Lauterbach: Fending off beetles, leafhoppers and hungry raccoons

Special to The Idaho StatesmanAugust 9, 2013 

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetle

The Idaho Department of Agriculture is waging all-out war against Japanese beetles, intending to completely eliminate them from our area. We were fortunate to be immune from their ravaging for many years.

Then, in recent years, they gained a foothold in the Warm Springs-Walnut Street area. Traps have also found some near the Plantation golf course.

Mike Cooper, an entomologist with the Department of Agriculture, thinks it may take up to six years to completely eliminate them - the length of time it took Utah to stop such an invasion.

People have sent in insects they suspected of being Japanese beetles, but only one was possibly a correct identification.

Remember, folks, these beetles are identifiable by vivid color: They're metallic green with bronze wings over their backs and white dotted fringe around their bodies. They're a half-inch long or a little smaller and oval. At rest, about one third of their back is dark shiny green and the rest is bronze.

There's one generation of the beetles per year. Adults will soon be laying eggs in lawns so their larvae can consume lawn roots for the winter.


I haven't lost plants to curly top virus for the past several years, but the memory of suddenly losing some five-foot tall tomato plants loaded with fruit still burns brightly in memory. Last week, for the first time, I actually saw a beet leafhopper.

It was in my summer squash bed. Armed with Neem spray for squash bug eggs, I zapped the leafhopper before it could take flight. It had apparently already bitten into one of my Zapallo del Tronco squash plants, because it quickly slumped and began to die.

The beet leafhopper carries curly top virus, a devastating disease common to arid areas such as ours. It's yellowish green, about 1/8 inch long, with the typical smooth back slender profile of a leafhopper. They ride the winds, land in a vegetable or ornamental garden and bite some plants, transmitting the disease to other plants.

I don't know how they tagged them to learn how far they could ride a wind, but Texas A&M researchers found they could ride as far as 200 miles. Some years they're more numerous and more mobile than others.

Some summers we've had a lot of gardens with curly top virus; other years it's been fewer. In one of the heavily-hit years, a Master Gardener intern told me she had no curly top problems in a tomato bed surrounded by thickly-planted dill.

I've been wondering about strong herb odor deterring squash bugs too. Many sources say nasturtiums repel those bugs, but I've found only large, vigorous nasturtium plants may repel them and shorter, vining nasturtiums don't.

Perhaps a thick planting of fernleaf dill would send them buzzing off in another direction.

Meanwhile, I patrol daily, Neem spray in hand, searching for squash bug eggs and newly-hatched nymphs. I usually smash adult squash bugs with my fingers when they're close at hand, but if they're out of reach, I hit them with spray. I have been finding some of the adults dead, perhaps as a result of the spray. Generally, Neem claims to kill young insects, not mature ones.


Do you have sweet corn about ready for harvest? Chances are, you've also got raccoons in your neighborhood. They will harvest your corn unless you make it impossible.

Use a shipping tape dispenser, and make one turn around the ear of corn, then stretch it over and make a turn around the stalk. If the raccoon can't pick the corn, he or she can't eat it.


Another hazard to corn this time of year is the wind. Corn is vulnerable to being blown over, especially just after it is irrigated.

All is not lost. If you look carefully, not all of its roots are out of the soil. Tip the stalk upright and stake it up, so the corn can continue to ripen. I had an entire row blow over one year, and we threaded a rope under the stalks, and tied it to a post at one end, drew the rope tight so stalks were upright, and tied it to a post at the other end.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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