Blech! No one wants to find their potato plants covered in the tiny red larvae of potato bugs! But attracting potato bugs is a risk you take when you choose to raise this root vegetable. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of potato bugs naturally.
What Are Potato Bugs?
To start at the beginning, potato bug eggs are orange/yellow eggs laid in clusters on the underside of a leaf. They look like this:
It’s hard to say how long until they hatch because they only hatch when the weather conditions are perfect for them. Anywhere from 4 to 14 days.
The eggs hatch into larvae and begin to feast on their host plant. The larvae are reddish brown with tiny black dots on their sides and a little black head. Potato bugs are in the larva stage for 6 to 10 days.
At this point they burrow into the soil and develop a pupa. Five to 10 days later it will emerge as a beetle.
Potato beetles are cream and black striped on their backs/wings. Their bellies are orange and they have a black head.
The beetles can lay up to 500 eggs a month! And so the cycle begins. Learn more about potato bugs here.
How to Get Rid of Potato Bugs Naturally
1. Kill them by Hand
The quickest and most effective way to kill potato bugs in a small garden is by hand. Yep. A squish and a pop between the thumb and forefinger and bye bye bug.
Just the thought of the pop and the guts gives me the heebie jeebies! I used to do this all the time when I was a little twerp and had to prove something to my friends and brothers.
Now, all I’m brave enough to squish in my fingers is the eggs I find.
Or just wear gloves to smush them!
2. Pick Them
When young labor was abundant, my mom would send all of us out to the garden with a jar of gas.
Yep, the gas you use in your car and lawn mower.
We would go along the row of potatoes and brush beetles and larvae into the jar. The little bit of gas in the jar was enough to make them snap, crackle, pop to death in no time.
3. Dust the Plants
No! Don’t use Sevin!
Diatomaceous earth is a wonderful, safe dusting agent.
Diatomaceous earth is ground up, microscopic pieces of fossilized sea creatures like algae. To the larvae, crawling over this is like crawling over a million knives or a field of broken glass. Their delicate bodies get cut and they die.
For the beetle, the microscopic shards scrape through the waxy outer coating that protects them and they dehydrate to death.
This powder is harmless – even beneficial – for humans to ingest.
ALWAYS USE FOOD GRADE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH.
Food grade has a much lower silica content than industrial diatomaceous earth making it safe for mammals.
Some people feed it to their cats and dogs and cows to kill parasitic worms. Some people are known to drink for parasites also!
DO NOT INHALE.
Inhaling diatomaceous earth will damage your lungs so be sure to check the wind direction before applying and remove children and pets from the area.
Read More: 6 Forgotten Garden Vegetables You Should Grow
How to Keep them Away in the First Place
Some people will try and tell you that once you have potato bugs you have them forever. There could be truth to that, but not all is hopeless.
Because potato bug larvae must burrow into the ground to develop into the mature beetle, mulching with a deep layer of straw will make it difficult for them to complete their circle of life.
Plus, it will keep the weeds at bay. Win! Win!
2. Don’t Overwater
Potato bugs thrive in wetter conditions so overwatering can encourage their invasion.
3. Check Your Potato Plants Daily
This may seem like a hassle, but it can be super effective. I have a smaller garden so spending 10 minutes slowly going up one side of the row and down the other inspecting leaves and looking for the red larvae or yellow eggs is worth the time.
In my mother-in-law’s garden, I found a few larvae once, killed them and she didn’t have a problem the rest of that summer!
4. Disturb the Soil
Because burrowing into the soil is part of their life cycle, gently hoe or turn the soil under and around your potato plants.
At some point you will hill your potatoes so that is another great disruption to them.
4 Steps to Take When You Discover Potato Bugs
A few days ago I was tilling my garden when I discovered my potato bug infestation. After the initial panic I walked myself through the best way to go to war with them.
- Look for eggs. I crawled up and down both sides of my potato row looking for eggs on the underside of the leaves. Any eggs I found I smushed.
- Kill beetles. They can fly and move much easier than larvae and usually there are just a few if you catch the infestation early on.
- Dust. Thankfully I had some diatomaceous earth on hand from last year and I was able to dust the plants and ground right away.
- Re-apply. If it rains or in a couple days I will dust again. Rain and dew will make diatomaceous earth ineffective at killing.
This year has been horribly wet around here. I haven’t been able to till and hoe the garden as much as I like because the rain has kept it so muddy.
The dampness and the undisturbed soil are both prime conditions for inviting the potato bugs I have.