I’ve Declared War!

Normally a peace loving person, I draw the line at garden pests.

Death to the Scarlet Lily Beetle!

These voracious little sex machines were first spotted reproducing among my lilies last summer. My first sighting was of two of the little beasties doing the horizontal mambo in the foliage. Once I realized what I was looking at, it was war!

The tiny flash of red caught my eye before I noticed the tell-tale holes in the leaves. Left to their own devices, good old Lilioceris lilii will devour the leaves, buds, blooms, and stems of plants in the Liliaceae family. It hasn’t been long since I’ve introduced these beautiful plants to my landscape. I’m not about to give them up, just yet.

Let’s just stop right here. If you have a yard full of day lilies, fear not; those are actually not lilies. Day lilies (Hemerocallis) are part of the Asphodelaceae family, and are safe. Unless you have true lilies (Oriental, tiger, trumpet, Asiatic, etc.), you can breath a sigh of relief.

Back to the bad news. These little buggars are put on earth to do two things: have sex and destroy our lilies. Left unchecked, their munching can leave a patch of lilies with skinny, damaged stems, yellow foliage full of holes, and no blooms at all.

What does my new enemy look like?

It seems as though the first adults of the year are a bit sluggish after emerging from the cool soil. Eventually, they get mighty fast and hard to catch. They won’t be posing for any more pictures.

The beetles are thought to have landed in Montreal after accidentally being imported to North America in 1943. Since then, they’ve been spreading the love south and west, leaving behind a trail of mud-streaked tears on gardeners’ faces.

What’s a lily lover to do?

Unfortunately, since the beetle isn’t native to North America, there are no natural predators, so we can’t rely on birds or other animals for help. We gardeners have to take control of the situation ourselves.

There are reportedly effective chemical pesticides, but I work very hard not to use anything that might harm birds or pollinators (or me, for that matter!). I’ve decided to control this without harmful chemicals. My method? Garden yoga.

You read that right. Garden yoga. What else do you call a daily practice of bending and folding into ridiculous postures, bringing my face to the Earth for beetle searching? Garden yoga.

As with many garden pests, simply squishing them is not only effective, but rather satisfactory. Effective if you can catch them. As soon as they detect a threat, they drop to the ground, landing on their backs, revealing their black undersides. Gone! Invisible! Clever little rat-bags.

Enter my Weapons of Beetle Destruction: knee pads, a pail of soapy water, and a chopstick. Once an adult is spotted, I stealthily slip my pail underneath and, with chopstick extending my reach, I knock my enemy to its soapy demise.

Problem solved, right? Nope. You can bet your soil-covered patootie that, where there’s an adult, there will be an egg. Actually, there will be a row of eggs, and they’re not easy to find. The sneaky little fornicators deposit the minuscule things on the undersides of the leaves. Now, my face-in-the-dirt hunting posture is making sense, right?

What do you get, if you don’t kill all of the eggs? Well, larvae, of course. Now, these aren’t just any insect larvae. No, sir. These are extra special. At this stage in their life span, the lovely little beasts cover themselves in a protective armour of poo! Delightful, isn’t it?

Regardless of whether I find eggs or larvae, the entire leaf is removed and plopped right into the soapy water. I’m not playing with that crap!

Behold: Poop covered larvae:

Look at what’s happened to this leaf, already. Imagine what my plants would look like if this is left unchecked!

So long as I’m able to stay on top of this, I don’t mind the time and effort. Persistence and careful examination of the garden is an absolute must. Ultimately, without taking some sort of action, the only recourse would be to rip out all of my beloved lilies. I’ll stick to my garden yoga, thanks.

Just like my rather fanatical weeding, this constant, careful search for pests is super valuable. It allows me to get up close and personal and to really see what is happening in the garden.

If I hadn’t been on hands and knees, on Beetle Watch this morning, I never would have spotted this very welcome visitor.

Happy Gardening, friends!

 

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8 thoughts on “I’ve Declared War!

  1. Leah, I support your battle!! Maybe not enough to come and help but I can certainly provide a tube of muscle pain cream. lol. Last year I lost my lovely lily due to lack of information. Your blog will be helpful to many souls.

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  2. I didn’t have an opportunity to read this until today. Humour as well as hard work. Love the combination.

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  3. At first, I thought, “How pretty!” No amount of pretty can make up for devouring a stand of lilies. Totally enamored with your garden yoga and curious as to why the larva cover themselves in poop–their own presumably. Does it somehow ward off potential predators, were there any to be had?

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  4. The larva do, indeed, use their own poop. I’ve asked why, but they’re not telling.

    There is a theory that it’s to keep birds from eating them (even though they’re safe in North America, regardless). Maybe, it’s to protect themselves from squeamish gardeners!

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  5. TLDR:
    I’ve discovered a method of dealing with lily beetles that can make control more of a skirmish and less of a war. In the early spring, after the snow melts and the ground is starting to thaw (late April for me), carefully stir up the soil around the lilies and continue every week or so until the end of May. This kills the over-wintering adults. It doesn’t get rid of the them entirely but it reduces the number.

    Long story:
    I ever had any lily beetles until about eight years ago. My friends would complain and curse the nasty creatures while I wasn’t entirely sure what one looked like. Then, one year, WHAM! I had an infestation I couldn’t control and I shamefully now admit that I resorted to chemicals. Where did they come from all of a sudden?

    After extensive research–Thank-you, Google–I discovered it was me. I changed my gardening routine that year and gave the lily beetles a foot hold.

    In the spring, I can’t wait to get in garden so it’s normal for me to start cleaning things up as soon as I can. But asiatic lilies are a problem. They don’t have a dormant period and grow all winter. If you stir up the soil in the spring, you might knock the top off and destroy the bloom. I had done that so many times I decided I would wait until the lilies broke the surface before I cultivated. Big mistake! And one I’ve been paying for ever since.

    Now, I leave the lilies standing in the fall so I have a rough idea where the new growth is in the spring. I have a basal-rooting variety that doesn’t hold the old stem well but I rather lose the odd flower than all of them. I still have lily beetles but I can control them.

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  6. Thanks for the tips, Leslie!

    I, too, leave about 4 or 5″ of stem in the fall. I would cry if my overly eager spring weeding damaged my beautiful lilies.

    I am not a big cultivator. I usually think of it as unnecessary work (I am more than happy to hand pick the smallest weeds), and a sure-fire way of giving weed seeds a helping hand towards germination.

    I will make note of your tip for next spring, however. I have somewhat isolated my lilies, so can do a little scratch in the soil around them, if it means killing some of the little buggers hiding out in the soil!

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