What is making those little holes in your plants

Hi folks,

integrated pest management is how to mitigate various pest problems If you identify the pest that is munching down some plant in your garden, then you can create an Integrated Pest Management Strategy to deal with that pest.

Have you noticed that it seems each year we learn to handle one type of pest and then a new pest crops up, seemingly in its place? I call this the ‘pest of the year’.  Each year I’ll notice one certain pest seems to overtake every other, one that seems to munch on more than I would expect it to.garden pest of the year

I tend to do what many of us do at first – ignore it and hope it will go away. Occasionally this works. Occasionally it runs out of food (and maybe I’ve lost my plants), or its cycle has run out, or some other critter had found it super tasty and handled it for me, without my intervention.  Yet, this is not what usually happens with an infestation of a critter that has gone crazy where it had not before.

Sometimes we’ll use something to help us ID the critter and then?  Well, most folks I know, contact me, but for all those out there who don’t, they are doing what many of us do when trying to find the answer to their pest problem.  They try and find, or remember, something to do from any source they come across or heard was good, and hope it will work.  Granted, there is an element of ‘hope it works’ in most cases when dealing with many pests, but we can mitigate this to a higher success rate when, as I say “You seek professional gardening advise and get training, you overcome the blindspots to your gardening success”.

Pest Management Plan Workshop Webinar – Saturday March 6, 2021 – Attend Live or watch the recording and get the worksheets. 

flea beetle holes on eggplant leaves
Flea Beetle damage on an eggplant.

This year, I have gotten several emails, texts and photos from students and clients asking, “What is making these little holes in my plants?” And, this indeed is the ‘pest of the year’ in my gardens also, hence this post.  So this pest is Flea Beetles.

Their favorite is eggplant.  Can’t remember a year when I didn’t have at least a little flea beetle damage on my eggplants, but his year, wow! They also seem to be heading on to some folks tomatoes and peppers too, which is not what I normally see.

So here are my top three recommendations for dealing with flea beetles. All three of these are available from my favorite organic pest control company, Arbico Organics. These folks are awesome.

closeup of flea beetles damage on eggplants leaves
Flea beetles holes in eggplant leaves
  1. Beneficial Nematodes – Many of you have heard me talk about how important healthy living soil is, how we don’t want to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to keep those soil critters alive and working for us. Well, we can bring in even more little beneficial critters to our soil that will handle all kinds of critters that want to eat our food. Check out Arbico’s “Triple Threat” Beneficial Nematodes as they are a better bang for your buck than the one type that includes flea beetles.

2. Surround®, or Kaolin Clay – This product is literally a clay. The cool thing about this product is that is can be used for all kinds of critters and even to cool down plant leaves.  When you add it to water and spray it, it makes the leaves white, and experience shows, that among other things the product touts, such as the coating seriously messing with various insect critter, it works on four legged critters too.  Many animals won’t eat the leaves because they look white and not green. Pretty cool and it is, as I said, just a clay.

3. Monetery Garden Insect Spray – For someone wanting to use a spray, I recommend this one. This tends to be my last choice when the infestation has stripped my plants of all their leaves and I am still trying to save the plant. It will kill lots of types of critters though, which always gives me pause because I like to keep my garden diverse.

Most years, flea beetles only do a bit of damage, the plants have some holes, but it does not hinder fruit production. We’ll see how this year goes.  If you found this useful, remember what I say, “If you seek professional gardening advise and get training, you overcome the blind spots to your gardening success”.  – Debby 

Pest Management Plan Workshop Webinar – Saturday March 6, 2021 – Attend Live or watch the recording and get the worksheet. 

New to me? … I offer you a FREE 30 Minute Organic Gardening Discovery Call – Let’s take a break together and discover the next steps to your gardening success. 

Concurring Cucumber Beetles – Organically

Had a client ask me yesterday about Cucumber Beetles so thought I’d write up this post so you can all benefit form the information too.

I admit, of all the bug type critters I have dealt with in my gardening endeavors, these little buggers have been the hardest to deal with and some of the most prolific. I also admit, I have stopped growing cucumbers because of them.   With those caveats, let look at why these critters are such a challenge.

First, there are two types, striped (Acalymma vittatum/A. trivittatum) and spotted (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi Barber).  This can be confusing, with some folks thinking they are dealing with something other than cucumber beetles.  So, yes, both of these are cucumber beetles:

Spotted and striped cucubmer beetles.

Cucumber beetles attack, yes, cucumbers, but also other members of the Cucurbit plant family that includes summer squash (and zucchini), winter squash and melons.  I have also found that they love, I mean LOVE, Amaranth, both the ornamental and grain type, so we strictly avoid growing all types of Amaranth.  They will really love to eat your Cleome, so we have stopped growing those beauties as well.  They have also been known to munch on beets, beans, peas, sweet potatoes, okra, corn, lettuce, onions, and various cabbages although, gratefully, I have not had them go for these other crops.

These little critters do munch on your plant leaves, but the main issues is that they transmit bacteria that cause Fusarium or Bacterial Wilt and this is what will often kill the plant first.  Adult cucumber beetles can severely defoliate plants and scar fruit. Adults generally reach their peak activity in morning and late afternoon and are fast and pretty hard to catch.  If you do catch them, they have very hard shells so are hard to squish. Don’t try and put them down to step on them like you might a worm, as they’ll fly before you can get them.  If you are able to catch them, put them in soapy water.  All that said, this is not the best way to deal with them.

Cucumber beetle damage

As with handling any pest predation, a good Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy that includes more than one option works best. All the products on this list are OMRI rated for organic use. Not sure what that means, check out this video.

Ways to concur cucumber beetles:

  1. Row cover or growing in completely protected culture in a high tunnel or greenhouse.  I recommend this at the beginning of the season to give your plants a good head start. This client, Kathleen, did this and I am sure this is why her plants have done as well as they have. She also used..
  2. Neem oil spray. Neem can be effective here as it is a wide spectrum killer.  It is also effective against fungal diseases, which is an added benefit. When sprayed on garden plants, it does not leave a lasting residue because it washes away with rain and is broken down by ultraviolet rays. It can kill some beneficial bugs if they are directly sprayed. Most of Neem’s action is from critters biting leaves that have been sprayed with it. Your beneficial insects are carnivores, eating those other bugs who are eating your food.  
  3. Kaolin Clay, or Surround. We love this stuff and use it often. The product name is Surround, which is made from a specially modified Kaolin clay. This forms a barrier that protects plants from many pests. We spray it on and it makes a white barrier not only repels bugs, but causes them irritation, confusion, and is an obstacle for feeding and egg-laying. We have found it very effective against deer too!  The deer look at those ‘white plants’ and don’t think are food.  Like the Neem, you have to keep applying it after rains and as new green growth appears.
  4. Cleaning up. Cucumber beetles will overwinter eggs in the mulch under your plants.  If you have had an infestation, remove all the mulch from the area and don’t even compost it.  Dispose of it off property or burn it, depending on your location. Then you can apply ..
  5. A spray containing Spinosad, like Monterey Garden Insect Spray used to drenchto the soil tokill the larvae before they pupate in the soil can be effective to avoid further infestation in following seasons.  I should mention here, I only see these critters in the warm summer months.
  6. Beneficial insects. Ladybugs, Green Lacewing, Spined Soldier Bugs and Assassin Bugs will all feed on various life stages of cucumber beetles. Attracting and keeping these garden helpers in your garden will not only help keep the cucumber beetle population down, but many other less desirables from eating your food. A few good plants to start with are: yarrow, sunflowers, dill, cilantro and parsley. Makes sure you let the dill, cilantro and parsley go to flower.  
Assassan bug eating a spotted cucumber beetle

7. You can also buy cucumber beetle lures and use these with yellow sticky traps. The lure is effective for 45 days. If the trap becomes covered with insects or other debris before that time, remove the lure and attach it to a fresh trap. One advantage is that these are not a spray and therefore you run less risk of killing other critters you would rather not kill. I confess I have not tried these although it seems a reasonable thing to try and I might get some for the cucumber beetle population currently in my garden. If anyone uses these, let me know how they worked for you.

8. The last option in this article is adding a Heterorhabditis bacteriophora beneficial nematodes to your soil. Nematodes occur naturally in our soil, but we might not have the ones that really like beetle, and specifically cucumber beetle larvae.

So to wrap up, here is my recommended IMP strategy if you have a cucumber beetle infestation:

  1. Spray Neem to get the population down.
  2. Put out lures and traps for adults you have missed or that continue to hatch.
  3. Depending on how diseased and chewed up your plants are, remove them off site or burn them.
  4. Remove all the mulch under where the plants were and spray Monterey Garden Spray heavily into the soil.

Next spring:

  1. Apply beneficial nematodes to your soil.
  2. Use row covers for young plants.
  3. Apply Surround as your plants grow.
  4. Put in plants that attract beneficial insects.

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Have an awesome day and good luck with those cuke beetles! – Debby