I would like to speak to someone in charge. I ordered this:
Instead, I got this:
The following rant is dedicated to the people who make a living making you feel bad, the authors of what I like to call the Fantasy genre of garden literature. They hold out the promise that if you simply do A, you will surely get B. They also have a warning: whatever you do, you must never do C.
For the past two months I have been suffering from a flea beetle epidemic. The trouble started, as usual, on my Rudbeckia, one of those "indestructible" natives you're supposed to plant to get that Snow White effect. If you think that flea beetles only like eggplant, think again. They adore Rudbeckia.
I wanted to give peaceful co-existence a chance, so first I tried flicking them off. But it turns out they are a very mean-spirited bunch and used my "walk softly" approach against me. If you drive them off one plant, they attack another. That is the nature of flea beetles.
Flea beetles are almost impossible to eradicate, unless you intend to pull a Monty Python and bring out the heavy artillery. But who thinks in terms of eradication? All I wanted to do is control them, and that's hard enough. For starters, they seem to be impervious to biological controls. I should know. I have more biological controls than you can shake a stick at. I've got bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering, and birds chirp-chirp-chirping. I have all kinds of beneficial insects, hundreds of frogs and lizards, and the occasional box turtle. Snow White has nothing on me.
Yet it turns out that even biological controls are subject to the Peter Principle. They are effective up to a point, but eventually they meet their match. In my case, their match was the flea beetle.
With the birds on strike, Nepeta (which is said to repel flea beetles) entirely useless, and soapy water a joke, it was time to step up the program. Neem, which supposedly makes the plants taste bad, held them at bay for a few days but had no long term effect. Dusting with diatomaceous earth helped with the Rudbeckia infestation. However, it did nothing to help my coral bark willow, where hundreds of beetles were massing along the branches last week, decimating the foliage and withering the stem tips.
There is an old Henny Youngman-style joke that goes something like this: if a husband speaks in the forest and his wife isn't there to hear him, is he still wrong? By the time I reached for the pyrethrin, I felt a lot like the husband in the forest. Whatever I did, I was going to be wrong.
The pyrethrin worked. The flea beetles are (mostly) gone. All that's left are an inferiority complex and a guilty conscience. Nice going.
The Peter Principle at work -- I got a kick out of that, and it jogged an old memory of corporate speak. Do not despair. You used every step of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) which says you start out with natural approaches and try that, then use something more aggressive and finally, after all else has been used, you turn to chemical inputs but only for a short time and only selectively and only when biological controls aren't working. You did it just right, nothing to be guilty about!
6/27/2013 02:14:27 pm
Thanks for the reassurance. I always feel I am about to be struck down by a thunderbolt whenever I reach for a spray bottle.
6/28/2013 01:47:45 am
Most funny things are.
6/28/2013 03:35:36 am
No flea beetles? Lucky indeed. Although the lily leaf beetles are really bad too - I've had them as well, as also opted for the chemical intervention. Way too many to even consider.
6/28/2013 02:10:35 am
Beware of people who insist that A will lead to B but avoid C at all costs (they give child-rearing advice, too). Sorry about your infestation, that's the problem with actually having a nice garden and caring about what's in it.
6/28/2013 03:39:15 am
Well, even I couldn't ignore these guys. And that's saying a lot.
I love the closing sentence of your post. There is nothing like insects to drive you crazy.I am not sure I have had to contend with Flea beetles....yet. Right now, I am preparing for the annual onslaught of Japanese Beetles. So far they are a no show, which is strange. Could our full-on Canadian winter this year have done them in? No, it seems too good to be true. Have a great weekend!
6/28/2013 03:42:26 am
My Japanese beetles arrived this past week, so they may be on their way up to Canada. Let's hope your winter killed them off, but I'd bet on the beetle. If I had my choice, though, I'd take Japanese over flea beetles - they show up, eat, and leave. Flea beetles stick around.
There but for the grace of Walt Disney go I. Don't feel too bad. You only used the stuff as a last resort and only aimed at a specific persistent pest. Would it make you feel better if I told you I sprayed 2,4 D on some of the creeping charlie that is taking over the back lawn? Keep it under your hat, though.
6/28/2013 02:13:38 pm
It actually does make me feel better! I won't spread it around, though.
6/29/2013 10:46:01 am
I'm with you. Enough Ms. Nice Guy.
6/29/2013 07:43:44 am
Vicissitudes make for the best comedy routines. I should be able to do a real howler about gophers. In the meantime, your blight was good for a few giggles.
6/29/2013 10:47:28 am
Glad you smiled. I'm looking forward to your gopher routine. By the way, the flea beetles are back on the coral bark willow, so maybe I declared victory too soon.
6/30/2013 01:11:15 am
Nasty buggers! I have some small black beetles on my raspberries as well as Japanese beetles. Ugh! With the cooler, wetter spring we seem to have many more bugs this year.
6/30/2013 03:17:06 am
Maybe it is the cool wet spring that's responsible - I hadn't thought of that. The only good thing to say about Japanese beetles is that you don't have to tolerate them for long. They eat and run, which is more than I can say for the flea beetles.
7/4/2013 02:18:40 am
Oh, my yard and garden *never* look like Fantasyland, probably because I keep some weeds and ratty looking hollyhock around to lure Japanese beetles away from my roses. If you can figure out what flea beetles like best and plant some of that, they *may* leave the other stuff alone.
7/5/2013 11:22:03 am
Does it work? And doesn't it break your heart to have the hollyhock eaten, even if that is why they are there? I have a bad habit of getting attached to thing I'm not supposed to.
I'm getting to that point with my apple trees, too. I had one loaded with apples, but now something has gotten to it. All the apples dropped off, along with many of the fruiting spurs and leaves. I can't see any bugs on it, though.
7/7/2013 11:40:09 am
I'm so glad to hear you say that! It's too bad about your apple trees, but at least I'm not the only one who harbors these thoughts...
7/9/2013 10:04:14 am
I think there are many different kinds of flea beetles, each with its own taste preferences. If you are lucky you'll never see them on your ornamentals. They are persistent little devils.
7/19/2013 02:13:16 pm
I somehow missed this post earlier, but this was a very timely reminder that the Fantasy Snow White garden is not real. When it's just me in my garden, I don't mind its imperfections, the plants that didn't bloom this year, the ones that aren't thriving, the ones that are being eaten by insects, etc. And when I photograph the garden for blogging purposes, I just turn the lens away from those imperfections. But this week, I am having two visitors who only know my garden through the blog, and suddenly I'm worrying that my garden isn't good enough to be "visited." But, it's okay, my visitors are gardeners; they know the fantasy image isn't real.
7/20/2013 02:40:56 am
I'm sure your garden will look stunning, even in real life. I am generally fine with imperfections. I just don't like false advertising!
6/13/2014 03:19:10 am
Just found this blog when I googled 'beetles on rudbeckia'. I've never been one to advocate killing any critters (well, drowning Japanese Beetles used to be one of my hobbies), but these little devils I can crush with my bare hands while singing the theme from Rocky. So far, I haven't found a solution, but misery DOES love company, so thanks for sharing.
6/13/2014 03:55:50 am
Thanks so much for commenting - you made my day. Sorry about the flea beetles, though. I knew I wasn't the only one with this problem! The only solution is the scorched earth strategy, it seems. Crush, Kill, Destroy.
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The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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