage, but also can pose coverage problems on large trees. Hose end sprayers may allow applications to reach the target but spray drift and applicator exposure are potential problems.

Some of the effective insecticides for Japanese beetle control, such as carbaryl (Sevin) and the pyrethroids (permethrin and others) can contribute to build-ups of mites or aphids. Watch closely for signs of these pests and use acephate or malathion if needed. While these insecticides have a shorter residual life, they may help to reduce problems with secondary pests.

Repeated applications may be necessary because of the relatively short residual effect of the products. Also, a significant rainfall shortly after an application may reduce the insecticide deposit below effective levels.

Natural Controls
The hard body of the Japanese beetle may make them relatively unattractive to many predators, such as birds. Some may be killed by predatory insects but this is probably infrequent. A few species of wasps and flies have been imported an attempt to control the beetle in the US but with only establishment has been limited, so far.

Collecting Beetles
Hand collecting can be used to protect valuable plants when beetle activity is relatively low. The presence of beetles on a plant attracts more beetles. When you remove beetles daily by hand from a plant, only about half as many are attracted to that plant compared to those on which beetles are allowed to accumulate. One of the easiest ways to remove beetles from small plants is to shake the plants early in the morning (about 7 a.m.) when temperatures are low and the beetles sluggish. The beetles may be killed by shaking them into a bucket of soapy water.

Trapping Beetles
Japanese beetle traps are sold in many garden centers. Commercially available traps attract the beetles with two types of baits. One mimics the scent of virgin female beetles and is highly attractive to males. The other bait is a sweet-smelling food-type lure that attracts both sexes. This combination of ingredients is such a powerful attractant that traps can draw in thousands of beetles in a day.

Research conducted at the University of Kentucky has shown that the traps attract many more beetles than are actually caught. Consequently, susceptible plants along the flight path of the beetles and in the vicinity of traps are likely to suffer much more damage than if no traps are used at all. In most landscape situations, use of Japanese beetle traps probably will do more harm than good. If you experiment with traps, be sure to place them well away from gardens and landscape plants.

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