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Thursday, July 15, 2004 03:26 am

Meet (and beat) the beetles


They're back! The latest invasion of leaf-devouring Japanese beetles has begun. These half-inch-long eating machines have been found helping themselves to roses in the Springfield area, but you can expect them to turn to other favorites such as linden, grapes, birch, apples, peaches, and raspberries. In fact, this glutton's grocery list comprises the leaves, flowers, and fruits of more than 300 plant species.

The Japanese beetle is easy to identify: The adult is metallic green, with coppery-brown wing covers and five tufts of white hair along each side of its abdomen.

Most of the beetle's life is spent below ground, as a grub, feeding on decaying matter and roots. As soon as the beetles emerge from the ground, usually in late June, the feasting begins. The busiest dining hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on warm, sunny days. Typically the beetles start feeding on the upper portions of plants and work their way down. Japanese beetles prefer plants that are exposed to direct sunlight.

Gardeners have several options for controlling adult beetles:

• Hand-pick the bugs. Early in the morning, hold a bucket containing soapy water or rubbing alcohol beneath the infested leaves. Move the plant or poke the beetles, and they will drop to their deaths. This method is most effective when carried out at least once every other day during the first two weeks after beetles are observed.

• Heavily infested ornamental plants can be sprayed with carbaryl (sold as Sevin), cyfluthrin (sold as Tempo or Bayer Advanced Garden Insect Killer), or another pyrethroid. One application typically controls beetles for two weeks. Always read and follow label directions for the safe use of pesticides. Sevin is toxic to bees and other beneficial insects and should be sprayed in the evening. Protect natural enemies of the Japanese beetle, such as birds and predator insects, by keeping the use of conventional pesticides to a minimum. Spray only plants that have sustained noticeable damage; plants in less obvious parts of the landscape and large trees can go untreated.

• Another control method -- using traps baited with floral lures or sex attractants -- may actually compound the problem by attracting more beetles to your yard. Japanese beetles can fly long distances, easily covering a couple of miles in a single flight. (You might consider giving such a trap to your neighbor -- who can then attract your beetles to his yard.)

Keep in mind that even though plants may look devastated after a feeding, Japanese beetles rarely kill woody plants.

To learn more, including control strategies for grubs, visit this Ohio State University Web site: ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2504.html.

Feed the need

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a people-helping-people movement designed to assist in feeding the homeless, hungry, and less fortunate.

Launched in 1995, this national service program encourages gardeners to grow a little extra and donate the produce to local agencies that serve people in need.

Locally the campaign is sponsored by University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners, which is requesting donations of fresh fruits and vegetables.

On Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Master Gardeners will collect donations at these locations:

• July 17, Green View Nursery, 2900 W. Jefferson St., Springfield

• July 21, Apple Barn, 2290 E. Walnut St., Chatham

• Aug. 14, Apple Barn, 2290 E. Walnut St., Chatham

• Aug. 21, Green View Nursery, 2900 W. Jefferson St., Springfield

• Sept. 18, Green View Nursery, 2900 W. Jefferson St., Springfield

Produce may also be dropped off at the Central Illinois Foodbank, 2000 E. Moffat Ave. in Springfield, from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. To arrange for produce pickups and to discuss other collection options, call the Foodbank at 522-4022. Harvest gifts are tax deductible and receipts will be provided upon request.

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