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Here Comes the Sun: Summer Solstice & the garden pest of the week

It may have felt a little more like summer this week, and hopefully your lawn & garden are hitting their summer stride as well- because ready or not, it’s officially here!

The  June or summer solstice, marking the first day of the season is Saturday, June 20, 2020. In the southern hemisphere, the June solstice marks the first day of winter.

What exactly does that mean? Here’s an informative and helpful article from our trusted Old Farmer’s Almanac about some history, significance, and clarifications between the meteorological and astronomical seasons and timelines.

Another handy little timeline from the Almanac for the remaining days in June:

21st – 22nd
Excellent for sowing seedbeds and flower gardens. Plant tomatoes, beans, peppers, corn, cotton, and other aboveground crops on these most fruitful days.
23rd – 26th
Poor period for planting. Kill plant pests, clear fence rows, or clear land.
27th – 28th
Sow grains and forage crops. Plant flowers. Favorable for planting peas, beans, tomatoes, and other fall crops bearing above ground.
29th – 30th
Plant seedbeds. Extra good for planting fall lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and other leafy vegetables. All above ground crops planted now will do well.

Maybe follow this week’s calendar suggestions, and see how it turns out!

As we mentioned in last week’s news post, June is also Perennial Plant Month as well as Pollinator Month, and Pollinator Week is June 22-28, so be sure to take advantage of the timing, and get some more perennial pollinators like Agastache, Black Eyed Susan, Coneflower and Yarrow in your landscape this month.

Most of us gardeners will welcome the sights of beautiful pollinators and beneficial bugs, but what about the unsavory ones we’ve discussed in recent weeks- you know- the ones whose mission is to seek and destroy our hard work- like the Squash Vine Borer, the Japanese Beetle, or the mosquito & cabbage worms & loopers?

For some of you folks who may be new to the gardening game this season, or in the last couple of seasons, be sure to check out our previous posts here and here.

Next up in the gauntlet of garden pests is the Japanese Beetle, which show up in the summer, east of a line which runs from Cleveland down through Cincinnati. They also can be found in western parts of Ohio and beyond.

The beetle has copper wings, a metallic green head, and 5 white tufts of hair along each side of their abdomen.

photo credit: David Cappaert, California Department of Food & Agriculture

Adults feed on more than 300 species of plants, but the C-shaped larvae will typically stick to turf grasses- chewing through the roots, killing the grass.

While they do prefer rose, grape, linden, apple, crabapple, cherry, plum and related trees, birch, elm, raspberry, currant, basil, Virginia creeper, hollyhock, marigold, corn silks and soybean- there’s some good news! Most damage to plants is largely cosmetic, and won’t always kill the plant, unless the plant is young or already unhealthy.

From the The University of Minnesota Extension office: (Full article can be found here, but below are photos & snippets of what we found most useful!)

Adult beetles will “skeletonize” the leaves by feeding on tissue between the major veins, leaving them looking like your grandmother’s lace tablecloth. The diseased leaves can turn brown and fall off. 

Rose with holes in petals and two Japanese beetles crawling on it.

Adult Japanese beetle damage usually affects only the appearance of plants.

  • Healthy, mature trees and shrubs can tolerate a lot of feeding without significant, long-term injury.
  • Young or unhealthy plants may be stunted, injured or even killed from severe, persistent feeding.
  • Healthy flowering plants such as roses can survive Japanese beetle feeding. But the blossoms are often ruined by the insects.
  • Fruits, vegetables and herbs can tolerate limited leaf feeding, but severe damage may affect plant growth and reduce yield.
  • Regular harvesting during July and August can decrease feeding on edible parts of the plant.

Damaged leaves attract more beetles so minimizing beetles on plants should mean fewer beetles will be attracted to them.

Japanese beetles feed for six to eight weeks so it is important to continue management until their numbers decrease. Once they are present in large numbers, managing them becomes more difficult.

Most feeding is finished by mid to late August.

Physical removal

Physically removing beetles can be a practical and effective management practice for smaller landscapes or a few plants, especially when only small numbers of Japanese beetles are present. Handpick or knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water to kill them.

Check your plants daily and remove any beetles that you find to minimize feeding damage. Remember beetle-damaged leaves emit air-borne chemicals that attract more beetles. By physically removing them, you’ll reduce the number of new beetles attracted to your plants.

The best time to remove Japanese beetles is in the evening or in the morning when beetles on the plants are still cool and sluggish. However anytime that it can be done is still useful.

Young tree covered in netting with plastic tree guard around trunk in front of another larger tree on a lawn
Netting can help keep Japanese beetles off plants

Physical barriers

In some cases, it is possible to protect plants with fine netting to prevent beetle damage. However, do not cover plants in bloom that require pollination (i.e. fruits) as this will prevent pollinators from reaching them. Instead, handpick beetles until the plant is done blooming and starting to set fruit, then cover it.

Traps

Don’t use Japanese beetle traps. Hanging a trap in a home garden is not an effective way to protect plants. And they may attract more insects to your yard.

The traps attract beetles using synthetic female sex pheromone and a blend of chemicals with a strong floral odor. They were developed by researchers to monitor for the presence of Japanese beetles so that management strategies could be implemented.

While these traps can collect an impressive number of beetles, research at the University of Kentucky (in Lexington, about 100 miles away south of Cincinnati) has demonstrated that more beetles fly toward the traps than are caught. This usually results in more damage to nearby gardens and landscape plants than would have happened if no traps were present.

Although Japanese beetles feed on many different kinds of plants, there are some that they seldom damage. When choosing new plants for your landscape, consider using a less preferred plant.

Plants usually not damaged by Japanese beetles include boxwood, clematis, chrysanthemum, conifers (e.g. arborvitae, spruce, fir, pine), daylily, geranium, ginkgo, Japanese tree lilac, forsythia, common lilac, magnolia, red and silver maple, oak, white poplar, redbud, rhododendron and yew.

So, while they may seem like a worthy adversary, there’s much to be done to combat them, and the damage they cause will not likely wipe out your entire harvest.

If you’d like to avoid physically removing them, we carry Natural Guard Spinosad Concentrate, 16 fl ounces for $21.99; Bonide- Captain Jack Deadbug, hose end applicator 32 fl. oz for $34.99 and Bonide-BT ready to use- 32 fl. oz for $15.99. Be sure to follow all manufacturer’s usage and application instructions and precautions.

Stay tuned for the next pest we tackle- the garden we save could be your own!

Happy Summer, and don’t forget to wish Dad a Happy Father’s Day on Sunday.