7 Ways: How To Control Colorado Potato Bugs and Beetles

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If you’re trying to grow potatoes (or any member of the hemlock family or solanaceous crops), one of the most often encountered problems is the Colorado potato bug or beetle.

Larva and adult beetles prey upon potato plants by eating both the blossoms and the leaves.

potato bugs adult and larval stagePin

In addition to potato plants, these voracious little beetles also lay waste to other members of the hemlock family, such as peppers and eggplant, not to mention creating tomato plant problems.

When plants lose a great number of leaves, their vigor and ability to produce fruit are hampered. 

These plants will suffer reduced production levels if potato bugs continue to consume your plants in your commercial potato fields and home garden.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into all the details about the potato bugs in garden and how to get rid of potato bugs.

What Is a Potato Bug?

Colorado potato beetles (leptinotarsa decemlineata) are most commonly found in the southwestern areas and rocky mountains of the United States, especially in North America, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii. 

However, they’ve also spread to Europe and Asia as well.

Just don’t confuse it with Jerusalem crickets. They’re different insects.

The common black and yellow-striped beetle is by far potatoes’ most serious insect pest.

You will begin to see the adults emerge late in the springtime when your potatoes are just beginning to establish themselves and grow well.

Adult potato bugs, potato bugs, or Jerusalem crickets are easy to spot because they are quite dramatically marked. 

They have narrow black stripes on their wings with a yellow-orange color, and their heads are orange with rows of black spots.

You’ll find adult potato bugs amongst the foliage of your potato plants. Unless you intervene, you will soon see clusters of reddish potato beetle larvae on the tips of your potato plant branches.

If you are growing eggplant, the potato bug larvae will be gray. As they get larger, the Jerusalem cricket larvae begin to sport black dots on their sides.

How To Recognize Potato Bug Damage

During the potato bug larval stage, these bugs are hungry little critters, but where do potato bugs live?

They first go for the tastiest and most tender parts of plants. You can find them infesting gardens with solanaceous plants or those that are from the nightshade family.

For this reason, they will usually eat the flower buds from potato plants before eating the leaves.

They move very quickly, and if interfered with, they will strip all foliage from your potato plants. 

In addition, potato bug damage also greatly reduces yield and kills plants.

striped bodied Colorado potato beetles on a green leaf orange heads.Pin

It is important to note that this is more likely to happen when you plant a mono-crop.

In other words, if you have all potatoes, tomatoes, or other hemlock-type plants, you are more likely to lose your whole crop.

Crop Diversity Is Key

If you have a mixed crop, colorado bugs may ignore some plants and focus on others, so keeping a diversified organic garden is a good idea.

This type of garden is more likely to attract beneficial insects, which are natural predators of potato bugs.

When you have a good assortment of beneficial fauna in your garden, you can be sure that Colorado potato beetle eggs, larvae, and even adult beetles will be consumed.

You want to have a good mix of ladybugs, ground beetles, and small wasps. In this way, you can be certain that eggs, larvae, and beetles will have to fight to survive.

The Life Cycle of The Colorado Potato Beetle

Adult potato bugs can live through the winter by hiding under the bark of trees or other covers to protect them from freezing.

When the weather warms up in the middle of the springtime, they come out of hiding and seek out potato plants or other hemlock-type plants.

Once they find the type of plants they need, they eat and mate. Then, females in their adult life lay orange-yellow eggs on the underside of leaves over a 4 to 5-week period.

The eggs hatch within a couple of weeks, and the fourth instar larvae will begin feeding on the plants. This goes on for another couple of weeks until the larvae become a pupa.

From female beetles laying eggs to the time the pupae become an adult, it can take 30-45 days.

You may notice them already present in a potato field by midsummer.

The amount of time is dependent upon the weather. In cooler weather, this transformation takes longer. In warm weather, the entire process usually takes about 30 days.

Moreover, potato beetles overwinter in the soil, garden debris, underground, or field margins and emerge in the spring.

When you live in a warm climate, you may get a double dose of Jerusalem crickets every year!

When the cycle of metamorphosis takes only 30 days, it is entirely possible for it to be completed twice in a growing season.

Related Reading:

How To Keep Your Potato Plants, Eggplants, Peppers & Tomatoes Relatively Free Of Potato Beetles

So, how to kill potato bugs?

Organic control is the most effective form of pest management. You might think spraying pesticides would be a good idea, but you’d be wrong.

You will have far more success fighting off potato bugs with an arsenal of natural weapons.

There are a number of organic ways of controlling Jerusalem crickets and maybe some other pests such as tomato fruitworm, aphids, and others.

Among them include:

These natural solutions are far better than chemical insecticides because, as time has passed, the Colorado potato cricket has developed commercial insecticide resistance from a vast majority of brands.

For this reason, it is more effective to use a variety of organic methods to catch the potato bug off-guard.

One example is using essential oils such as neem oil, which is an effective solution against garden pests.

Diatomaceous earth also greatly eliminates insects and other harmful insect pests in your potato fields.

Attract Helper Beneficials

The best beneficial fauna or natural enemy can help you in your fight against potato bugs.

What eats potato bugs? Here are examples:

  • Predatory Stink bugs (hemiptera pentatomidae)
  • Double-eyed soldier bugs (perillus bioculatus)
  • Parasitic Wasps
  • Domestic Fowl
  • Ground Beetles
  • Box Turtles
  • Ladybugs
  • Spotted lady beetles (coleomegilla maculata)
  • Birds
  • Toads

You can attract a lot of beneficial insects for biological control by planting flowers on your potato crops.

In addition to insects that will help you fight potato beetle infestation, planting flowers will also attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees, so it’s a win-win all around.

Moreover, some beneficial insects feed on dead roots, decaying plant matter, organic matter, and small insects. They also help improve soil aeration.

How To Get Rid Of Colorado Potato Beetle

Along with forming an alliance with beneficial fauna, there are a number of steps that you can take to keep Jerusalem cricket at bay. 

Among them are:

1. Rotate your crops. This is a very effective way to baffle the Colorado potato beetle and prevent them from being able to find your crops. It’s a good idea to alternate grains with tubers to prevent the potato bug from establishing itself.

2. Dig trenches between your rows of potato plants. These trenches should be a foot wide and dug at a 45-degree angle. Line each trench with black plastic. When the Jerusalem cricket falls into the trench, they will be trapped.

3. When your young potato plants have emerged and are growing well, mulch around them with straw or hay. Do this early enough that Jerusalem crickets have not yet found your plants. When they come looking and make their way across the straw or hay, they will likely encounter one of the natural predators you have cultivated.

4. Use floating row covers to protect your potatoes once you have mulched them. Open them up once a week and examine your plants to be sure that potato bug larvae or adults are not present. If they are, remove them by hand.

5. Keep chickens, ducks, geese and/or guineas. Once your potato plants are fairly mature (one foot tall), you can let your flock wander through them from time to time to pick off potato bugs.

6. Carry a bucket of warm soapy water with you when you examine your potato plants. It’s also a good idea to carry a little mirror with you so that you can easily examine the undersides of your potato leaves.

If you see larvae or adult beetles, remove them and drop them in the soapy water. Doing this every day will greatly reduce the number of potato beetles in your garden. Using an insecticidal soap is a good potato bug killer and will make killing pill bugs, sow bugs, and potato bugs easier.

7. Plant potato beetle-resistant varieties of potato such as “King Harry.” This type of potato plant has a great many leaf hairs, making them undesirable to the potato bug. Make sure to also clean up weeds that can become a food source for these pests.

8. Mix buckwheat plants into your garden. The Jerusalem cricket does not like them, but predatory wasps do. The blooms of the buckwheat plants will attract these beneficial garden insects at just the right time to help you battle Jerusalem crickets.

9. If you see lots of larvae on your plants, you may want to spray with an organic spinosad insecticide. This organic pesticide is produced using fermentation.

It is safe for indoor and outdoor plants, fruit trees, flower gardens, lawns, and veggie gardens. It is listed as safe for use in organic food production by the USDA National Organic Program.

Another natural potato beetle control option is Bacillus thuringiensis.

Related: Learn more about Bacillus thuringiensis (bt) here.

10. continue adding coarse mulch around your potato plants throughout the growing season. This can be straw or hay or even grass clippings or leaves. This type of mulch provides a habitat for natural potato beetle predators.

Potato Beetles Are Garden Enemy #1

Because they are so adaptable, reproduce so prolifically, and wreak havoc with all kinds of hemlock crops, Jerusalem crickets are the scourge of many a gardener’s existence.

The challenge of coping with their notorious ways has spurred many a scientist into action.

You can find lots of interesting information on the websites of several major universities. Additionally, there is even a website dedicated entirely to the contemplation of the Jerusalem cricket beetle problem.

It is Potatobeetle.org, where you will find articles, tips, studies, anecdotal information, and even potato beetle haiku and artwork submitted by young organic gardeners in the making.

The main thing you should remember when battling Jerusalem cricket is that you will probably never overcome them.

However, if you adopt a Wile E. Coyote sort of approach to them and keep devising one fiendish plan of attack after another, you have a good chance of keeping the bugs on potato plants at bay and having a bit of fun doing it!

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