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Gardeners not having to worry about Japanese beetles

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By R. A. Monti
Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

This summer, Ray DeFrances has had to do a little less work to keep his rose garden pristine.

Usually during the summer months, DeFrances' flowers are attacked by swarms of Japanese beetles — but not this year.

"I've never seen this few beetles," said DeFrances, who has more than 275 rose bushes at his Leechburg home.

"I was gearing up for a heck of a fight. I don't know what the cause is but there have been very, very few beetles."

Greg Hoover, an entomologist at Penn State University, knows why.

"The bottom line is it's linked to soil moisture during the time the females are laying their eggs," he said.

According to Hoover, the last few summers have been extremely dry, and that isn't good for Japanese beetle grubs.

"For the grubs to survive, they need moist soil that they can feed on," he said. "When conditions are very dry, like we saw last summer, grubs dry out and die."

Hoover said his travels around Western Pennsylvania this summer have proved there aren't many Japanese beetles around.

"A colleague and myself were in Pittsburgh and Erie last week, and we saw one Japanese beetle over the whole trip," he said.

"I've talked to a lot of companies who spray (insecticides) for the beetle, and they've been saying they haven't been getting any calls to come out and spray."

But, Hoover said, the beetles will be back: Insect life cycles hit ups and downs over periods of time.

"We could have two really rainy seasons, and then people will be complaining about the beetles again," he said. "Insects are resilient."

Until the beetle population restores itself, DeFrances will enjoy the respite.

"They're tough to get rid of," he said. "Thank God they're not around this year."

Additional Information:

How'd they get here?

As their name suggests, Japanese beetles are not native to America. While no one knows for sure how the insects got here, the most widely held theory is that beetle larvae arrived in the soil of iris bulbs shipped in through New Jersey in 1912.

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