The effort it takes to grow potato plants is WAY TOO HIGH to let potato bugs eat them away.
You’ll enter rage mode as soon as you see those beetles walking on leaves. And when you notice the bite marks, there’s nothing else to wait for.
It’s time to learn how to get rid of potato bugs.
This can be a daunting experience. But it’s nothing hard to do. As long as you learn about potato bugs and how to get rid of them, you’ll find it a relatively easy experience.
Check below to find out how!
What Are Potato Bugs?
People refer to them as potato bugs because they’re super common in potato crops, but they’re actually Colorado Beetles. Their scientific name would be Leptinotarsa decemlineata.
These bugs are incredibly persistent and annoying. A single young beetle can eat upwards of 10 square inches of potato leaves in a season. Multiply that by a hundred and you can get an entire crop eaten away.
Suffice to say, they can be EXTREMELY DAMAGING to your potato crops. Luckily, as long you can identify and get rid of them quickly, there will be nothing to worry about.
How do Potatoes Bugs Look Like?
To know whether you’re facing potato bugs or other species, look for black stripes in a yellow-to-orange body. These black stripes are typically on their top where their wings are. Adults can measure up to 0.3 inches long.
The larvae are red and black-headed, with black spots on their sides. Their legs are often yellow or orange. These babies can be as small as 0.2 inches.
On the other hand, you can spot their eggs. They can be yellow, reddish, or orange. The beetles lump them together over and under the leaves.
Where do Potato Bugs Come From?
But even if they aren’t, they may still come once they smell the potato plants (their favorite food). As soon as temperatures start to warm up in the spring, Colorado bugs will appear. Generally, they just crawl from the ground, but they may also arrive from other crops by flight.
These bugs come from America (where the potato is also native). Around 200 years ago, the potato arrived in Europe and Asia and along came the potato bug (Colorado Beetle). Nowadays, however, potato bugs appear primarily in the warmer areas of the US.
When Do Potatoes Bugs Appear?
You won’t see any potato bugs in winter. Instead, they’re likely to go dormant and hide below ground where their bodies can resist frosting temperatures.
Once the last frost passes and temperatures start to rise, the bugs start to get out of the hideouts. Of course, as soon as that happens, they go in search of food (typically your potato crops).
As they feed, they also lay eggs. About 15 days later, you may see even more bugs as the larvae hatch and start to feed off the crops. A few days later, the larvae drop from leaves and bury themselves in the ground. You can expect to see more adults in a span of 10 more days.
Before fall arrives, you may experience up to 3 generations of potato bugs appearing and disappearing.
How to Get Rid of Potatoes Bugs (Methods for Indoors & Outdoors)
With a better idea of how potato bugs look and how they behave, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Here are the best methods for getting rid of them:
1. Collect Them
Handpicking those potato bugs could be the easiest and most effective way at first. There’s no doubt about it.
Not only you’ll be able to get them EXACTLY where they are, but you’ll also have the chance to get rid of their larvae and eggs. There’ll be no potato bugs after collecting them entirely.
Follow these tips:
- Start collecting the bugs when they’re dormant in the early morning. Do it between April and May when the spring starts so you can catch them before the eggs are laid.
- Check the undersides of the potato leaves in search of bugs, larvae, and eggs. Then, clean them off by hand.
- Dig around the bottom of your potato plants superficially (not more than 2 inches). This could discover a few of the beetles hibernating.
- Grab everything you find (eggs, larvae, adults) and place them in a container. Pour some soapy water and let them die.
You can also use a vacuum to suction away all the bugs on your plant. Just make sure to kill them all afterward, so they don’t grow back.
2. Cover the Soil with Mulch
Potato plants won’t mind if you cover the soil with mulch. But the beetles will.
Even though they’re adept crawlers and can climb pretty much any plant, they also struggle with mulch. Beetles are less likely to dig themselves into the soil with mulch under the potato plants.
This also attracts ladybugs and lacewing that like to eat potato bugs. So you’ll be doing a double win with mulch.
NOTE: This doesn’t ALWAYS work, but it can be a simple method to try. On top of that, it keeps the potatoes growing away from the sun (so they grow BIGGER).
3. Use Pesticides
When handpicking the bugs feels like too much work, you can opt for pesticides instead. These pesticides don’t need to be chemicals (which potato bugs grow resistant to) that harm your potato plants. You can instead use natural alternatives that are both safe and effective.
Here are some to consider:
- Diatomaceous Earth
It comes from a fossilized alga that looks like a rock. After it is converted into powder, the “earth” is damaging to different insects, including potato bugs.
This powder acts more effectively on the larvae than on the adults. By just spreading the powder on the leaves and parts of the soil where the larva hangs, you can get rid of most of them.
The effectiveness is such that you can spot the dead bodies of the larvae in as little as 12 hours. But be careful with it, as it can damage many other insects (from bees to lacewings) and pets.
- Neem Oil
Another way to inhibit eggs hatching is to use neem oil directly on them. After the adults lay the eggs, you can wait a couple of days and pour the oil over.
The oil also adds to the adults, causing them to stop eating over time. This effect could take a few days or weeks.
Neem oil will then prevent potato bugs from propagating and their eggs from hatching at the same time.
- Rapeseed Oil
Also known as canola oil, it has a few properties that add negatively to the potato bugs. As soon as it hits their bodies, the oil starts to burn them away, causing them to drop from the potato plants. In some cases, the bugs will keep them from eating.
Be careful with this oil. It can burn your leaves as well, causing mild to severe damage over time (especially in temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit).
It is a natural chemical solution for your potato bugs. As a chemical, it is pretty effective and causes the bugs to drop almost immediately after applying it.
Like diatomaceous earth, this pesticide is damaging to other insects, pets, and even humans. So be careful when applying it.
4. Use Homemade Pesticides
These homemade pesticides contain chemicals that potato bugs hate, so they will likely rush away from your potato crops.
- Horseradish Liquid Manure
Once the liquid manure starts to ferment, the Colorado Beetles will flee the area. It acts more effectively on the ground as manure, scaring buried beetles and preventing larvae and eggs from hatching. In fact, it is an excellent way to avoid potato bugs from even laying eggs (if used before the spring).
You will have to prepare the manure, though. For that, we recommend dropping dried horseradish into a large container and then pour about ten times the amount of horseradish in water. Mix and leave the solution to ferment for about a week.
You can use the manure once every three days on the soil. After a couple of weeks, the potato bugs should be off the area.
- Rock Flour
It won’t kill the potato bugs or the larvae but can be helpful to promote an uninviting environment. Rock flour adds as a mineral-enriching product that potatoes can benefit from. But because it is rich in minerals, the potato bugs will likely flee over time.
This one won’t get the work done by itself. But it can boost the process when used with other methods.
- Coffee Grounds
The highly acidic nature of most coffee grounds can be detrimental to potato bugs health. As soon as they feel the acidity rising, they’re likely to flee the area into less acidic and more enjoyable ground.
It’s worth noting that coffee grounds can also change the acidity of the soil (reducing pH levels). If you’re growing potatoes on already acidic soil, then you probably want to avoid coffee grounds.
- Thuja Tea
The thuja tree is a small species similar to pine. You can find it in a wide array of places around the world. Interestingly, you can create a tea that repels some insects, including the potato bug.
You only need to cut a small portion of a thuja leaf, let it soak for a day or two in water, and then pour in a sprayer. Use the spray on the infected areas of your potato plants. Within a day or two, the potato bugs will flee.
- Mint Broth
For those with peppermint and other highly minty plants at home, few methods will be as easy yet as effective as mint broth.
You only need to harvest a few leaves from the mint plant. Then pour inside a bowl and let it boil. After 30 minutes, you will have a minty broth that repels insects.
You can wait for the broth to cool down and then pour in a sprayer. Use the spray on the potato plants. Those potato bugs will slowly run away. Keep spraying the broth every few days to prevent the potato bugs from coming back.
How to Prevent Potato Bugs from Coming Back?
You don’t only want the potato bugs going away, you also want them NEVER coming back. That’s where our six prevention methods below can help:
Install Row Covers
Covering the plants using floating row covers is surprisingly effective. They prevent beetles from smelling and finding potato crops. Also, it keeps them from attacking directly.
It can be detrimental if the bugs are already on the soil. In that case, it is better not to use floating row covers at all (get rid of the potato bugs first instead).
Perform Crop Rotation
Some environments are nearly perfect for potato bugs to thrive. Unfortunately, in these areas, keeping them away can be pretty tough.
As a one-season solution, you can move the crops away every year. Rotating the potato plants will prevent the beetles in one section of the garden or soil from growing back the next year.
Clean the Area Consistently
Keeping the garden free of litter and dead leaves will minimize the number of beetles that come into your garden. This also includes potato bugs inside your house.
Get Rid of Dark Places
Potato bugs love to hibernate under rocks, planks, boards, and batches of grass and weeds. By getting rid of these dark, dry, and comfy places, you’re likely to prevent potato bugs from even coming.
Allow Pest Killers to Roam
Some insects won’t eat your potato plants but will eat the potato bugs. They prevent the beetles from even getting into the crops and often get rid of them completely.
These insects include parasitic wasps, tachinid flies, green lacewings, ground beetles, and ladybugs.
Bring the Ideal Plant Neighbors
If bringing insects doesn’t feel like a reliable choice, you can opt for companion plants. These plants will not only bring some of the insects above, but they directly repel the potato bugs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What do potato bugs eat?
They eat the leaves of the potato plants. This prevents the plant from absorbing sun rays and humidity, reducing their growth.
Why do potato bugs come into the house?
They may come in search of food or warmth. This is a good sign that you have a potato bug infestation in the garden.
Can potato bugs bite?
No, they won’t bite other insects, animals, or humans. They will only bite leaves.
Are potato bugs poisonous?
No, they aren’t poisonous or venomous.
Will vinegar kill potato bugs?
Yes, you can use vinegar directly on the beetles to slowly kill them.
As you can see from above, learning how to get rid of potato bugs is no rocket science. But there are so many alternatives that you need to be sure of what you’re doing and why.
Proceed with either of the methods above when you’re familiar with the ins and outs of the process. After that, you’ll get rid of those potato bugs in no time and with no trouble.
SO, what are you waiting to keep those beetles in line?