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Farmer Fred tackles No. 1 turf pest

Fred and Debbie meet the beetles on latest podcast

Illustration of Japanese and green June bug beetles
A Japanese beetle, left, is much smaller than most people think.
It also is incredibly destructive. (Photos courtesy California
Department of Food and Agriculture)

Every summer, Sacramento gardeners look onto the Internet with alarm after spotting a shiny greenish beetle somewhere in their garden. Was it a Japanese beetle? Or a (much bigger) green June beetle? Or another lookalike scarab, a Figeater beetle?

Fortunately for us, it’s almost never a Japanese beetle, a scourge of the East Coast and Midwest. But in June 2020, 19 confirmed Japanese beetles (eight in Arden-Arcade, 11 in Rancho Cordova) were found in Sacramento County. That’s kept county agricultural authorities on alert: Besides eating more than 250 crops, Japanese beetles are the nation’s No 1 turf pest.

Local gardening experts "Farmer Fred" Hoffman and Sacramento Digs Gardening’s Debbie Arrington discussed the challenges of Japanese beetles during Fred’s latest podcast. Listen to it here:

Fred’s podcast is an online continuation of his popular radio broadcasts.

This beetle talk was spurred by a listener in Indiana who watched in horror this summer as her roses and hardy hibiscus were skeletonized. This was an annual problem. The question: How to stop the cycle?

Fred also discussed this problem in his “Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter.” Read it here:

Japanese beetle on a leaf
Keep an eye out for Japanese beetles, which are more coppery
than green.

Here’s how Sacramento County agriculture officials describe the Japanese beetle:

“Adults feed on the foliage and fruits of several hundred species of fruit trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, vines and field and vegetable crops. Among the plants most commonly damaged are apple, pears, cherries, corn, grapes, roses and turfgrass. Adults leave behind skeletonized leaves and large, irregular holes. The grubs develop in soil, feeding on the roots of various plants and grasses and often destroying turf in lawns, parks, golf courses and pastures.”

Japanese beetles, which measure under half an inch, look more coppery than brilliant green. In Sacramento, they’re often confused with two much larger, metallic-green summer insects: green June beetle (a.k.a June bug) and figeater beetle.

Usually appearing in (you guessed it) June, the green June beetle measures an inch long and feeds on decaying fruit or other organic matter. Native to the Southwest and Mexico, the figeater is even bigger, about 1-1/4 inches, and emerge from July through September. Both like to hang out in compost piles and mulch.

California ag officials ask homeowners to stay on the look out for Japanese beetles. If you suspect Japanese beetles in your garden, contact the Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office 916-875-6603 or California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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