Growing potatoes is pretty straightforward. No wonder they are a staple food in many parts of the world.
Howsoever easy they may seem to grow, harmful pests can ruin your entire harvest in no time.
Potato bugs, called Pill bugs, refer to two kinds of potato-attacking bugs. These include the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and the Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus fuscus). However, our focus today will be on the Colorado potato beetle.
These pets feed on the leaves and stems of your potato plants, thereby reducing your yield. They also attack other plants in the nightshade family, such as peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways to eliminate these bugs in your garden. Let’s get moving.
Table of Contents
Understanding Potato Bugs
First, you must understand what these dangerous pests look like and how to identify them.
You can quickly identify the Colorado Potato beetle by its yellow and black striped body. Their heads have characteristically black spots.
The adult beetle lays more than 500 eggs per month. Eggs are laid on the underside of the leaves. They hatch after 14-15 days in optimal temperature conditions.
Once hatched, the larvae begin to feed on the host plant’s foliage and eventually spread to other plants, causing severe damage.
A typical sign of potato bug infestation is damaged flower buds. Flowers being the softest parts, are easy targets for the larvae.
The larvae go through four developmental stages referred to as instars. The first to the third instar stages last three days, while the fourth stage begins on the fourth day— ending on the seventh.
Post that, the larva digs into the soil under the potato plant and turns into a pupa. The pupa stage lasts five to ten days, after which it emerges from the soil as an adult beetle.
However, winter months can prolong the life of a larva under pupation. The pupa remains inactive until spring, when the weather warms up.
Once the dormancy period is over, the adult beetles emerge to feed, mate, and produce eggs.
Knowing the life cycle of potato bugs is critical to helping you know when to expect them, detect an infestation early enough and take action to prevent additional damage.
The first step is implementing preventative measures to keep the bugs away. We got some ideas to get started below.
- Always maintain a clean garden free of loose litter and dead plant material. This helps reduce the habitat and food sources the bugs depend on.
- Grow bug-resistant potato varieties in your garden. This reduces the likelihood of the bugs being attracted to your garden in the first place.
- Practice crop rotation in your garden. This interferes with the bugs’ life cycle, preventing them from multiplying rapidly.
- Active scouting can help you identify the bugs quickly and put proper control measures in place. Check your garden plants for eggs, larvae, or adult beetles.
How To Eliminate Potato Bugs In Garden?
This section lists various natural, biological and chemical elimination methods to get rid of the bugs.
Biological control involves using pathogens or natural predators in the garden. Some ideas to explore include the following;
- Beneficial Insects: Having beneficial insects in the garden, such as ladybugs, parasitic wasps, predatory stink bugs, and lacewings, can help control the potato bug population in the garden. These insects consume the bugs and their eggs.
- Beneficial Nematodes: They are useful, especially if you have overwintering potato bugs. They’re tiny worm-like parasites that can infect the larvae by burrowing into the pupa, reducing their population.
- Bacterial Insecticides: Bacillus thuriengesis, also referred to as BT, is a particular bacteria that can be used to get rid of potato bugs. It is selectively toxic to insects but safe for other organisms. Several powdered BT variants exist in the market that you can use.
- Fungal Pathogens: Fungal pathogens such as Beauveria bassiana can be used to eliminate potato bugs. This fungus infects and eliminates insects such as beetles, thrips, termites, and aphids.
You can eliminate potato bugs in your garden without using chemical pesticides. Some effective natural methods include:
- Shaking Them Off Your Plant: The method works best with small gardens. Shake adult beetles from the infested plant onto a ground cloth. Dump the captured bugs into soapy water and dispose of them.
- Handpicking: For small infestations, you can handpick the potato bugs and dispose of them.
- Use Diatomaceous Earth: Purchase diatomaceous Earth from reliable stores and dust it lightly on the infested plants. It dehydrates the potato bugs and eliminates them.
- Companion Planting: This involves pairing compatible plants for a mutually beneficial outcome. Some companions for your potato plants include Horseradish, Catnip, Sage, Marigolds, and aromatic herbs and flowers. These plants are handy in repelling and getting rid of potato bugs.
- An alternative idea to companion planting is the use of trap crops. Plant them a short distance away from the affected plant. The bugs get attracted to them, keeping them off your produce. Some examples include Ground Cherries, Nasturtiums, and Horsenettle.
- Use Neem oil: Neem oil is an excellent insecticidal spray to repel potato bugs in your garden. The spray coats the eggs of the potato bug, preventing them from hatching. It also covers the leaves and stems of infested plants, making them less palatable to the potato bugs.
- Dish Soap and Vinegar Spray: You could also use a natural mix of dish soap and vinegar for infested garden plants. Mix one cup of distilled white vinegar and one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Dilute the mixture using three cups of water. Spray thoroughly on the affected plants every 2 to 3 days.
- Natural Predators: Some effective natural predators include birds and reptiles. Attract them by providing habitation and food. These animals will feed on the potato bugs reducing their population.
- Mulching: Besides conserving moisture, mulching helps attract insects that feed on the bugs.
You can control potato bugs in your garden using chemical pesticides. However, we advise using the chemical method as a last resort when all else has failed.
- Insecticidal Soap: Gardeners use insecticidal soap commonly to get rid of pests and curb other infestations in garden plants. The soap works by breaking down the insects’ exoskeleton through dehydration. The method works best during the early detection of bugs.
- Neonicotinoid Insecticides: You can also use Neonicotinoid insecticides to eliminate the bugs. They are a type of systemic insecticide that affects the regular operation of the bug’s nervous system.
- The insecticide also gets absorbed by the infested plant tissue making it toxic to the bugs. Exercise caution when using this insecticide since it may harm other garden organisms and make your yield unfit for consumption.
- Use Pyrethrin: Pyrethrin has a similar effect on bugs. The insecticide is derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Though fast-acting, the pesticide harms other beneficial organisms in the garden.
- Use Viper Insect Dust: The powdered insecticide can be used to control a large number of garden pests. The pesticide is applied using a dust applicator such as a shaker or bulb duster.
- Fill the duster halfway and only make light applications on the infested plants from the corner of your garden, working backward to avoid coming into contact with dusted areas. You can apply the dust up to eight times per season, but avoid application for fourteen days to harvest.
- Commercial pesticides: Several commercial pesticides exist today that go by different names depending on your zone, city, or state. A few examples to mention include Spinosad and Surround WP. Use the pesticides per the instructions to eliminate the potato bugs in your garden.
Potato bugs in your garden can be your worst nightmare, causing persistent damage to your garden plants in their wake. Luckily, several methods work for controlling their population.
These include biological, natural, and chemical control methods. For effective results, use a combination of both.
Moreover, monitor your garden regularly for signs of infestation to take prompt action and prevent significant damage. We hope the guidelines above give you a head start.
Job Kiniale is a certified crop scientist and gardening enthusiast with a passion to help beginning gardeners navigate their newfound hobby. Let’s talk about plants, backyard ideas, and general gardening advice. Outside work, Job loves spending time with family.