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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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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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