Who doesn’t want a thriving vegetable garden in their backyard? Living from garden to table is any home gardener's dream. However, this can quickly turn into a nightmare when threatened with a potato bug infestation.
Potato bug infestation can become a significant concern for those growing crops like potatoes, tomatoes or even eggplant. Although these pesky garden visitors are not very harmful to humans, they can become incredibly damaging to your plants when left to roam.
Worried you may have fallen prey to a potato bug infestation? Here is everything you need to know to identify, prevent and control potato bugs in your garden.
How to Identify Potato Bugs
It is firstly essential to know which kind of Potato bug you are dealing with, although treatment for both is very much the same.
Colorado beetles are tiny insects reaching only 3/8 of an inch in size. They have a very tiny head and round body, which is covered in orange stripes. These beetles also have wings, so they tend to fly in swarms.
Jerusalem crickets, however, look entirely different. These enormous insects can grow as much as 2 ½ inches long and have a terrifyingly big head and massive jaws. These insects have long, spiny limbs and yellow-red abdomen with black and amber stripes.
One of the worst parts of Jerusalem cricket is that they tend to make a terrible hissing sound by rubbing together their back legs. Should you hear it, try not to get a fright and startle the Jerusalem cricket as they may jump at you in an attempt to protect themselves.
Where Are Potato Bugs Found?
Potato bugs occur naturally throughout the southwestern and western regions of the United States, as well as some parts of Mexico. These garden critters are nocturnal bugs that reside beneath the surface of the soil.
Potato bugs will often seek out vegetable gardens or commercial farms, where they feed on the tubers, roots and leaves of certain crops.
Why Are They Called Potato Bugs?
Firstly, it’s important to note that potato bugs refer to two different kinds of insects, the Colorado Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and the Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopelmatus fuscus).
These bugs were given their name due to their very particular diet. Usually found in potato fields, these insects both enjoy feasting on tubular type vegetable plants.
Potato bugs will often enjoy:
- Potato Plants
- Tomato Plants
Are Potato Bugs Harmful?
The odd potato bug won’t do much damage to your vegetable garden and is quite easily removed. However, the moment they come in swarms and begin to populate your garden, they will become a problem.
Potato bugs eat the stem and foliage of plants, and if left rampant, they can eradicate an entire crop. Luckily, however, potato bugs are not very harmful to humans. Colorado beetles cannot bite and are utterly harmless.
Jerusalem crickets, on the other hand, have a large jaw and can give an excruciating bite if agitated. As such, it’s usually a good idea not to corner these bugs and instead give them the time to escape.
How to Know if You Have a Potato Bug Infestation
Potato bugs remain dormant underground during the winter months, only to burrow out in the springtime to lay eggs. In some cases, potato bugs can lay as many as 2 to 3 generations per year.
The first signifier of an infestation is lots of tiny orange eggs, which potato beetles lay onto the leaves of plants. As the larvae begin to grow, they will first damage the flower buds before starting to devour the leaves.
Once these bugs begin to attack the leaves, you’ll be able to quickly notice their effects.
How to Control Colorado Potato Beetles
Pesticides are often a quick and easy option. However, they are not always a safe and eco-friendly solution to rid your garden of these pests. Depending on the size of the infestation you have, you can:
Remove individual bugs by hand
Using a pair of gardening gloves, you can remove individual potato bugs and place them into a container. You can then decide if you wish to set them free elsewhere or eradicate them.
Support your soil with diatomaceous earth
Spreading diatomaceous earth around the base of your crops will not only curb but kill potato bugs. As this earth contains fossilized algae, the chemicals therein dehydrate the Jerusalem crickets until they eventually die out.
Spray your crops with Neem Oil
Neem oil is a well-known way to curb pesky garden insects from feasting on your crop without damaging the plants. Simply create a solution with 1 gallon of water, 1 tablespoon dish soap and 4 tablespoons of Neem Oil. Use this solution to regularly spray your plants.
Vacuum Your Crops
Using a vacuum can be an effective way to remove any eggs or larvae that may still reside on your plant. Just take extra care not to damage your plant and treat it with a neem solution thereafter.
If you have a more significant infestation, a commercial insecticide may be the best solution. A bifenthrin-based insecticide like Talster is ideal.
How to Prevent Potato Bugs
As they say, prevention is always better than cure. So, here are some tips on how you can try to prevent a potato bug infestation in your garden.
Avoid planting your potatoes or other vegetable plants in the same spot every year. Oftentimes, adult potato beetles will burrow deep into the soil over winter and then resurface in the spring.
Continually moving your crops, you won’t give these adult beetles convenient access.
Certain types of plants will deter potato beetles, so it’s a good idea to have them growing near or alongside your crops. Catnip, tansy and sage are very popular options.
Mulching will not only deter potato beetles but will also curb weeds from growing around your plants. A good straw mulch is preferable. Straw mulch is also a preferred habitat for other predators of the potato beetle including ground beetles, ladybugs and green lacewings.
Thinking of growing your vegetables in such a way that pesky insects like the potato beetle can’t get to it? Take a look at our balcony vegetable garden growing guide.
Wrapping Up our Potato Beetle Guide
So, there you have it—everything you need to know to keep your vegetable garden safe from a potential potato bug infestation. Should you notice an infestation, try to use natural methods first before heading for the more potent pesticides.
If you happen to come across a Jerusalem cricket, take care not to corner it, or use gloves if you’re planning to pick it up. Their bite can be excruciating.