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Bug Alert- Flea Beetle

I decided no cute title for this post because there’s nothing cute about Flea Beetles. I haven’t had a lot of problems with Flea Beetles myself although having dealt with them at a client’s property this year I realize I’ve had them in my yard on my potatoes, but they haven’t done a lot of damage.

Flea beetles are very small bugs, about 1/16″. There are a lot of different but the ones that seem to be the most here in the Hudson Valley are black or a very dark brown without any distinctive markings.

Flea Beetles

Flea Beetles on Eggplant

What is distinctive about them is how they react when you get close to them. The jump away, in very impressive distances. You can see the damage they do which is to chew holes in the leaves (in the lower left corner you can see what severe flea beetle damage looks like).

Flea beetles do their worst damage to young plants while the plants are adjusting to being transplanted and before vigorous growth starts. After that, most plants can outgrow the damage. Eggplants tend to be one exception and can often be killed by flea beetles (this has happened to the client mentioned above).

Flea beetles are fairly species specific, that is, each kind of beetle attacks a particular kind of plant. The beetles find the plants by scent, so planting them in among other plants, especially ones that have strong scents, like Marigolds, can help confuse them. I’m trying an experiment with this by planting some Eggplant in my herb garden between Sage & Oregano (top and bottom respectively in the picture below)

Experiment in Flea Bettle Deterence

Garden Experiment- Planting Eggplant (circled) between Herbs to deter Flea Beetles

I have also read, though not tried, that sprays or teas made from strong smelling plants like mint, catnip (which is another kind of mint), garlic, and hot pepper can be effective in keeping the beetles away. It’s important to prevent an initial infestation because once the beetles start chewing, the plants release more of the oils that attract the beetles in the first place.

In addition to scent confusion a good way to keep the beetles away is by using row covers, a very light-weight fabric that can be lain over the plants. It’s so thin and light that water and light can get through and the plants will push up the row covers as they grow.

Row Cover

Row Cover Over Eggplant & Marigolds

Row covers can backfire if you plants the same veggie in the same place every year. This is because the beetles may survive the winter in the ground under where the plants were last year and then emerge under the row cover.

There are a number of other good ways to control flea beetles. Follow this link to a good article.  Bugs, Slugs & Other Thugs is a book that also has lots of good info on this subject

One Response to “Bug Alert- Flea Beetle”

  1. Jay says:

    I’ll definitely try that, thanks

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