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Nature’s Balance – Japanese Beetles and Cottony Scale

Japanese Beetles

We are plagued with Japanese Beetles every year and they take over our Rose of Sharon bushes hardly allowing them to bloom since they eat the buds. One year I picked them off and put them in water and felt so bad about it. Instinct told me that something could possibly benefit by leaving them. We now leave them. The bushes are not good to look at and certainly not nice to be around. They last 4-6 weeks with an interest in about 300 species of plants. Fortunately for us, they seem to congregate mainly on the Rose of Sharons.

Some birds love to eat Japanese beetle, so attract them to your landscape with birdbaths, feeders and nesting boxes that are nearby where you have beetle problems. Don’t chase away starlings! These birds may be considered pests, but again, they have a great purpose when it comes to Japanese beetles. They eat the adult beetles and the grubs in the ground.

Another great natural enemy is the Spring Tiphia wasp, which was imported into America from China to control the beetles. The female wasp goes into the soil and lays her eggs right on Japanese beetle grubs, killing up to 85 percent of the grubs in a lawn. Sounds way better than poisonous chemical insecticides! Plant forsythia, peonies, and firethorn to attract these beneficial wasps.

After they are done feasting, they lay eggs that produce grubs that winter over and become beetles next year. There are many critters that dig these grubs up and eat them. Sometimes I find one while digging in the garden and I put it in the bird feeder as a juicy morsel for some fortunate bird. If you’ve got turf grasses, these guys will kill it. Fortunately we don’t want a lot of grass since it doesn’t serve much purpose for wildlife, so that’s not been a concern.

My friends and neighbors have tried sprays and the bags that you hang around the garden to collect them, but their bushes don’t appear to look any better than ours during this time period. The beetles release a substance that attracts more beetles and these bags have that substance in them. However, I’ve read online at various places that the bags seem to attract more beetles than they collect, so they’re mostly being promoted now by places that sell them.

Patience is something I get to practice while waiting for the beetles to have their fill and be finished with our bushes and then the bushes seem to bloom profusely. It seems that the beetles have given them determination to shine after the battle is over.

Cottony Scale

Every now and then we have a bush that gets cottony scale which is not a good thing. This year our pyracantha bushes have had a heavy infestation of cottony scale.

There are lots of chemicals to kill these aphid like critters and there are some more natural products also recommended. I always wonder what benefit something is that we may not know about, but it’s hard to just let things be “eaten up.” The bushes were heavily fruited so I kept thinking that maybe the fruit would not get to ripen and all those berries would be lost.

As the cottony scale multiplied, the berries continued to ripen and turn bright orange, so that seemed to indicate it wasn’t killing the bush or the berries.

Today Randal and I were in the garden and saw a small bird dart into the pyracantha bushes. We both knew it was something we don’t usually see. He went for the camera while I kept my eye on the bird, and then another that joined him. After many photographs, I identified it as a First Year Pine Warbler. The interesting thing is that it was eating the cottony scale.

One of the photographs shows him with a grin on his cottony scale face. This was an exciting event for Randal and me because we realized we would not have seen these birds if we’d sprayed to kill the scale.

Those who use chemical sprays not only kill the scale but contaminate the berries and bush. Randal wondered whether birds know not to eat from a bush that has been sprayed. Do their instincts tell them not to visit certain yards because chemicals are there? I doubt it since we know that many birds die from the poisons. It’s not a research project I will do. I like to learn about the more exciting and positive topics.

The more we add to our experience list with such events as this the more I am grateful that we’ve chosen to take a “nature’s balance” approach to our gardening for wildlife. The rewards have been so great and so far, we’ve never lost a plant doing it this way. We may not have perfect specimens, but maybe perfect is not in wildlife vocabulary.