Do you have problems with flea beetle? Don’t be afraid. We can help. Although flea beetle can damage your plants, both the plants’ under- and above-ground parts, there are things you can do to prevent and minimize the damage. Here, we will tell you about flea beetle control.
We will tell you about the types of flea beetle, their life cycle, the damage that they can cause, and ways to manage them culturally, physically, biologically, and chemically. So, after you are done reading this, you will know what things you can do to manage your flea problem. Alright, let’s start with getting to know the flea beetle first.
Types of Flea Beetle
Before we tackle flea beetle control, it will be nice to know what we are up against. Here, we talk about two types of flea beetle, namely cruciferous and solanaceous feeders. In general, the length of a flea beetle is between 1/16 and 1/4 inch. It has long back legs and can fly.
There are various species of flea beetles. When it comes to appearance, flea beetles have various colors. From black, brown, white-striped, orange-striped, yellow-striped, greenish-black to metallic. Because of this variant in colors, you need to keep an eye on your plants and spot and control these pests before they cause trouble if there is any.
1. Cruciferous feeders
The most common cruciferous feeders are crucifer flea beetle (Phyllotreta cruciferae), striped flea beetle (Phyllotreta striolata), and western black Flea beetle (Phyllotreta pusilla).
a. Crucifer flea beetle
This flea beetle is black in color. It has black legs.
b. Striped flea beetle
This flea beetle is shiny black with a green tint. On its wings, there are orange stripes hence the name.
c. Western black flea beetle
The color of this flea beetle ranges from shiny black to dark olive green.
2. Solanaceous feeders
There are two most common solanaceous feeders. They are potato flea beetle (Epitrix cucumeris) and eggplant flea beetle (Epitrix fuscula).
a. Potato flea beetle
This flea beetle is black but its legs are brown
b. Eggplant flea beetle
The body and legs of this flea beetle are black. Its back is ridged.
Knowing the life cycle of the flea beetle is an important part of flea beetle control. How is the life cycle of the flea beetle? The first thing you need to know is that adult flea beetles overwinter in the grassy borders, soil, or leaf debris of a field or garden. Then, when spring comes, they start to emerge.
As the temperature gets warmer, they become more active. Once the winter ends, adult flea beetles find a healthy plant to be its host and start to chow the host down. After that, they then lay eggs at the plant’s base. These flea beetle eggs usually hatch in about 10 days.
After about 10 days, small, whitish larvae with dark heads come out. These larvae are very small, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch in length. These larvae will feed on the plants’ roots for the next three to four weeks. After the feeding period, they start to pupate for about 7 to 10 days and come out to above ground once finished.
In regions with warmer climates, there may be multiple generations of flea beetles. This, of course, is very likely to cause problems in your plants unless you do flea beetle control to manage it. With careful preparations, preventative measures, and a proper action plan in place, there is no need to worry about the safety of your plants.
Damage Caused by Flea Beetle
How damaging the flea beetle can be without flea beetle control? The short answer is, very damaging. The long answer: the flea beetle attacks not only what is under- but also what is above-ground as well. Yes, it is that damaging. This is the reason why scouting your plants two times a day is a good thing to do.
Since you need to keep an eye on your plants daily for damage, you may want to set a specific time for the task. Also, making your own gardening journal is a good idea as well as it makes it easier to monitor your plants and see if there are any changes to them.
To scout for damage caused by flea beetles, take a good look at the leaves. Is there any hole? Take note if there are holes with a messy lace or buckshot pattern. To scout for damage caused by larvae, check the roots of several plants in the garden. If you plant potato, check the tubers of the plants.
Cultural Flea Beetle Control
Now that you know about the flea beetles and the damage they can cause, let’s get to the flea beetle control now. In this section, we will tell you some cultural control methods for flea beetles like time of plantation, sanitation, soil tilling, mulching, trap or companion crops, transplanting ‘ready’ seedlings, and Diatocemaous earth.
1. Time of plantation
When you plant is crucial. Remember that adult flea beetles start to become active in springtime? Yes, you can take advantage of that as flea beetle control. After the last frost in your region has passed, you can immediately plant transplants. Here, journal-keeping is important to monitor the time of your first planting and the first beetle sighting.
Of course, sanitation is also a part of flea beetle control. Being diligent about sanitation keeps unwanted guests away. If you can, try to do a simple clean up daily. Remove any debris, piles of leaves, and tall weeds from your garden. These are the places where flea beetles like to overwinter, so removing them can be helpful.
3. Soil tilling
Tilling the soil is tiring, yes, but that goes a long way to control the flea beetles. When you till the soil in spring, it is likely to kill the majority of flea beetles who are overwintering. Till the soil a bit later and you destroy the larvae. Do it just before the fall and you interrupt the overwintering pattern.
You can use both living and non-living materials to deter the flea beetles. On one hand, living mulches confuses the beetles and hinder their ability to identify a target. On the other, non-living mulches disrupt the egg-laying process. At the end of the season, clean the mulches to prevent them becoming an overwintering spot for flea beetles.
5. Trap or companion crops
Another way to control flea beetles is by adding another crop to serve as a decoy or trap. You need to plant the trap crop around the perimeter before the main crop. This way, the flea beetles will be attracted to the trap crop first. Some good crops for this include collards, giant Chinese mustard, bok choy, and radishes.
Besides trap plants, you can also use companion plants to divert the attention of flea beetles. So, instead of the main crops being targeted, the beetles will target the companion crops instead. This keeps the main crops safe. Among the most common crops as companion crops include bunching onions, dill, and marigolds. Some plants can even repel beetles naturally, such as catnip, basil, lemon balm, sage, oregano, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass and others.
Why trap or companion crops are effective? The answer lies in how these beetles identify their target. These insects use visual cues and smell to identify their target. When there are trap or companion crops, their ability to distinguish the host is inhibited, leading them to focus on the trap or companion crops rather than the main crops.
6. Transplanting ‘ready’ seedlings
Planting ahead of time is good. So is planting ‘ready’ seedlings. By ‘ready’ here we mean mature and large seedlings. Baby plants are vulnerable to flea beetles. Matura and large seedlings, however, are stronger and can not only withstand pest pressure but also recover quickly if damaged. The healthier the seedlings are, the more likely they are to survive.
7. Diatocemaous earth (DE)
DE is an amazing flea beetle control. It is an excellent weapon to fight against flea beetles. All you need to do is to sprinkle DE on your and around their base crops two to three times per week. It is safe for humans and pets but deadly to small insects like flea beetles.
Physical Flea Beetle Control
Cultural control is not the only option available. Yes, using physical means is also a viable flea beetle control. There are two things you can do to protect your plants from flea beetles: using floating row covers or sticky traps. We explain each one and how to use them below.
1. Floating row covers
When you use floating row covers, you add a layer of protection between the plants and the beetles. The covers hinder the beetles from getting into the plants, which is great. Although it is great to have a layer of protection, it does have a drawback. The drawback is that it can prevent pollinators from doing their job.
All you need to do is to cover the plants. That’s as simple as it gets. As for the drawback, you can uncover the plants when they begin to flower. This way, you protect the plants from flea beetles while allowing pollinators to do their job, thus providing you with a satisfying harvest.
2. Sticky traps
Another physical flea beetle control is to use sticky traps. Note that sticky traps trap flea beetles and some traps are specifically designed for that as they attract and catch specific insects. The real value of sticky traps is, however, their use for scouting and identifying insects that live in your garden.
Indeed, the real value is in information the trap provides. When you know what kinds of insects are living in your garden, including flea beetles, you are better informed to do what is necessary to manage the situation. Of course, you get the full benefits when you also keep a garden journal.
Biological Flea Beetle Control
Need help to manage the flea beetle population in your garden? Consider biological flea beetle control, then. Using biological means like introducing predators and parasites, a fungal pathogen, and nematodes can help to keep your plants safe from beetles. As it involves living creatures, it may take time before you see the effect. The effect is likely to be long-term, however.
1. Predators and parasites
Introducing predators and parasites is a good way to manage the flea beetle population. The problem is, predators and parasites require a host to live. In other words, you need to make a good habitat for these predators and parasites. Plants like chamomile, marigolds, dill, anise, and clover make a great host for them.
2. Fungal pathogen
Fungal pathogen is another effective biological flea beetle control. The best thing about it is that it is widely available and quite effective in killing flea beetle larvae. First, the spores attach themselves to the larvae. Then they germinate and infiltrate the larvae body, turning its insides into liquid and effectively turning it into a food source.
Using nematodes is one of the most effective ways to remove larvae living in soil as nematodes dwell in soil and kill larvae. Unlike predators and parasites, you can just buy nematodes and apply them to your garden. The nematode is, however, not an instant cure. It takes time to work, although the result lasts for years to come.
Chemical Flea Beetle Control
Lastly, using chemical flea beetle control. Unlike the previous methods, this one should only be used when you are desperate. That’s right. It is the last resort option when all else fails. As it involves chemicals, it requires extra care when used. You don’t want to successfully remove flea beetles only to endanger your own health and the environment.
If you desperately need help to deal with flea beetles in your garden, the following chemical pesticides may help
- Lambda cyhalothrin
Again, you should only use chemical pesticides as the last resort option. Don’t rely on it if you can use another flea beetle control.
Having flea beetle infestation may damage your plants. The thing is, it can happen to any gardener. Fortunately, it is not something you should panic about. With proper flea beetle control, you can manage the situation and minimize the damage. Or better yet, preventing them from happening. Now that you know how you can continue gardening in peace. Happy gardening!