Check out my new book!

“A Publishers Weekly top ten pick!”

Two Must-Try Methods to Control Japanese Beetles Naturally

May contain affiliate links. Please see my privacy policy and affiliate disclosure.

There are a couple of natural methods of Japanese beetle control — and Chinese rose beetle control — that you can use in your garden or orchard: 1. Hand-picking or physically removing the adult beetles and 2. applying (natural) milky spore to combat the larvae. Read on for how to use these methods when you’re faced with damage from a Japanese beetle infestation.

japanese beetle infestation on a chewed up leaf

 

You may have heard me mention that we’re experimenting with some low-chill apple trees in our new location. Turns out, something else was excited about us planting apples here, too.

Japanese beetle infestation

Within a couple of weeks of planting, the leaves on our trees looked more like lace than leaves. Japanese beetles feed on trees and shrubs, turning their leaves into lacy skeletons. They’re incredibly fond of my apple trees (they like crabapples, too) and have done a number on a new plum tree and my strawberry plants as well.

I’ve been carefully observing and have found a couple of weevil-like bugs and another that looked like a Japanese beetle. I’ve experienced a Japanese beetle infestation in another garden, so I recognized these guys — kind of.

I tried a couple of natural sprays. I tried a sticky barrier. But nothing seemed to work. And while I avoid toxic chemicals in my own yard, it’s worth noting that chemical controls have been found fairly ineffective.

I searched the internet for how to kill Japanese beetles (naturally) with little luck. I finally remembered to ask the grower who sold me the apple trees. He just nodded. Yep. Those bugs are a problem. But here’s where he pointed me in the right direction.

Chinese rose beetles and the Japanese beetle can wreak havoc in a hurry. Here's one way to eliminate them from your garden.

My beetles are nocturnal feeders.

Which means that the few beetles I’d spotted during the day were an anomaly. And it turns out, they’re not Japanese beetles, but rather Chinese rose beetlesGood thing I am a highly experienced nighttime pest hunter!

Understanding the life cycle of these beetles

There are three stages to these beetles’ life: egg, grub, and adult. Female beetles lay eggs in turf grasses, near the soil. Those eggs hatch into white grubs in July; they’re close to full grown — about an inch long — by August. They burrow into the soil where grubs feed on grass and plant roots. (Dead patches in your lawn may be a sign of grub activity.) They burrow deeply to survive the cold winter months. In June, the grub turns into a pupa, emerging in late June and July as an adult, to mate and lay eggs, starting the entire cycle over again. (Note that the timing of this cycle may fluctuate some, depending on where you are in the United States.)

How to get rid of Japanese beetles and the Chinese rose beetle

Whether Japanese beetle infestation or Chinese rose beetle, the technique is the same. Fill a jar or bucket with soapy water an inch or so deep, and head out to your garden or orchard. Look for beetles on the top and underside of leaves. Quickly handpick the beetles and drop them into the soapy water.

  • If you’re dealing with a Japanese beetle infestation, do this during daylight hours. The metallic green of the beetles will help you spot them.
  • To combat Chinese rose beetles naturally, don your headlamp and head out just after nightfall, when they are the most active.

My first night of beetle control netted 20-30 beetles, including numerous mating pairs who were interrupted in their procreation. I’ll continue doing this until I see a marked decrease in beetles, though my friendly farmer tells me that the worst of the damage is probably nearing an end — the beetles cause extensive damage like this for just a couple of months during mating season.

japanese beetle on a green leaf

Milky spore for beetle control

And here’s another trick, thanks to one of my readers. He suggested using milky spore powder. I’d never heard of it, but he said it had really worked well for him. Coincidentally, I was visiting with a friend of mine a couple of months later and out of the blue he suggested the milky spore powder for Japanese beetle control.

Milky spore is a natural, microscopic bacteria that kills beetles in their grub stage — when they’re underground. It is not harmful to people or pets.  You simply apply it to the soil (it doesn’t take much) around infested areas, water it in, and let it get to work. According to the milky spore product literature, it takes three years to reach peak effectiveness. The time is now, my friends.

UPDATE: I’ve been using milky spore for almost three seasons now and I do feel like the infestation of beetles is less devastating after applying the milky spore powder. I didn’t do nearly as much handpicking, either.

Hopefully the milky spore powder will continue to work its magic in the soil and wipe out most of the beetle population, eliminating damage from Chinese rose beetle or Japanese beetle infestation.

This post was originally published in October, 2014; it has been updated.

Click to save or share!

Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

23 comments… add one
  • Sheri Oct 28, 2014, 4:33 am

    My first thought is to find out what they dislike, the smell of a particular plant (Herbs) or flower. See if it’s available as an essential oil and make that into a spray. If it’s not available as an oil then grow the plant to harvest and make into a spray yourself. I grow herbs at the base of my fruit trees and invasive types (Sweet Marjoram & Mints) I just keep in pots.

    • Irish Girl's Cottage Feb 17, 2015, 4:32 am

      I have read that planting garlic around roses may help. I have not tried it myself.

    • Jeff Reiland Jul 3, 2015, 12:19 pm

      I’ve found that leaving them in the soapy collection bucket under my fruit trees helps. They start to smell really bad and I think the smell of their kin rotting repels them. I’ll even pull some out to put under my garden plants they like, sweet corn.

  • marcia Nov 9, 2014, 12:43 pm

    This might not be ecofriendly enough for you, but for large amounts of beetles a shop vac or another type of vacuum works great!

  • Doug Newman Nov 9, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Alohas Kris,
    In dealing Organically with many bugs and pests I use a spray here in Hawaii that works on any bug with an exoskeleton, that has Six or Eight legs, I have not found one yet that it didn’t Kill. it’s very Simple, Cheap and You mix it yourself.
    I use a One ltr. bottle to spray with,, but I mix it at a gallon at a time.
    Ingredients are for one gallon:
    5- Rounded Tablespoons of Salt
    5- Rounded Tablespoons of Baking SODA (arm &hammer)
    1- Pint of Isopropanyl Alcohol 71% strength
    4- ounces of Dish Soap

    Fill your Gallon jug with Hot water 3/4 full, add the the listed Ingredients.
    stir and mix well, then fill the rest of the way with warm water Mix some more and you can use it Immediately..
    If you hit a bug with it, It’ll be dead in less than 5/6 minutes every time, except for Scorpions and Centipedes those will take about 10 minutes..
    It even works on Bed-Bugs as well..
    Happy Hunting with Alohas

    —30—

    .

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 24, 2014, 8:22 pm

      Doug, you must be a writer with that -30- ending! Thanks for this – I’m going to give it a try!

    • Penolopy Wayne Feb 13, 2015, 8:07 am

      Will this organic bug spray harm your plants/ soil?
      Salt is harmful to most plants unless its Epsom salt.

    • Lisa Feb 19, 2016, 2:40 pm

      Sounds like it might also harm good insects. Not so sure about this.

  • Norman Benoit Feb 14, 2015, 7:33 am

    Sorry to tell you this folks, but japanese beetles can not be controlled when there’s academic and with all the “procreation”, that’s how it usually ends. That’s one of the factors which prompted me to close my rose garden to the public. You can do everything right, but if the neighbor three streets back doesn’t do anything, they’ll just keep coming and coming and coming. With roses, it’s even worse, you’d have to spray every new rose as it blooms. They give off a prehormone which attract others for miles. If the epidemic hasn’t arrived, traps outside the garden will attract the makes and the “procreation” will be on standby. If you want to pick, do so preferably in the morning, without squishing them (releasing the prehormone) in the morning to reduce inviting them during the day.
    I tried making a “beetle juice” with them to spread mortal disease amongst them, but they do the damage before dieing. My only consolation, blister beetles are worse and they haven’t arrived yet.

  • Valerie Harris Jul 28, 2015, 1:54 pm

    Years ago I bought Milky Spore and sprinkled it on the ground all over my yard. The beetle larve eat it and and then crawl off and die. I originally saw this product advertised in Organic Magazine. The product lasts for 25 years or so. Let me tell you, it worked. It took about two years and I never saw another Japanese beetle. I wanted to buy more for my daughter a few years later and I could no longer find it on the market. I enquired around and was told by one person that the government had it removed from the market. Said it did not work. Well, the gov. lied. It came back on the market again and to tell you the truth, I do not know if it is still available. I did notice that since I moved I have a few beetles again. Not as many as some people. I really think that since I have transplanted a lot of plants from that old yard the Milky Spore has started working again. It could be my imagination. If you can find it, try it. It is expensive but it will be a one time purchase. AND it is organic! Won’t hurt children or pets.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 28, 2015, 2:45 pm

      Thanks so much for this! Now that I see this, I have *heard of milky spore but have no experience with it. And it IS avaiable! https://amzn.to/1KwmthF

      • Letha Jul 1, 2017, 6:13 am

        Thanks Doug just tried ur recipe out and the beetles were dropping like rain drops. U r the man

  • Tara Jun 6, 2016, 6:32 am

    Milky spore is still available. I saw it at a garden center. I have moles feeding on the beetles (water, Castor oil and hot pepper for moles.) you may try ordering online. If you live in zone 5 or above it may need reapplication.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_spore

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 13, 2016, 6:44 am

      It’s available on Amazon.

  • Paula Robinson Jul 13, 2017, 2:48 pm

    You are working way to hard at this. CHICKENS! Chickens love to eat them. I hang a trap with Ann attractant in the run, kind of low, over a shallow dish of water. The chickes love to eat them, it is good for them, & it saves on feed.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 4, 2017, 8:21 am

      What kind of attractant do you use?

  • lloyd white Aug 29, 2017, 10:47 am

    will the milky spore powder work around my peach trees that were infested with beetles that were eating the ripe fruit not the leaves ?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 5, 2017, 7:06 am

      It doesn’t matter what they were eating. If it’s Japanese/Chinese beetles, it will kill the larvae. (Not immediately, though.)

  • kim Sep 9, 2017, 4:09 am

    We used marigolds as a trap crop. They flocked to them! Then picked them off every evening and fed them to the ducks. Next year we plan to plant more, and closer to our fruit trees.

  • Dana Sep 12, 2017, 5:45 am

    For us with a small orchard and acre garden , hand picking only does so much. Helpful but impossible to pick thousands a day. Milky spore is a rest help/remedy to the jap beetles for sure!!!

  • Mary V Jun 14, 2019, 7:29 pm

    I read somewhere that Japanese Beetles do not like rue. I have a pot underneath my fig tree. Still do not know if this works or not. It’s too soon to tell.

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 22, 2019, 10:09 am

      I’ve tried growing rue with no luck, so I can’t share my experience!

  • Elizabeth Aug 2, 2019, 8:22 am

    The following link gives info on a natural solution for Japanese beetles. https://remineralize.org/2011/01/dr-tso-cheng-chang-the-amazing-tale-of-a-farmer-from-farm-to-table-2/

    John Kohler talks a lot about rock dust in his videos and I believe he visited a location in Hawaii that sells natural soil amendments.

    I have used soft rock phosphate in a spray and found it very helpful in reducing the Japanese beetle population in my garden and flower beds – Crepe Myrtle is a favorite here for the beetles. It also works for aphids in my hoophouse. If I used it more, I expect it would eliminate them altogether. Have not found the need to spray this year, just pick the few off each morning and evening.

Leave a Comment