Bugs & no pesticide use - Knowledgebase Question

Lexington, Ke
Avatar for sonjamceleb
Question by sonjamceleb
July 1, 2010
My potato vines have bugs (beetles) on them and I don't know how to get rid of them. I have tried shaking them off into a bucket, I have tried picking them off and squashing them (this is very time consuming)...I didn't want to use a pesticide but they are really covered. They have almost finished blooming and the hungry little critters are having a feast on my potato plants.

Answer from NGA
July 1, 2010
Since you mentioned both potato vine and potato plants, I'm assuming you mean edible potatoes and that it might be the Colorado potato beetle. If you have an ornamental potato vine with a different beetle please send another question with a complete description. Colorado potato beetle is a plump yellow beetle with black stripes over its wings and black spots just behind its head. The humpbacked larva is red with a row of black spots along each side. Both feed on potatoes, eggplants, ground cherries, peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos.

Colorado potato beetles prefer cold winters. They range across most of the United States but are most common in the east. Adult beetles overwinter in the soil, emerging in the spring to lay clusters of yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves. Depending on the climate, there can be up to three generations per year.

A thick organic mulch makes it hard for emerging beetles to reach plants in spring. Surveillance and hand picking remain among the gardener's best defenses. Knock any beetles and larvae (caterpillar stage) you find into a can of soapy water to dispose of them. Natural enemies include birds, spined soldier bugs, and parasitic nematodes. Spray Bacillus thuringiensis tenebrionis (also known as Bt San Diego) while larvae are small to manage major outbreaks. Bt works only on the larvae, not the adult beetle. It is a biological control--a bacteria that kills only caterpillars and is safe to other insects, humans and animals. Good luck!

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