How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles in Your Yard

by kajohu

Japanese beetles can cause extensive damage to the leaves and flowers of many different kinds of plants. Here are some ways for getting rid of these destructive insect pests.

Japanese beetles will eat the leaves and flowers of many kinds of plants in the United States. You'll see a characteristic lacy pattern to the leaves they infest, since they only eat the soft leaf tissue between the tougher veins.

Japanese beetles give of pheromones that attract other Japanese beetles. If you can get rid of the beetles that are already on your plants, then less will be attracted.

There are a number of simple ways to get rid of these destructive garden pests. Here are a few methods for you to consider.

Destructive Japanese Beetles

I remember that the first time I became aware of Japanese beetles was around the year 2005 when my husband was traveling for a couple weeks, and I discovered that the leaves of his prized canna lilies were getting more holes in them each day.    I finally went out to look at the cannas more closely and found many bronze and green iridescent beetles flying around the plants and munching away on the leaves. 

I told my husband about them later that night when he called, and he knew exactly what they were - Japanese beetles.   He told me "just pick them off and squish them".....but....I'm squeamish about squishing bugs!   So I did some research and found a surprising number of safe and natural ways for getting rid of these colorful but destructive little beasties.

Simple Ways to Control Japanese Beetles

Safe and natural methods to get rid of Japanese Beetles

The presence of Japanese beetles on your plants will draw in more Japanese beetles, from certain pheromones they release.   If you can get rid of the beetles that are already present, then less new beetles will be attracted to your plants.

Here are a few simple methods for getting rid of Japanese beetles.

Pick them off and squish them

Yes, this is the simplest, lowest tech way to get rid of Japanese beetles if you're not squeamish, and if there aren't too many (you can decide what is too many for you). Do this every day while Japanese beetles are present in your area. 

Japanese beetles are active for 4 - 6 weeks during the summer, but they may be present for only part of that time on your plants.

A variant of this method is to vacuum them off your plants.  Go carefully so as not to further destroy your own plants!   And empty the bag or cannister afterward, otherwise the dead bugs will start to smell.

Flick them into soapy water

This turned out to be a very simple and effective method for me to get rid of the Japanese beetles on my husband's canna lilies.

This is a variation of picking them off, but I didn't have to squish them and I didn't even really have to touch them except to flick.

I used about a tablespoon of dish soap in 2 cups of water in a plastic bowl.   With bowl in one hand, I flicked the Japanese beetles into the bowl with the other hand.   You can brush them into the water with a gloved hand if you don't want to touch them at all.   It also works to tap the leaf with the bug over the soapy water.  

The Japanese beetles die in the soapy water because it destroys their cell membranes, and their bodies dehydrate.

Japanese beetle damage to roses
Japanese Beetles on Rose
Japanese Beetles on Rose
Japanese Beetles Devouring Pasture Rose
Japanese Beetles Devouring Pasture Rose

Spray with a soapy water mixture

 Put the soapy water into a spray bottle and spray the Japanese beetles and the surrounding leaves.  The Japanese beetles will die from being suffocated from the soapy water.

A good proportion to use is one to two tablespoons of liquid soap to one quart of water.  I use dish soap but any liquid soap will do. 

You can also add strong smelling roots or spices, such as garlic, onion, hot pepper, or horse radish to your soap mixture to repel further beetles (as well as other insects and deer and rabbits).

It works best to spray during the warmer times of the day when the beetles are more actively eating.

Repeat daily while the Japanese beetles are present.

If you prefer ready-made insecticidal soap

Amazon sells a number of safe insecticidal soap products
Safer Brand 5118 Insect Killing Soap - 16-Ounce Concentrate

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Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer 24-Ounce Ready To Use Spray 10424X

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Bayer Advanced 706230A NATRIA Insecticidal Soap Ready-to-Use, 24-Ounces

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Spray with a dead Japanese beetle mixture :-)

This is perhaps ghoulish but very satisfying!   Save some of the beetles that you've been squishing or drowning,  wiz them up in a blender (you may want to use an old blender for this!), strain them so your sprayer doesn't get clogged, add to a couple cups of water (your soapy water is fine), and spray your plants.

Apparently Japanese beetles are deterred by the scent of their dead brethren on plants!  

I've also heard that leaving your dish of dead Japanese beetles in soapy water next to your affected plants will deter live ones.  If this is so, it's easier than wizzing up the dead ones.  

Spray with neem insecticides

Neem oil, or neem seed oil, from the tropical neem tree has compounds that mimic the insect hormones that control eating, breeding, and molting.  Spraying Japanese beetles and the plants they're on with a neem product doesn't kill the beetles outright, but will inhibit their eating, mating, and egg-laying.   Therefore your plants don't get eaten, and you've stopped some of the next generation of Japanese beetles from going through their life-cycle.

Neem affects chewing and sucking insects including Japanese beetles -- both the larval grub stage, and the adult stage.   Only insects that eat the sprayed leaves will be affected.   Neem has to be ingested to work, so  neem doesn't affect beneficial insects like bees, because they don't eat leaves.   The exception is if you spray the bugs, including beneficial insects, directly, then the oil spray can cover and suffocate them.    So if you want to use a neem spray, do it in the early morning or evening when the beneficial insects are less active.

Garden Safe 93179 Neem Oil, 16-Ounce

Garden Safe Neem Oil, 16-ounce - 93179

$11.99  $8.49

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Bon-Neem Concentrate Pest Control For House Plants - 32 Oz

The Bon-Neem is A combination insecticidal soap plus neem. Use as a spray to kill an extensive array of insects. It is ideal for use on houseplants, herbs, vegetables, shrubs-in...

$29.54  $16.54

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Get Rid of Japanese Beetle Grubs

Use a two-pronged approach and kill the larval stage and adult stage of Japanese Beetles
Here are some safe, natural methods for getting rid of grubs that kill your grass. These include the larval form of Japanese beetles, European chafer beetles, and other scarabs.

What About Japanese Beetle Traps?

They may do more harm than good

There are a number of Japanese beetle traps on the market.  While these are highly effective in luring in Japanese beetles, they often bring in many more beetles to the area than would otherwise be present.  A number of gardening experts think these traps do more harm than good.  They suggest that if you do use traps, place them well away from gardens and plants that would be affected by Japanese beetles.

Updated: 03/29/2015, kajohu
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Have you had problems with Japanese beetles? How have you gotten rid of them?

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katiem2 on 04/06/2013

Here for my spring review to avoid Japanese beetles again this season.

Steph Tietjen on Squidoo on 08/14/2012

Great info. Fortunately, this is a problem I don't have in my garden.

Tolovaj on 07/23/2012

No, I didn't have problems with Japanese beetles yet, but I have been battling wars with plant lice for some time. Soapy water didn't work for me, but vacuuming would be interesting alternative. Than, by coincidence I found a lady bug on my plants and the problem was solved fast.
Thanks for these good eco-friendly tips. (And some fun too:))

katiem2 on 07/18/2012

These pesky beetles can be a huge problem here in Ohio, thanks for the tips! We once had them so bad you couldn't open the door without them getting in the house. We'd notice them crawling on the walls later at night when we slowed down to relax. Annoying and very hard to get off the ceilings. Don't want that to happen again. :)K

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