Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

133 Japanese Beetle Control Tips. The Oxblood Lily.

August 31, 2021 Fred Hoffman Season 2 Episode 133
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
133 Japanese Beetle Control Tips. The Oxblood Lily.
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Rachel in Indiana contacted us via  Speakpipe with a question that many gardeners might have: How do you control Japanese beetles? This voracious pest feeds of hundreds of  plants, especially your roses. We talk with a Master Rosarian who has control tips.
The Plant of the Week has the rather gruesome name, the Oxblood Lily. Yet, it is a beautiful and widely adaptable bulb that’s starting to put on its annual show.
It’s on episode 133 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery.  And we will do it all in under 30 minutes.

The Japanese Beetle

Smart Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery
UC Davis Arboretum

Japanese Beetles Control Information (3):
Cornell University
USDA: The Japanese Beetle Control Handbook
Colorado State University
Grub Ex (Japanese Beetle Grub control for turf)
"Garden Bulbs for the South," by Scott Ogden
Nematodes for Japanese Beetles Control
Drift Roses
Knockout Roses
The New Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter

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GB 133 Japanese Beetles. Oxblood lily 



Warren Roberts, Debbie Arrington, Farmer Fred

Farmer Fred  00:00

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's 

Farmer Fred  00:20

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot. 

Farmer Fred  00:32

Rachel in Indiana gives us a call. She has a question that many gardeners in the East and Midwest would like the answer to: how do you control Japanese beetles? This voracious pest feeds on hundreds of agricultural and backyard plants, it especially likes roses. We talk with a Master Rosarian who has some control tips. The Plant of the Week: it has a rather gruesome name, the  Oxblood Lily, yet it's a beautiful and widely adaptable bulb that's starting to put on its annual show. Warren Roberts of the UC Davis Arboretum tells us all about it. It's on episode 133 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. And we'll do it all in under 30 minutes. Let's go.


Hi, Fred. This is Rachel. I'm from Indiana in (USDA) Zone 6B. I have a problem with Japanese beetles, and they're invading my roses and hardy hibiscus. Can you please tell me how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from coming back? Thanks.

Farmer Fred  01:45

It's not only Rachel. It's a lot of rose growers east of the Mississippi and even more who are having problems with the Japanese beetle. Japanese beetles are no strangers to the east coast and parts of the Midwest. Here in California, the authorities have done a very good job of controlling them and keeping them out of our gardens, but it's an ongoing battle. Even locally they spray for Japanese beetle infestations, especially the grubs, because they know the damage Japanese beetles can do. They are serious pests of roses, grapes, raspberries, many ornamental trees and shrubs. In fact, they all eat the leaves, the flowers, the fruit of about 250 different plants. They're a shiny metallic copper color, sometimes described as greenish brown, they're about a half inch long. So they're really small. A lot of people confuse them with the green fruit beetle, which is much larger, which is about two inches long. But the Japanese beetle itself is smaller than a penny, about a half inch long. And it's around now that you see the adults. But the damage begins way before you see the adults. Somebody who knows something about Japanese beetles and roses is the president of the Sacramento Rose Society, Master Rosarian and garden writer Debbie Arrington. Debbie, Japanese beetles. Aren't we glad they're not here in California? Knock on wood?

Debbie Arrington  03:08

Oh, gosh. Yes. And, the state of California has spent millions to make sure they don't come in. Whenever just a single Japanese beetle is trapped, they go on the offensive, and that garden is quarantined. We've had a few cases in Sacramento over the last several years, where just one or two individual beetles will be trapped and it gets a whole offensive against that  beetle because of what it would mean to our wine industry, in particular.

Farmer Fred  03:36

You've talked with rosarians from throughout the country, and I'm sure you sympathize with their issues when it comes to Japanese beetles. And every rosarian, every rose grower I've ever talked to is basically very fond of their favorite tool, which is their thumb and forefinger, to squish them.

Debbie Arrington  03:56

That's usually the most efficient way to do it. Preferably wear gloves. But with Japanese beetles, it's like a lot of bugs that are eating your plant. Probably the least harmful way for your garden and for yourself is to take a bucket of slightly soapy water, put it underneath the plant and then shake the bush. Just give it a nice little shake, and the Beetles will drop right into the water and they don't swim.

Farmer Fred  04:22

I was reading about the defensive mechanisms of Japanese beetles and apparently they are of kind of like a possum that will play dead if they sense an intruder with Japanese beetles. They just sort of fall to the ground. So if you keep that bucket underneath the shrub and shake the plant, they just fall right in.

Debbie Arrington  04:37

Yes, it makes it very convenient. And that way, you're also not harming your beneficial insects, which are a little bit better at flying.

Debbie Arrington  04:46

Exactly. When you start using non selective pesticides to control a pest, you're going to be killing off the good guys as well. And you don't really want to do that, especially around roses, because there are several beneficials that go after Japanese beetles, including assassin bugs, and certain parasitic wasps.

Debbie Arrington  05:04

And those beneficial insects are vital to the health of your roses. So even though the Japanese beetles are a real pain,  it's better to take a non-chemical approach to their control, at least as far as the adult beetles are concerned, than to start spraying a lot of chemicals. Also, the chemicals that you have to spray, to get rid of the beetles, will get rid of everything else, including your bees. And so you don't want to do that. It's much better to go ahead and flick off the adult beetles into the bucket of water, or better yet, to go after the grubs.

Farmer Fred  05:40

Exactly. And that's where the problem begins. That's why I mentioned that the problem begins long before you see the adults, because the grubs are in turf areas, especially. They love the roots of turf. So if you can get them when they're young as grubs, that's a better way of controlling future populations.

Debbie Arrington  05:59

Yes, because the generations are in the grass, usually in the turf, that's growing next to your roses, not underneath the roses themselves.

Farmer Fred  06:08

Because they love turf, because the Japanese beetles in the grub stage is so fond of turf, one option, and this would be my first option if I was having problems with Japanese beetles on roses. If I had areas of turf or lawn between my rose bushes, I think I'd get rid of the lawn.

Debbie Arrington  06:27

That is a definitely a good strategy. Because the lawn is serving as an incubator for all those future Japanese beetles to just come out in June and July and eat your roses. And they don't just eat the roses themselves, they skeletonize the leaves and  can really damage the plant, because without the leaves the plant can't get any energy to make new roses.

Farmer Fred  06:51

Yeah, Japanese beetles can do serious damage to plants. The grubs can do serious damage to your lawn as well. And one strategy is to look for the grubs in the lawn. Cornell University recommends taking out in a square foot of lawn, maybe, or the width of a shovel, if you have a flat headed shovel that's usually about eight inches wide. And just cut out a square. Go down about six inches or so, bring up that chunk of turf, the root area and the soil below, and then start counting the grubs that you find in there. And if you find eight to 12 grubs per square foot, then treatment may be worthwhile. If it's a smaller population, maybe you don't have to.

Debbie Arrington  07:34

Well, that's one of the things. In Indiana, which this caller is from. Is that those beetles are already pretty well established. And it can be a lot of work, if you only have a few. But if you've got a large population for me, those guys can create a critical mass and eat an awful lot of plants. And there are ways that you can treat them while they're in the lawn, that's much more effective than treating them on the bush. One of the ways they do here when they do have a infestation here and it could be just a siting, is use larvicide. It's called Acelepryn, and the commercial name is Grubex. It says it's not harmful to people or pets. And it disrupts the digestive system of the little larva. That way, they basically eat it and then they don't want to eat anymore. And then that's the end of them. So it's a good way to try to stop this whole cycle of beetles coming back year after year. Because that's really the key to control: you can't control Japanese beetles in just one season, it takes a lot of work for a long time to finally get them out of your yard.

Debbie Arrington  08:44

And there are even beneficial nematodes that you could put in your lawn area to help control the grubs as well. I think in particular, the Steinernema species of parasitic nematodes seem to provide some control. And there's a lot of research still going on, on this, that beneficial nematodes can do a pretty good job of controlling Japanese beetles. So that research is ongoing.

Debbie Arrington  09:07

There's a lot of different ways to try to attack this pest. So that you know, so it's not a absolutely hopeless situation. But it's one that takes some persistence by being watchful of your plant, go out every day and look. Because it's one of those things, that  if you're just doing some observation, it's much easier then to go out and flick off the Beetles, and then to make sure they don't get a foothold on your plant, than to try to combat a situation where they're already have a full blown infestation.

Farmer Fred  09:39

Exactly. In the show notes for today's episode of Garden Basics, I'll be providing the links to Cornell University's factsheet on Japanese beetle control as well as one from the USDA. And there's a lot of good information in there that you may want to try, including perhaps companion planting. There has been some research done on companion planting to repel the beetle, using chives, garlic and white geraniums. But again, it's not scientifically proven, it's basically gardeners personal experience, where they've had some success with that effort.

Debbie Arrington  10:15

Well,  garlic works wonders around roses as a companion plant. It's very effective in warding off all sorts of other type of bugs, too. Because bugs, they land on it first and nibble on it, and they don't like it, and they go somewhere else, instead of just continuing on to the rosebush. So it's a pretty effective companion plant. Now the problem with planting garlic underneath your roses is that you want your roses to smell like roses, not like garlic. So it's a little problematic. I think the white geraniums might be a better choice. But the white, I'm not sure white geraniums are hardy in Indiana. So they might might have to be treated as annuals.

Farmer Fred  10:54

My thinking is that the white geranium would just attract another pest, the geranium budworm.

Debbie Arrington  10:59

Yes, that's true. Yeah. Yeah. But if it's not attacking the rose, then you know,  you've got at least like a trap plant or something.

Debbie Arrington  11:08

Anything you buy to control Japanese beetles, be sure to read and follow all label directions. But start with an integrated pest management approach of mechanical, physical and cultural controls. That can help you win the battle. And that includes that bucket of soapy water and getting rid of lawn area. Those are two strategies that have been proven effective in the past. 

Debbie Arrington  11:30

 And just keep them out of California.

Farmer Fred  11:33

There you go. I'm not sure how they get here. Well, I know how they get here. They're hitchhiking.

Debbie Arrington  11:39

Yes. I mean, that's one of the reasons. There are controls about shipping plants, from states with Japanese beetles to California because it'll hide in the soil.

Farmer Fred  11:49

And again, there are a lot of natural predators that eat Japanese beetles and even birds. I understand starlings will eat the Japanese beetles. But there are several other bird species that will eat the larvae in your lawn too. So don't discourage the birds. On another topic, I realize all gardening is local. But is there any rose variety that you grow or are aware of, that gets rave reviews across the country?

Debbie Arrington  12:17

Oh, one that does well, everywhere? Oh, it's landscape roses that they're developing. They are fantastic for the Midwest as well as California. They're from California originally. But oh, the Drift series, the Knockout series, there's several different landscape roses and what makes them great is that they're fungal resistant. And so they stay beautifully green and clean your round, even in high humidity situations. They look fantastic. And I've noticed, also, just kind of an odd thing is, that  their foliage is looking good, even with the high ozone of wildfire smoke in the air. I'm having a lot of problems with that right now, where the ozone is affecting the foliage on my roses, but the landscape rose leaves are just beautifully green and clean. And they look fantastic. The roses are getting a lot more colors and forms. So they've got a lot more versatility. They tend to be smaller roses, because they're grown for landscape use. Those would be very well recommended for anywhere.

Farmer Fred  13:27

Knockout roses, the Drift roses, they're also called ground cover roses. They are excellent choices. I won't say they're bulletproof, but darn, they sure do well throughout the country.

Debbie Arrington  13:40

Yes. And another positive on them is that they're self cleaning, which means that you don't have to deadhead that. Once the rose is spent, it just drops off the bush.

Debbie Arrington  13:49

A lot of good roses. And out here (in California) they're Japanese beetle free. We hope.  And Rachel back in Indiana, we hope we gave you some good ideas. And again, I'll have a couple of links in today's show notes with even more controls for Japanese beetles. Debbie Arrington, Master Rosarian, President of the Sacramento Rose Society, author along with Kathy Morrison, of the excellent Northern California garden blog, called Sacramento Digs Gardening. I don't care where you live, you ought to just subscribe to it just for the Sunday recipes alone. Things you can do with all that produce you're producing in your backyard every year. So check out Sacramento Digs Gardening. I believe you're on Facebook.

Debbie Arrington  13:54

 Yes, we are. 

Farmer Fred  14:31

Okay. And and the website is...

Debbie Arrington  14:38 

Farmer Fred  14:42

But again, if you just do an internet search on Sacramento Digs Gardening, I bet something would pop up. 

Farmer Fred  14:49

yeah, yes, exactly. 

Farmer Fred  14:50

And then yeah, like I say, just get it for the recipes. There. Great. Well, It will come up. Thank you. Deb Arrington, thanks so much for the Japanese beetle information.

Debbie Arrington  14:57

You're most welcome. Thank you, Fred.

Farmer Fred  15:03

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Farmer Fred  16:02

Because there are so many demands on your time these days, I like to keep the Garden Basics podcast to under 30 minutes. Still, there is a lot more to tackle on all the garden subjects we bring up on the podcast. So, for that, and a lot more, we’re starting up The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred newsletter, on Substack.  It’ll go into more details about what you just heard on the latest podcast. For instance, the Aug. 31st newsletter has more Japanese beetle control information. And for those of you here in California and other parts of the West who think you are seeing Japanese beetles, well, it’s probably a much bigger relative, the green fruit beetle. Information about that pest, is in the newsletter.  Also, we will also have a picture of the Plant of the Week, the Oxblood lily.  And just for the heck of it, a lot of maps, explaining USDA gardening zones, as well as a more complete reference for figuring out what can grow in your region, the Sunset national Garden Zones.  As the newsletter grows, so will the subject matter. So, yes, it will be a good supplement for the Garden Basics podcast, but there will be a lot more garden related material and probably pictures of my dogs and cats, as well. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter on Substack. And best of all, it’s free! There’s a link in today’s show notes. Or, just go to, and do a search for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. That’s The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred newsletter. Did I tell you it’s free? It’s free.

Farmer Fred  17:47

Every week we like to talk with Warren Roberts out at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Gardens. We find out about a plant that just might be putting on a show right now where you live. A lot of good plants to choose from. Hi, Warren, I don't understand how you can just limit it to one plant, the plant of the week. And today, this might be something a little different for a lot of people. The oxblood lily.

Warren Roberts  18:10

Yes, the oxblood lily, the botanical name is Rhodophiala bifida. And it's native to Argentina and Uruguay where it is somewhat endangered because of urbanization and such. But it was brought into the South, particularly into Texas, by a German colonist of Texas at the end of the 1800s. It became very popular there. There's a cultivar which evidently originated in Texas, which is really really super easy to grow, and survives in areas with little summer rainfall, without any care. Sometimes the only evidence of a long disappeared garden is a straight line of the oxblood lily that defines the edge of a path. And its kind of new to me. When I moved to Davis to work in the Arboretum in 1972, there was a professor on the campus who had some in his garden, I didn't know what it was, I recognized it as similar to Hippeastrum, which is the so called amaryllis, the kind that has the big red flowers or white flowers or what have you, for the end of the year. It's not an amaryllis, it's a Hippeastrum.  I knew it as a wildflower in the mountains of Peru when I lived in Peru at about 9000 feet, which is only halfway up, and then I found this beautiful flower growing in a garden here in Davis, California. It was new to me. The professor that owned the garden told me what it was and I fell in love with it. I have a big patch of it growing at my place in the country in Yolo County, California, and I don't give it any care really. The only disadvantage of the flower is that they don't last a really long time, I think, three, four days at the most, but they keep producing new stems with new flowers. And when the flowers say fade, they do so more or less gracefully. So it's good for a flower show for about a month, I'd say. Right now in my garden it is spectacular. I have it growing next to lantana montevidensis, which is another South American plant. You wouldn't want to plant them close together because the lantana would overwhelm the Rhodophiala, i think. But it's a great, great plant that has a couple of varieties, but those are not as vigorous as the one that's in the trade, the so called oxblood lily. That's its common name pretty much throughout where it's grown in the USA. In South America, It's called Asunita roja. Sunita is one of the words for Lillies. It's related to the word Susan, the girl's name Susan, which actually means a lily in Hebrew, I think. Anyway, so Sunita Roja is the common name in Spanish. It's best in  really hot areas. If you can give it a little bit of shade in the afternoon, the flowers will last longer. It's related to have brantas put on Colossus and it will hybridize with that. But when we Google it, take a look at it on the web, and see how spectacular this thing is.

Farmer Fred  21:41

It's not that tall of a plant though, is it? What, about a foot tall?

Warren Roberts  21:45

Yeah, not much more than a foot tall. If it's growing with something else it will get a little taller, and it quickly multiplies. The bulbs are beautiful, they are dark black, with a long neck and then they produce a kind of spirally arranged set of offsets so it  propagates itself and then you'll have some to share or to plant elsewhere in the garden.

Farmer Fred  22:11

It is a rather trumpet shaped flower. I bet it attracts hummingbirds.

Warren Roberts  22:15

It certainly does. Like I was watching hummingbirds  dance around it recently. Yes, it is a perfect magnet for hummingbirds. They evolved together, hummingbirds. Red is a color that birds see really well. And the flower is kind of trumpet shape, just the right shape for the hummingbirds,  to reach in and get the nectar.

Farmer Fred  22:38

I cannot vouch that the flower is the color of ox blood having never slaughtered one.

Farmer Fred  22:45

But I'll tell you it's a it's a colorful name, oxblood lily.

Warren Roberts  22:48

Ox blood Lily. And the flower color is a dark red, very dark red. And so I guess that it's a blood-like in color.

Farmer Fred  22:59

It is widely adaptable through USDA zones seven through 10. So most of the Sun Belt, going up the Atlantic coast. And we were talking about this before the show and you pointed out that if you plant the bulb, and due to its growth, you don't want it to be subjected to early frost or freezes. So you want to plant it in an area where those freezes might come a little later in the year.

Warren Roberts  23:23

Or keep it in a pot, and move it indoors and in the winter. And the foliage is very pretty, it's bright green leaves get about a little more than a foot tall. And so it's a nice looking plant, even indoors. And when I say indoors, I mean a very bright, brightly lit situation. And as soon as the danger of frost is passed, move it outdoors and enjoy it. The leaves die down in the summer. They disappear basically. And then in in August -September, the flowers come up rather quickly in bloom. And then that's followed quickly by the leaves. It tolerates rather poor drainage and also rather dry situations as well.

Farmer Fred  24:11

And as you pointed out, full to part sun in hotter areas. Probably give it some afternoon shade.

Warren Roberts  24:18

There you go. One of my favorite books about bulbs is by Scott Ogden. He wrote a book called Garden Bulbs for the South. A great horticulturalist from Texas. And this is a beautifully researched and illustrated book.

Farmer Fred  24:35

Alright, the rhodo... I'm gonna try this. The Rhodophiala bifida, the oxblood Lily. Warren Roberts, thanks for telling us about that. I should point out Warren Roberts is the superintendent emeritus of the UC Davis Arboretum and Garden which is open for your strolling pleasure, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Next time you visit Davis, California you want to drop by. And pay a visit to the website. You are gonna learn a lot about the Arboretum, at . Warren, thanks again.

Warren Roberts  25:06

You're welcome.

Farmer Fred  25:12

Are you thinking of growing fruit trees? Well, you probably have a million questions. Like, which fruit trees will grow where I live? What are the tastiest fruits? How do I care for these trees? The answers are nearby. They're just a click away with the informative Fruit Tube video series at That's Dave Wilson nursery, the nation's largest grower of fruit trees for the backyard garden. They've got planting tips, taste test results, links to nurseries in your area that carry Dave Wilson fruit trees. Your harvest to better health begins at

Farmer Fred  25:50

The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast has a lot of information posted at each episode: transcripts, links to any products or books mentioned during the show. Plus, you can listen to just the portions of the show that interest you, it’s been divided into easily accessible chapters. There’s other helpful links for even more information, including the new Garden Basics newsletter. And just like the podcast, it’s free.   Plus you’ll find more information about how to get in touch with us. Leave an audio question without making a phone call via Speakpipe, at speak pipe dot com slash gardenbasics. it’s easy, give it a try. And you just might hear your voice on the Garden Basics podcast! You can also use your phone to call or Text us the question and pictures, 916-292-8964.916-292-8964. E-mail: . If you tell us where you’re from, that will help us greatly to accurately answer your garden questions. Because all gardening is local. In the show notes you’ll find links to all our social media outlets, including facebook, instagram, twitter, and youtube. Also, there’s a link to the website. And if you would please, if you hear something you like, share it with your friends and family. Thank you!

Farmer Fred  27:15

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's brought to you by Smart Pots. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. And that includes Apple, Iheart, Stitcher, Spotify, Overcast, Google, Podcast Addict, Cast Box, and Pocket Casts. Thank you for listening, subscribing and leaving comments. We appreciate it.

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