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An Unwelcome Guest in the Garden–the Lily Leaf Beetle

June 23, 2013

The recent arrival of the lily leaf beetle in Boston has complicated lily culture and gardeners throughout the area should be on the lookout for this insect. The beetle was first officially sighted in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the summer of 1992. Many gardeners believe it came in with bulbs shipped from Europe. They have spread as much as 150 miles from Boston, in many cases with the assistance of gardeners. At present the infested area in the USA reaches into all of the New England states, including southern Connecticut and northern Vermont. Not all areas are yet infested and gardeners who are transplanting bulbs and other garden plants should be careful not to move these beetles to an uninfested area.


The female beetle lays eggs on the underside of leaves. If you find these clusters of orange capsules, by all means destroy them. Otherwise, hatching will occur in about 8 days.  The larvae will promptly feed  on the lily leaves. As the larvae eats,  it covers itself in its own excrement. Yikes! After 16-24 days of continuous feeding,  the slug-like larvae falls to the ground and pupates in the soil.  Adults emerge in 16-22 days, and promptly eat their way through leaves, stems, buds and flowers. But they do not mate until the following spring. They spend winter either in the garden or in nearby woods, which can sometimes be a great distance from their host plants (lilies).

There are a couple of options should you find these pests in your garden.

First, pour water and a little liquid dish-washing soap into a bucket or jar.

Put on gloves, and squish every adult beetle you can find.

Squish also the excrement-covered larvae or detach the larvae-covered leaf and drop it into the bucket.

If you have lots of beetle-battered lilies, you probably won’t have the time or energy for hand-picking. In that case, you can spray your plants with Neem. Neem, an organic insecticide, is available at most garden centers.


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