Japanese Beetle Control, How to Keep Moles, Skunks, and Other Critters from Digging up Your Lawn

Japanese Beetle Control is the secret to healthier landscape plants and a healthier lawn. People are always asking what they can do to get rid of the moles in their lawn. Or "How do I keep the skunks from digging up my grass?" If you have moles, skunks, or other critters ruining your lawn, then you have Japanese Beetles laying eggs in your lawn, then the moles and skunks destroy your lawn while feeding on the grubs.

Moles live in your lawn because the Japanese Beetle grubs below the surface of your grass provide an excellent source of food.

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Skunks dig up your lawn mostly in the fall because they go on a feeding frenzy to get fattened up for the winter. Once they discover that you have Japanese Beetle grubs or other insects in your lawn they will come back night after night. When they get done it looks like your lawn was roto-tilled.

So what do you do? First, you have to understand the problem.

Adult Japanese Beetles can be a nuisance and can do substantial damage to plants. Fortunately they only feed for about two weeks once they hatch. Each adult Japanese Beetle can lay up to 50 eggs in your lawn.

1000 Japanese Beetles means 50,000 eggs that will hatch into larvae (grubs), and if you have one Japanese Beetle you no doubt have 1000. The larvae can do much more damage below the soil line than the adults do above ground. These larvae feed on roots below the soil.

They can severely damage your lawn as well as landscape plants. The larvae prefer the tiny fibrous roots because they are the softest, and I suppose the most tasty. These are the most important roots to your plants. The plants depend on these little fibrous roots to pick up the water and nutrients necessary to maintain healthy plants and lawns.

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The Japanese Beetle was accidentally introduced to the United States in a shipment of shrubbery from Japan to New Jersey around 1916 and now inhabits almost two thirds of the country. It’s infestation extends from Maine to Southern Georgia and from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi with outbreaks reported in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, California, and Washington state.

There are many different ways to attempt to control Japanese Beetles. Many people use beetle traps to catch and kill beetles in their yards and gardens. No doubt these beetle traps are effective at luring and trapping beetles, I’ve seen them hanging with the bags almost full. Not a very pleasant site, and I am sure much less pleasant to empty or dispose of.

However, because the traps use two of the most powerful lures possible to attract Japanese Beetles, sex pheromones and floral stimulants, and Japanese Beetles are great long distance fliers, it's not unusual for a trap to lure Japanese Beetles to your yard from as far away as several hundred yards. It is also reported that the traps only capture 75% of the Japanese Beetles they attract.

So guess what the other 25% are doing?

Although the traps do a good job of eliminating a great deal of adult beetles, how many of these adults laid their eggs in the lawn before being trapped? More than we would like to think about I am sure.

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Not to mention the beetles from your neighbors yard that were lured across the border by the bait in the beetle traps. Some professionals claim that beetle traps do more harm than good because they attract beetles to your yard that wouldn't have come without being lured.

In order to effectively control Japanese Beetles you must eliminate their larvae from your lawn. Again easy enough to do if your willing to use chemical pesticides. Some folks refuse to use any chemicals at all in their yards, while others try to limit the amount they use. And still others who depend on wells for their only source of drinking water are reluctant to use chemicals because they are afraid of contaminating their water supply.

If you like the quick fix and are not opposed to chemicals, then I suggest you visit a full service garden center in your area and talk to someone knowledgeable. There are plenty of effective chemical controls available. Recent research indicates that some of the chemical controls that have been recommended over the years are not as effective as once thought, the experts are now making different recommendations.

If you prefer a more natural method of Japanese Beetle Grub control then you might be intrigued by the control known as Milky Spore. The company that produces and sells this product touts it as an environmentally safe grub control for Japanese Beetles.

As the publisher of this web site I can not offer any personal experience using Milky Spore Disease in controlling Japanese Beetle Grubs, nor will I claim what you are about to read is completely true or accurate. Everything you’re about to read here regarding this product was taken from documents I received from St. Gabriel Laboratories, the company who markets this product. Much of it word for word from their press release.

But I will say that people have written to me and told me that they used Milky Spore once and got rid of their Japanese beetle problem forever.

When Japanese Beetle outbreaks first started happening there weren't any controls. This pest was relatively new to the area at the time and control measures had yet to be established. In Hot Springs, Virginia, old-timers, including golf professional "Slammin’ Sammy Snead" remembers how bad the Beetles could get at the famous golf courses in the area.

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"The Beetles were so bad," says Sam, "They’d fly right in your face when you tried to hit the ball." Golf course managers said there were so many Beetle grubs in the ground chewing on the grass roots, they were able to roll back the sod like a giant toupee.

U.S.D.A. Researchers, prior to World War II, initiated an attack on the Japanese Beetle in what is described as the first major effort to combat insect pests using a biological tool. At the U.S.D.A. facility in Moorstown, NJ, Dr. Sam Dutky made a startling discovery while studying some sick Japanese beetles he had collected.

An uncommon spore, which he named Milky Disease, would cause a serious illness in Japanese Beetle larvae, which he termed "The weakest link" in the Beetle’s one year life cycle. The problem was the spore didn’t occur naturally enough in great quantity in the field to stop the Beetle on its own.

Over the next few years Dr. Dutky developed a process of producing Milky Disease in the laboratory using the larvae themselves. "Each grub," he said, "Becomes a tiny little factory producing billions of Milky Disease Spores inside themselves."

Dutky would collect the Beetle larvae from turf farmers and other locations, bring them to his laboratory, clean and anesthetize them; then inoculate each grub with a tiny hypodermic needle containing One-300th of a c.c. of Milky Disease serum derived from the original sick Beetles. Grubs were then incubated and finally sacrificed to produce Milky Disease Powder and more Milky Disease serum.

The finished powder was then spread on lawns in concentrated "spots" to contaminate other Beetle grubs who in turn would perpetuate the disease. Milky Disease had two fine properties. One, the material only had to be applied once to the soil where it would last for years continually multiplying on its own. And Two, Milky Disease was "host specific" infecting only Japanese Beetle grubs and nothing else.

"Not even earthworms are affected," says Reuter, whose laboratory produces Milky Disease in the exact way developed by Dr. Dutky. "Milky Spore does not affect birds, bees, fish, other animals, plants or man," according to Reuter. In her 1950’s book "Silent Spring," Rachel Carson mentioned Milky Disease as a antidote to chemical pesticides, which she warned, "would pollute and poison the earth."

U.S.D.A. produced Milky Disease Spore in the 1950’s and 1960’s and spread it throughout the Washington, D.C. area including the grounds at the White House and Capitol Hill which appear to be free of Beetles to this day. U.S.D.A. no longer makes Milky Disease Spore Powder but it is sold commercially by two U.S. companies, St. Gabriel Laboratories in Gainesville, Virginia and Fairfax Labs in Clinton Corners, New York.

Efforts to produce Milky Spore in the test tube in recent years met with failure. "You’ve got to inject the Japanese Beetle Grubs with the original Duty-serum to make it right," says Reuter, "Then you know its real viable material that will go on to control successive generations of larvae."

Their advertising literature states that "Milky Spore is not a chemical pesticide. It is a live viable spore and applied with a teaspoon in a grid pattern across open lawn and flower beds and gardens. Place one teaspoonful of powder on the ground in a spot every four feet in rows four feet apart. Do not broadcast the powder.

It must be concentrated in one spot. Each spot represents a colony of millions of Spores. As grubs in the vicinity of the initial spots become affected by the Spore, they will perish, decay, add billions of new Spores and natural fertilizer to the area eventually filling in the soil between the original spots. The more grubs, the faster the spore will spread."

The company claims that one application can last for 10 to 20 years. Of course it can take 3-5 years for the spore to spread to the point that it is effective. The one problem I have with this type of control is the fact that grubs must be present in order for the spore to spread. In fact the more grubs the better it works. My question is what happens to your lawn and landscape in the mean time?

I find the whole theory intriguing, but I would like to know for sure what condition the lawns that were treated in Washington years ago are really in. They claim the areas appear to be grub free today. I wonder how much chemical control they now use on the areas treated in Washington, and when they started using chemical controls, if at all.

Dr. Sam Dutky, the scientist who discovered and developed Milky Disease Spore, died in November, 1995 after a 40-year tenure at U.S.D.A.

I don't know what to think. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Today there are new non chemical controls using Nematodes, and admittedly I know little about this new control, however I will make available to you a very interesting handbook designed for homeowners by the United States Department of Agriculture. Just right click on the link below to download this free handbook:

Managing the Japanese Beetle:
A Homeowner's Handbook

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog...