Dealing with lily beetle

Posted: Monday 14 May 2012
by Adam Pasco

Catching lily beetles can be tricky, as they hide or drop off onto the ground at the slightest touch [...]

Red lily beetle on a lily leaf

After weeks of rain, a dry start to last Saturday meant I finally managed to make it outside in the afternoon to mow the lawn. I noticed that my lilies, growing in pots on the patio were growing well. Through habit, I glanced down at their tips. Oh dear! Some leaves had been nibbled, and on closer inspection I discovered the culprit hiding just under a leaf: a bright red lily beetle.

With one beetle dispatched I checked my other pots of lilies. Two more were discovered, then another, and another. The final tally for the afternoon was eight, but I know there will be more.

These troublesome little pests have been a scourge for many years now, and while preventive pesticide sprays are available, I do try and use finger and thumb to control them if I can.

Catching lily beetles can be tricky, as they hide or drop off onto the ground at the slightest touch, and when lying on their backs on the soil their black underside make them almost impossible to spot. The trick is to slip one hand below them as you go in with the other to pick them off, so you can catch any that drop. Grip tightly too, as lily beetle not only crawl but fly. Don't place them on a surface to come back to later, or they'll be gone.

This year, in addition to my other lilies, I'm growing a new variety, which is supposedly resistant to lily beetles. So far so good, as no leaves have yet been nibbled, and I didn't find any pests on these plants either. Even if you aren't growing lilies you might find lily beetle feeding on other favourites, like crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis).

It's easy to get obsessed by pests, but then there are several to keep an eye out for at the moment. Others on my list include Solomon's seal sawfly, viburnum beetle larvae, and the first signs of whitefly or red spider mite in the greenhouse. In my effort to be a better gardener, it pays to be vigilant.

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Tim Burr 14/05/2012 at 13:34

I catch lilly beetles with a spring loaded meash infusor (used for infusing tea leaves) which I hold open over the lilly beetle and then snap shut. Before it knows what's happening, I've captured it. I gently pull the meash infuser away, letting go a little bit of a grip so as not to damage the lilly leaf, and then put the meash infusor with contained beetle into hot water to kill it. Totally organic (no chemicals), and mildly satisfying!

Wintersong 14/05/2012 at 13:38

And there was me feeling guilty about guillotining slugs with my secateurs It is a quick death no?

Lion S 14/05/2012 at 14:45

Wintersong, that is exactly what I do to slugs to!  I refuse to feel guilty, I would feel bad when I'd be using the pellets though. Lily beetles are crushed with whatever I can find - I really love my Fritillaria meleagris- IMO just as quick as boiling them.

Patio 14/05/2012 at 15:34

I just catch them in my hand and drop them in the water butt I find they arent very good at swimming 

Marinelilium 14/05/2012 at 16:40

Like those other nocturnal nasties these horrors don't like garlic sprayed leaves . A dilute spray of garlic infusion seems to flummox them (as does leaving crushed mint leaves and lavender in the pots later in the summer).

Once the flowers are open though it's squishing 'em that seems the only remedy. I am a little worried by the amount of satisfaction this gives me TIm Burr, she laughed demonically, so you are not alone.

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