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Let’s face it, the flea beetle and growing vegetables go hand in hand. Every garden is alive with insects of all types.
In many cases, they are very welcome additions to your plants by providing valuable “services” in the entire life cycle of vegetation. But many types of insects can be harmful and even prove detrimental to some of your most prized plants.
In this article we’ll share details about the flea beetle, to you understand them, identify them, to prepare and take action against them to minimize damage.
When you put hard work and long hours into your garden, you don’t want these unwanted garden pests to ruin your work.
What Are Flea Beetles?
As a member of the leaf beetle family (Chrysomelidae) there are many different subtypes of flea beetle. They derived their name from their distinct ability to jump, just like fleas.
They are quite small in appearance (1/10 inch) with varying colors and patterns dependent on their species. Another identifying characteristic is their large hind legs. They help them jump when bothered or to move to another plant nearby.
They can do devastating damage to plants, especially vegetables, by chewing small holes in leaves. Their population grows quickly when not controlled. Plants can become completely defoliated and eventually die.
Damage accelerates when the larvae from hatched eggs laid at the base of the plant begin feeding on the plant roots before maturing.
What Time Of Year Are The Flea Beetle Most Common?
As the beetles overwinter in mainly wooded areas, they come out of a type of hibernation in early spring. This usually coincides with planting season for gardens and is a very vulnerable time of year especially for young plants.
Once temperatures reach about 50 degrees you can start seeing these insects. Keep a close eye on small holes appearing on leaves.
Dependent on your geographic location you will either encounter one or two generations of flea beetles per year.
In warmer climates, eggs will hatch in mid to late summer, and the larvae can grow into adults in time before the weather starts to get too cold.
What Plants Are Most Affected?
Most types of flea beetle tend to favor vegetables with large leaves, such as potatoes, cabbage, beans, lettuce, corn, tomatoes and peppers.
As the beetle’s activity increases the warmer it gets, they will tend to feed more on hot sunny days.
Young plants with their softer tissue are most susceptible, and flea beetles will quickly defoliate and eventually kill the plant. If left undetected defoliation and death can happen in a matter of days.
More established plants generally can survive attacks as their foliage is larger and will not die off that fast. But a severe infestation can severely stunt growth even on old plants.
Controlling Flea Beetles In The Garden?
Controlling flea beetles begins with prevention. The best thing you can do before winter is to make sure to remove all garden trash, remove weeds and their roots to reduce winter living space.
You can also delay planting new vegetation to avoid attracting them to your garden in the first place.
However, if you suffer from an invasion of flea beetles, the choices come down to using an insecticide or organic ways to mitigate their damage. We would start with spray applications of insecticidal soap concentrate or organic Neem oil sprays.
Many gardeners these days try to avoid using toxic chemicals on plants and vegetables especially those for personal consumption. Your best option here would be to implement some organic solutions.
Flea Beetle Organic Controls
- At the start of the planting season place floating covers over new plants. Leave them in place until the plants become large enough to withstand flea beetle damage.
- Place bright yellow (which attract the pests) sticky traps every 15 feet to catch these insects as they move between plants.
- Certain nematodes, a type of worm-like parasite, will not damage plants. They live in the soil around roots and will kill off larvae and eggs.
- Regularly sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth a non-toxic insect repellant over plants to stop the number of feeding adults.