Leaf beetles are one of the most abundant, and yet frustrating, garden pests. With thousands of different types of leaf beetles around the world, this is a garden pest you will likely encounter at some point in your plants.
Leaf beetles cause the most damage when they are in the larvae stage and are on the underside of leaves chewing away. Attracting natural predators such as parasitic wasps and hoverflies can help control an infestation of leaf beetles in your garden.
With the variety of leaf beetles causing destruction in gardens, it can be challenging to know which specific type you are dealing with in your own garden. However, the predators of a common leaf beetle such as the cereal leaf beetle are also the predators of the bean leaf beetle which makes it helpful to know that simply introducing predators such as wasps, hoverflies, or lady beetles can help with almost any type of leaf beetle.
What Attracts Leaf Beetles to Your Garden?
True to their name the leaf beetle eats, well, leaves. However, because of the variety of species within the leaf beetle family, different types of leaf beetles prefer different types of leaves and plants. So when it comes to what they are looking for in your garden, it may change depending upon the type of leaf beetle that you have.
These small beetles are likely to eat the leaves off of the majority of shrubs and flowers that are planted in your garden. Certain flowers, such as lilies, are also major attractors of leaf beetles. Leaf beetles chew small holes in the leaves of plants which then slowly damages the whole plant over time.
As you are learning how to identify these beetles, knowing when they occur can be helpful as well. Leaf beetles do not appear in gardens until temperatures reach a certain degree.
The ideal temperature for leaf beetles to emerge is above 52 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you are experiencing a cooler spring it will take longer for leaf beetles to hatch in your garden.
Leaf Beetles Love Lilies!
If you are a gardener with numerous lily plants in your garden you are likely very familiar with the lily leaf beetle. It can be frustrating to nurture lily flowers simply to have them destroyed by this annoying pest.
However, there are a few things you can do to protect your lilies. According to researchers at The University of New Hampshire, lily leaf beetles don’t actually eat daylilies. This means that you can plant that specific variety of lily without having to worry about leaf beetles!
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #1: The Hoverfly
Hoverflies, while often confused with bees, are important to have in your garden not only for plant pollination but also because they eat leaf beetles as one of their primary food sources.
They are attracted to certain flowering plants, so planting specific plants will help keep them abundant in your garden which in turn will help keep your leaf beetle population under control. One of the flowers hoverflies flock to is Queen Anne’s Lace, which is a popular choice for gardeners as it is a beautiful flowering plant.
Hoverflies are also attracted to purple cone flowers as well as many other colorful flowers with vibrant blooms; the more color the better!
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #2: Parasitoid Wasps
Ask any gardener if they would rather use a natural option or a pesticide in their garden and the majority will choose the natural option every time. This is why scientists and researchers are often looking for natural predators of pests as this strategy is known to be effective for many different unwanted insects in gardens.
Researchers at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been conducting a study using parasitoid wasps to help control an abundant leaf beetle population in the northeast states that have been attacking the lilies in gardens. This study has found promising results in the effectiveness of using wasps to control a large leaf beetle population.
One of the reasons the wasps are so effective is that they help by getting rid of the beginning stage of a leaf beetle infestation.
The wasps actually lay their eggs inside the larvae of the leaf beetle in turn growing their own population while diminishing the leaf beetle population. Plus, these small insects don’t sting!
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #3: The Complicated Earwig
One of the benefits of having natural predators is that you can stay away from using pesticides to damage your garden. However, one of the complications is that sometimes the natural predators you are trying to introduce can also cause damage.
This is somewhat of the case with earwigs in your garden. Earwigs are a great natural predator of the leaf beetle as they tend to focus on being an omnivore and eating other insects. However, it gets complicated because they can also be attracted to common flowering plants in gardens such as zinnias and dahlias.
So what does this mean for using them as a predator against leaf beetles? Experts advise letting earwigs do their thing as natural predators and just keep a close eye on your zinnias and dahlias. Hopefully, they will get their fill of food with leaf beetles and other decaying matter to leave your flowering plants alone.
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #4: The Helpful Lady Beetle
Many avid gardeners know how helpful lady beetles are to have around the garden. Lady beetles, also known as the infamous ladybug, are some of the most beneficial insects to have in your garden.
Researchers at Cornell University note that one of the reasons lady beetles are so beneficial as a predator against the leaf beetle is that both the larvae and adult versions of the lady beetles eat the leaf beetle. This means double the protection against the leaf beetle when you have an abundant supply of lady beetles around.
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #5: The Stink Bug
If you live in a more temperate climate, you are likely familiar with the stink bug as they can be hard to miss with their distinct smell. They come in droves once they hatch and seem to take over homes and gardens. While your instinct may be to get rid of them as soon as possible because, well, they smell, you may want to hold off on getting rid of them right away.
According to researchers at The University of Florida, stink bugs are an excellent option as a natural predator for adult leaf beetles. They specifically like the cottonwood leaf beetle which tends to be found more in warmer climates.
So next time you find a stink bug in your house, instead of getting rid of it, let it back outside in the garden to help attack the unwanted leaf beetles destroying your plants.
Natural Leaf Beetle Predator #6: Chickadees and Bluebirds
Being an avid gardener means spending a lot of time outside in the fresh air. While you are gardening you have likely noticed that certain birds may be visiting your garden more than others.
Because gardens are often overflowing with different insects, birds are naturally drawn to visiting your flowering outdoor space looking for their next meal.
However, it is helpful to make sure you are finding ways to encourage specific species of birds to visit your garden to help with insect control.
Chickadees and Bluebirds are both natural predators of leaf beetles and can eat numerous beetles at a time.
Installing bird feeders near your garden can help attract these birds to help control the leaf beetle population. Chickadees and bluebirds luckily eat similar birdseed. Using this wild bird seed will help the birds flock to your feeders and entice them to help keep your insect population under control!
How To Attract Leaf Beetle Predators To your Garden
If you are noticing your garden tends to attract specific types of insects, there is usually a reason for that. It may be because you live in a certain region of the world that is heavily populated with those insects. It may also be because the insects are attracted to very specific plants within your garden.
Making sure you have different components to attract the leaf beetles’ natural predators will help keep the helpful insects around while getting rid of the harmful ones.
Creating An Inviting Garden Space for Wasps to Visit
Now that you know the benefits of having wasps in your garden as one of the best natural pest control options out there, you will want to find different ways to attract wasps to your garden.
Wasps have shorter tongues than bees which means they have specific flowers they look for as a food source.
Planting flowers such as milkweed and goldenrod are some of wasps’ favorite flowers and they will naturally gravitate to your yard with those flowers available. The more wasps the better so that they can help keep the leaf beetle population under control.
In addition to planting flowers, creating a drinking station for bees and wasps will help them stick around your garden too. Putting an outdoor bath for bees near flowers wasps enjoy will help keep them nearby which will continue to help keep the leaf beetle population under control in your garden!
Other Options for Deterring Leaf Beetles
Using natural predators to get rid of leaf beetles has been proven as one of the most effective methods to use to deter these pesky beetles. However, sometimes you may need even more options to help control an overly abundant infestation.
Using certain sprays that aren’t harmful to the plants in your garden can be helpful as another option to help manage a leaf beetle infestation.
Say, for example, that you have some leaf beetles getting into spaces in your yard where predators might not go. We’ve created a guide with some easy tips to keep beetles out of your swimming pool that might help.
Use Neem Oil to Get Rid of Leaf Beetles
Neem oil is a favorite in the gardening community because it is effective yet not harmful to plants. Experts have found that neem oil needs to be used early and often in order to actually work.
Remember that the larvae of leaf beetles will be on the underside of the leaves and they hatch within a week typically. This means spraying must happen as soon as you see the larvae for it to be effective.
Neem oil will also work on the adult beetles and will encourage them to move elsewhere once it is sprayed. You will need to spray at least once every few days for a few weeks, so having a large supply of neem oil available is important. This water-soluble neem oil makes 12 gallons of solution making it a great option for use in your garden.
Manually Remove Leaf Beetles from Leaves
Many insects have learned adaptations to help protect themselves from predators, and leaf beetles are no exception. When an adult leaf beetle senses danger, they fall off the leaves and onto its back into the soil trying to bury itself into the ground. This can make it extremely tricky for both predators and human hands to pick them up.
If the leaf beetle population in your garden hasn’t become out of control quite yet, experts suggest that manually picking the beetles off the leaves of plants in your garden can be helpful to reduce the population.
We also have an article on some simple ways to get rid of leaf beetle larvae to stop the problem before it even starts!
Here is a quick recap on natural predators and tips to help control leaf beetles in your garden:
- Parasitic wasps are the most effective natural predator of the leaf beetle. Planting flowers like milkweed and having a bee bath in your garden will help attract as many wasps as possible.
- Planting queen anne’s lace in your garden will help attract hoverflies, who are natural predators of the leaf beetle.
- Lady beetles, also known as ladybugs, are helpful in the garden for many reasons including eating the larvae of the leaf beetle.
- Stink bugs, while smelly, also serve a purpose and are a primary predator of the adult leaf beetle so it is worth keeping them around, smell and all.
- If natural predators don’t seem to be sticking around to help, you can use other options such as neem oil to spray on the plants to get rid of the leaf beetles.
- Using your hands to manually remove the beetles and larvae can be a helpful, yet time-consuming strategy.
While it may seem like the more convenient option to get rid of leaf beetles would be to grab a spray and be done with it, remember that experts have found using natural predators in your garden to be the most effective strategy. Keep this in mind as the first step in defense to control the leaf beetle population in your garden!
Dobler, S., Mardulyn, P., Pasteels, J. M., & Rowell‐Rahier, M. (1996). Host‐plant switches and the evolution of chemical defense and life history in the leaf beetle genus Oreina. Evolution, 50(6), 2373-2386.
Majka, C. G., & Kirby, C. (2011). Lily leaf beetle, Lilioceris lilii (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), in Maine and the Maritime provinces: the continuing dispersal of an invasive species. Journal of the Acadian Entomological Society, 7(10), 70.
Zvereva, E. L., & Kozlov, M. V. (2000). Effects of air pollution on natural enemies of the leaf beetle Melasoma lapponica. Journal of applied Ecology, 37(2), 298-308.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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