Japanese beetles for sale? Really?


Here’s another guest post from veterinary surgeon and master gardener James Roush/Garden Musings

This morning, on a trip out of town, I innocently stopped at a large regional nursery about 60 miles east of Manhattan, Kansas.  This nursery sells each spring, among other plants, the largest variety of potted roses in a 100-mile radius. I could not help but stop to view the few remaining potted roses on sale, hoping particularly to find a ‘St. Swithun’ marked down to a price that even a curmudgeonly rosarian would accept.  And there, I saw them.  Japanese beetles!  Fornicating in ‘The Wedgwood Rose!’  As I looked around, I saw they were on all the roses!  And the perennial hibiscus. And the daylilies. ( I took the pictures shown here with my iPhone.)

To understand the full depth of my horror and excuse the stream of curses I uttered, you should be aware that Japanese beetles are not yet indigenous  just 60 miles west, where I live, and I was unaware that they had been seen in anything but temporary outbreaks west of Kansas City.  East coast rosarians should imagine, for a moment, an idyllic garden where they had never seen a Japanese beetle, but had heard they were massing at the seashore.  That is the fear that I’ve been living with for 5 or 6 years now, viewing the online pictures of destruction at other gardens and waiting for the beetle-induced Armageddon that was surely heading my way.

When I questioned a worker at the store, the response was, “Yes,” they did know that they had living, breeding Japanese beetles on the premises.  “They’ve been here for two or three years.”  And “Yes” they had notified the authorities and were being monitored.  Why then, I wondered, were their embeetled roses and other plants still for sale?  How was it that they felt it was okay to participate in spreading these things around? I understand a conscientious gardener sticking to their organic principles and refusing to spray, but surely a commercial nursery wouldn’t hesitate to nuke every inch of plant and soil.   One thing for sure, I wasn’t buying any roses there.

Friends, this whole issue puts me deeply into a moral dilemma.  I have a vocal libertarian streak, distrusting authority of all kinds, but I wished instantly and fervently on the spot that there was a government agency that would step into this void, tell this nursery they have to put up signs warning unknowing customers, and curtail sales to western customers.  Or better yet, depopulate and burn the nursery to the ground, as they have done in the past to farms with tuberculosis and brucellosis in their dairy herds.

I know that eventually beetles will reach Manhattan, Kansas on their own.  But I had a small hope that the Flint Hills would be a 50 mile-wide barrier to westward expansion; a no-beetle-land of poor food sources for their migration and extensive annual prairie fires to wipe out early scouts.  Little did I know that a nursery on the infested side of the zone would blatantly offer to sell me a potted plant with either beetle larvae in the soil or actual beetle couples who would be happy to disperse into my beetle-free Eden of 200 rose plants. I’ve bought plants from this nursery every year, my latest being a peony last August during a sale, and it’s far too late to grub it out now.  Until now I’ve tried, myself, to be a no-spray gardener, mostly faithful to the organic cause, but the sight of this nursery had me contemplating which insecticide I should use first.

I drove speedily home, calling friends and local nursery owners on the way like a gardening Paul Revere, spreading the word that the beetles were coming.  Local nursery owners were unaware and surprised at the disclosure.   I came straight home and ran into my rose garden, inspecting every bloom for the insects, finally collapsing in relief as I determined that I’m still free from infection.  And then I took a long hot shower in disinfectant soap and burned my clothes.  You can never be too careful.


  1. Noooooo!!!!!!

    Actually, I saw the first Japanese beetles that I’ve seen around here when they were turned into Extension about a month ago. I don’t know where they came from – what part of the county or whether, perhaps, they were imports on something purchased from this same nursery you are writing about. Sadly, I figure it’s only a matter of time until they’re widespread around here, too, adding another layer of difficulty to gardening in this difficult environment.

  2. First of all, you have my sincere sympathies. As someone who lives and gardens on the east coast, these evil monsters are the bane of my existance for a good month. Luckily we’ve only had very mild infestations the past 4 years. The year before that not so much and I did call in the professionals because you couldn’t even walk outside. Literally. I’m not exagerating. I hope the devil beetles stay away from you for good!

  3. They should be reported to the local agriculture enforcement agency, usually the county Agricultural Commissioner. The idea that the business knows about this, and continues to sell infested plants does not say much about that business.

  4. I thought reporting them to my county extension agent would be enough, but he shrugged it off as old knowledge. Meanwhile, every gardener I tell about it in this area is shocked at the news that the beetles are now this close.

    • Me, too. There seems to be a need for better communication between the government, the nursery, and it’s customer base. Why doesn’t the nursery get out in front of this, and let people know what they can expect. That would be a sign of a business that cares about it’s customers, and their gardening efforts.

  5. After reading the article again it appears the local ag. department is monitoring the situation. I guess there is nothing they can do?

  6. Japanese beetles are only on the east coast of the US? I have them on roses here in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, ie in the west.

  7. We have Japanese Beetles here in Central Texas. The beetles are bad enough but the grubs are the real horror here. The nurseries, the upscale organic one, doesn’t seem to be too concerned. When I went to see what I could eliminate the grubs with they said that the grubs were an indication that I had good soil and they went on to tell me they would aerate the soil, etc etc. I felt like a hysteric. I’m not buying it though. I want them gone!

      • Thank you. “Indigenous” also doesn’t work. The time may come when this pest is “indigenous” here rather than “invasive,” and the “large regional nursery” is doing its best to move that date along. However, in my admittedly limited knowledge, the Japanese beetle is not yet considered indigenous anywhere in North America. It’s in the name. Perhaps Mr. Roush meant “invasive.” From the context, I expect he means they have been seen in his area only on very rare occasions. There is probably a better word out there. “Commonplace?”

        As an aside, I would like to commend you and Mr. Roush for drawing attention to this scourge. I wish it were possible to “out” the store in question, but I have no doubt that would be against your policies for good reason. At any rate, I appreciate your good work.

  8. Well our retail nursery on the west coast of California had some in our Dahlias a couple of years back and we took immediate steps to eradicate them- organically. There are some great organic pesticides now-many to choose from. I do think it is uncaring for the nursery to dis-regard the infected stock, but this just shows you how lazy and dis-connected from consumers the industry has become. It seems it is so easy to sell pretty flowers to a majority of dumb gardeners- that there seems to be no real need to have morals, educate, or think of the long run implications for the home gardener. This is a hard industry to be in however- we are carrying a very perishable product and it is very heavy on the labor cost side to have a nursery- all the watering and customer service etc.
    It is my sincere wish that the industry wakes up and re-invents itself to make it relevant to a new generation of gardeners with conscience. There is so much education we could do as a service that also drives sales.

    • Oh and as far as a government that is supposed to monitor bugs for us…..we have all but eliminated those old extension offices as a result of economic downturn. They have limited resources and this is NOT a priority for them. Just part of the new frontier of limited government.

  9. I never saw Japanese beetles until they showed up in my garden this year. I guess I was lucky they didn’t infest my garden until now. I’ve been squishing every one in sight with horror instilled in me simply from reading about their evil nature- never having experienced it myself yet. I don’t know what else to do without resorting to pesticides…

  10. Funny thing, I was just shaking Japanese beetles off my ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ and
    ‘Westerland’ into a little tupperware of soapy water. They leave ‘Sally Holmes’ alone, for some reason. But here’s the good news. When I leave the containers, avec beetles and water, on the backyard table, the beetles are eaten by grackles. I wonder if grackles could be trained, or perhaps genetically engineered, to eat beetles off of rose bushes.

    Meantime, I am thinking of posting a daily Japanese beetle body count. Maybe that will discourage them.

  11. So that is what happened to those nasty vile things. They migrated to the west. The last 2 years have seen a light infestation, thanks be. Last summer was very wet & cool, this summer exact opposite. Maybe global waing will destroy the b–tards. Haven’t squished one yet. I need a new outlet for my blood thirsty tendencies..

  12. Oh dear James–don’t you think you should have disinfected and showered before you inspected your roses (not after)?

    I seem to remember that these beetles travel also in lumber…

    I wonder how far these beetles can fly?

  13. Here I sit in Portland, Oregon, completely unaware of this horrid pest and the damage it can cause. After reading this rant I did a little research. Wow. I feel lucky to be out here where (knock on wood) we’ve avoided an outbreak.

    The lack of action by this nursery is shocking to me. As Monish noted above unaware gardeners are being taken for fools and there is no concern for the “long run implications for the home gardener”…shouldn’t the nursery be cultivating long term relationships with their customers not just unloading infected stock and profiting in the short term? At least signage warning people? I don’t get it.

  14. I had horrible numbers of Japanese beetles when I lived in rural Washington County, NY. I finally gave up on trying to grow anything but once-blooming roses, because they were basically finished blooming by the time the beetles appeared. Fortunately, I find once-blooming Albas, Gallicas, and Damasks the most beautiful of all roses.

    Now that I have a city yard, no beetles worth complaining about. The biggest pests here are the drunks and the squirrels.

  15. Loree, be vigilant; OR Dept. of Ag does monitor for Japanese beetles, but there have been small infestations in your neck of the woods. They come in through the Port of Portland in large loads of lumber (I found this out from my friendly OSU Extension bug person), and also in nursery stock from all over. so far, they are not a “problem”, but just something to watch out for.

  16. That would never fly with our county Ag Dept! We get regular inspections for Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), Sudden Oak Death & Glassy Winged Sharpshooter and have worked with them to implement an organic best practices plan to minimize the LBAM in and around the nursery… unfortunately it is so well established that it is looking that it is unlikely that it will ever be eliminated in NorCAL. We also have a pheromone Japanese Beetle trap in front of the nursery because we are near the East Bay FedEx Hub as well as close to several importers which receive large shipments from Asia. So far, so good, the only weird bug that has shown up was a giant stick insect likely an escapee from the reptile shop down the street (and boy did they get spanked by Ag!).

  17. Wisconsin’s Extension entomologist does not recommend japanese beetle traps as they attract rather than deter the beetles from coming in your yard. I subscribe to our weekly Wisconsin Pest Bulletin and we can report and insect findings to our local extension offices and they can be included in this bulletin.
    Alas my pest due to having sandy soil in Rose Chafers a migratory pest that decimate the blossoms of my peonies and some of my roses.

  18. I bet if the authorities knew they were fornicating in public THAT might get the authorities to do something about it. 🙂

  19. We’ve been battling them here in Toronto, Ontario for several years so I feel your pain. I’ve been trying a variety of organic measures to get rid of them (organic is my preference, but with our laws, it’s also my only real choice) or at least repel them.

    For those who squish the beetles (or slice them in half with secateurs, my previously favorite revenge), a recent article in Fine Gardening magazine online said that male beetles are attracted to something the squished female emits…so kill them away from your other roses! I have posted a link to the Fine Gardening magazine article here http://jenniferarnott.blogspot.ca/2012/06/what-do-you-mean-i-was-asking-for-more.html if you’re interested in learning more.

    I was very surprised to read this, as I had always heard that a concoction of dead bugs of whatever type was plaguing you was usually a good repellent–that bugs stayed away from this. Apparently not so with Japanese Beetles (and maybe with others and what I had heard was just an old wives tale!?)

  20. The Japanese beetle has been advancing steadily westwards. A Bugguide.net map shows them in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc. http://www.nchh.org/Portals/0/Contents/Article0279.pdf
    It would be nice, if those of you who have seen it in Texas, British Columbia, etc., submitted photos to Bugguide. That information is useful to the general public and even to authorities.
    More on Japanese beetles:
    To Jennifer: the concoction you mentioned works to some extent and at some times. Worth trying.

  21. Chickens. Chickens are your answer.

    Here in MA, I head out every evening with an empty yogurt cup and harvest a whole passel of Oriental beetles and Japanese beetles from my daylilies and other unfortunate hosts. In the morning when I shake that cup, my feathered ladies come running for their delectable treat. Yummy.

  22. Alas, they’re here already. After putting out the news locally, one of my gardening friends found them yesterday on sunflowers in her yard. Sunflowers! The Kansas state flower! A native sunflower grows all along roads here, anywhere where the soil has been disturbed; so much for the prairie holding up the beetle invasion.

  23. OMG! That is horrifying. I just found one in my own garden for the first time and had a total freak out (my husband couldn’t completely understand why). I ended up writing an emphatic blog post to try to get some sympathy elsewhere 🙂 Even though we garden in an east coast community garden (aka the ultimate garden bug orgy) we haven’t had these up until now. The best advice I can give is from Harry Potter’s Mad Eye Moody…Constant Vigilance!!!!

  24. I have had an all out beetle infestation the past 4 years just a little east in Columbia MO. I have been using the pheromone traps as if I dont, they will completely devour every last leaf off of my cherry trees and then move on to my cannas and callas. They do seem to be very picky as far as what they eat. Last week when we were having 100-105 temps each day I was emptying enough to half fill a plastic grocery sack full of beetles daily from just one trap.

  25. We in the thumb of Michigan feel your pain. What has me steemed though, since that seed has already sprouted here, is the big box stores selling coneflowers infested with Tobacco/geranium Bud Worm. What a mess!! There is no more leaving your Coneflowers up for winter interest…in fact you must dead-head immediately to stimy the larvae once you see the chewed petals or the frass in the cones. It also infects rudbeckia, Shasta daisy and poppies ( both annual & perennial). Crud!!!!

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