If you live east of the Mississippi River, you probably have experience with Japanese Beetles. These plant and crop destroyers typically gather in large numbers, which can make it difficult to keep them off your plants, crops, or ornamental trees. But, did you know you can use various scents to discourage Japanese Beetles from coming around?
Japanese Beetles use their antennae to pick up scents that attract them to their mates and various plants. You can repel Japanese Beetles by utilizing scents they hate, such as wintergreen, gaultheria oil, teaberry oil, peppermint oil, neem oil, wormwood oil, juniper berry oil, chives, and garlic.
Below is a list of scents that Japanese Beetles strongly dislike, and the best ways to apply them to keep these destructive pests away. Stick around to learn more about how you can keep Japanese Beetles off your plants, trees, and crops, and make sure they stay away for good!
Why Do You Need to Repel Japanese Beetles?
In 1916, a shipment of Iris bulbs turned loose one of the most destructive pests the U.S. has ever seen. Annually, Japanese Beetles cause damage to crops and landscape that are measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
These beetles are not picky about their food, either. They’ll eat from any of over 300 species of plants. If you’ve ever seen a leaf left in a skeletal state with just the veins remaining, then you’ve witnessed the aftermath of a Japanese Beetle feasting.
Japanese Beetles typically only live for about 30-45 days once emerging above ground, but they reproduce rapidly, laying anywhere from 40-60 eggs during their short life span.
The agreeable climate and lack of any real natural predators has left the Japanese Beetle population largely unchecked in the Eastern United States. Some of the major problems caused by Japanese Beetles includes:
- Young or unhealthy plants are at risk. Most healthy adult trees and shrubs can withstand a nibble here and there from any insect. But young trees, shrubs, or plants can be at risk from even a small number of Japanese Beetles.
- Lower fruit and vegetable yields for farmers. If you have fruit and vegetable crops, or even a small household garden, your fruit and vegetable yields will be lowered if Japanese Beetles are allowed to feed.
- Grubs can destroy grass. When Japanese Beetles are in their grub stage, they live underground. They’ll feed off grass roots, which can limit the amount of nutrients and water the grass can uptake. If there are enough grubs, it can kill the grass, leaving dead patches in your yard.
- Beetles and grubs will attract other pests. There are plenty of insect-feeding animals out there such as crows, skunks, raccoons, and moles. Where there’s grubs, there’s likely grub-seeking animals that will dig up and destroy your lawn searching for a snack.
There are of course other problems associated with Japanese Beetles, but these are the most common. If the beetles are left unchecked, the problem will become harder to control. It’s best to nip it in the bud at the first sign of these bug-eyed visitors.
The first option you have when dealing with Japanese Beetles is to use scents that will repel them. If used properly, these scents will create an invisible bubble around your plants, shrubs, and trees to keep them away.
PLEASE NOTE: scents are not as reliable as physical deterrents for deterring Japanese Beetles. Scents and sprays require frequent reapplication. Nevertheless, they will get the job done.
However, if these unwelcome creepy crawlers are already feasting on your precious plants, you may have to get more creative to get rid of them.
If you’ve had crop damage, or have an infestation of Japanese Beetles, leave it to a professional to handle the issue. Check out our nationwide pest control finder to get connected with an exterminator near you in seconds for free. Using our partner network helps support pestpointers.com!
Use Wintergreen to Keep Japanese Beetles Away
Japanese Beetles are attracted to a number of beautiful flowers and trees that you’d rather not have swarmed. Roses, flowering crabapple, sassafras, and peach trees are just a few of this beetle’s favorite meals.
Wintergreen essential oils have shown promise in repelling Japanese Beetles. A study done in 2009 showed that, even when paired with an attractant, wintergreen essential oils were able to effectively repel beetles from the trap.
The oil is extracted from wintergreen plants, and yes, it’s the same refreshing wintergreen used in toothpaste and mouthwash! Recent progress in synthesizing this oil has made the main ingredient, methyl salicylate, available without using the actual plant.
Gaultheria oil and teaberry oil also have the same main ingredient, and can be used in the same fashion as wintergreen oil. Additionally, combining wintergreen and ginger oil has been shown to significantly repel these beetles.
So, how exactly do you use this refreshing essential oil to repel Japanese beetles?
To use any essential oil as a spray, combine 10-15 drops of oil for every 1 cup of water. Place the mixture in a glass bottle such as a 16oz Refillable Boston Round Bottle. Spray the mixture on areas where you see these creepy crawlers congregating.
Never spray or drop undiluted essential oils in or around your house. You always want to dilute them with water as the essential oils are concentrated.
Be sure to reapply your mixture often to keep the scent strong, and your unwanted visitors out of your plants and gardens.
Peppermint Oil to Repel Japanese Beetles
Peppermint essential oil has plenty of benefits even beyond a bug repellent. When used correctly, it can relieve itchy skin, help with digestion, and add a refreshing flavor to candies and gums.
In the same study where wintergreen was tested, peppermint was also tested and found to be just as effective, even when paired with a scent that attracted Japanese Beetles.
In general, bugs, spiders, and mammals all hate the mint family. Something about the smell of the plant can keep raccoons away, deer out of your garden, and Japanese beetles off your prized plants.
To use peppermint essential oil, combine 10-15 drops for every 1 cup of water and mix in a glass spray bottle. Spray the mixture on areas where you see Japanese Beetles hanging out. You can spray directly on your plants, or around pots and fencing.
The great thing about peppermint oil is that it is a repellent for multiple species of bugs, not just our invasive Japanese Beetle. It will keep your plants bug free, but frequent reapplication will be necessary to keep them away.
Neem Oil to Keep Japanese Beetles Away
Neem oil has been around for a long time. It’s derived from the kernel of the neem tree, and used in many natural pesticides.
Neem oil is similar but not the exact same as essential oils. It’s typically available for purchase in large liquid quantities such as the 32oz Organic Neem Bliss 100% Pure Cold Pressed Neem Seed Oil. The liquid can then be diluted in a gallon of water and sprayed directly on plants.
If you decide to dilute the mixture yourself, you’ll need to purchase a spray bottle or a garden sprayer to distribute the mixture. If your problem is small, you can use a small glass spray bottle, but if you’re spraying fruit trees or large areas, you may want to invest in a garden sprayer such as the CHAPIN 20000 Garden Sprayer 1 Gallon Lawn.
If you don’t want to mess with diluting the mixture yourself, you can always purchase a ready-to-use spray that can be used directly out of the packaging. The 32-ounce Bonide 022 Ready-to-Use Neem Oil is easy to use, with no mixing necessary.
Always make sure to follow the directions on the label of purchased products and reapply as directed to keep the mixture effective and your bug problem at bay!
Use Wormwood Oil & Juniper Berry Oil to Repel Japanese Beetles
Wormwood and juniper berry oil can both be used to repel Japanese Beetles from plants. They can be used separately, and two separate studies done in 2009 showed they were effective in repelling Japanese Beetles.
Similar to other essential oils, place 10-15 drops per 1 cup of water and mix in a glass spray bottle. You can spray this mixture directly on plants where Japanese Beetles are creeping around.
Reapply the mixture often to keep the scent strong, and your beetles repelled. Wormwood and Juniper Berry oils haven’t proved as effective as wintergreen and peppermint, but it can still get the job done.
Other essential oils that have shown promise in repelling Japanese Beetles include:
- Bergamont mint
- Dalmation sage
If one doesn’t seem to be effective, you can always try a different one to see if your beetle problem can be handled better with other scents.
Plant Chives and Garlic as A Natural Repellent
Another scent that Japanese Beetles can’t seem to stand is the smell of chives and garlic. According to the University of Arizona, chives and garlic are great companion plants.
So, what the heck is a companion plant? Basically, companion plants are meant to be planted near the plants you want to keep safe from destructive pests like Japanese Beetles.
Chives are good for pretty much any plant you want to keep safe. Garlic is another great choice, but gardeners warn against planting garlic near peas or beans.
Once your companion plant starts growing, let the scent of it keep the bugs away and your roses and fruits free of beetles. It’s a good idea to crush a few leaves of the chives or garlic each morning. This helps release the scent into the air, warning Japanese Beetles to stay away.
Where Should You Use These Scents?
Scent location is key to effectively repelling these invasive beetles. These scents are safe for humans, but they’ll be less effective if they’re not used in the right locations.
In order to use scents to repel Japanese Beetles, you’ll want the scent to be close to the beetles, such as the plants and trees that they frequent. Here are some of the places where you should use these deterrents:
- Directly on vulnerable plants. Flowers, trees, and plants that are at high risk of being swarmed and consumed by Japanese Beetles should be sprayed directly with repelling scents. The scents will not damage the plant, but will keep the beetles and other pests away.
- Plant containers, pots, hanging baskets, etc. Any container that your vulnerable plant sits in should be sprayed in addition to the plant itself. Japanese Beetles are attracted to certain flowers because of their scent. If you make the plant’s container give off a wacky odor in addition to the plant, they’re more likely to buzz off in a different direction.
Luckily, Japanese Beetles are not attracted to your home and do not normally infest homes, attics, barns, or exterior buildings. So, you don’t really need to worry about spraying your window frames or doorways, sealing up cracks, or any of the normal bug-infestation solutions.
Habitat Modification: Make Your Yard Less Attractive to Japanese Beetles
Garlic and chives have already been discussed, but what about other plants that these chomping beetles loathe? There are plenty of beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees that will stand out in your yard but not attract Japanese Beetles.
In terms of flowers and bushes, there are three that will definitely not attract Japanese Beetles: clematis, forsythia, and boxwood.
Here are some trees that Japanese Beetles will not eat:
- Red Maple
- Common pear
- White, scarlet, red, and black oaks
- White and green ash
- Mulberry (despite the children’s nursery rhyme, mulberries actually come from trees, not bushes!)
It’s important to know what plants Japanese Beetles won’t eat, but it’s also imperative to know which plants attract these little six-legged terrors to your yard. The University of Kentucky has put together a list of plants most favored and least favored by Japanese Beetles.
If you already have fruit trees that Japanese Beetles like and you don’t wish to get rid of them (understandable!), the best thing you can do is remove fruits that fall from the tree immediately. Although Japanese Beetles are attracted to the fruit on the tree, the pungent odor of a rotting fruit on the ground can attract even more beetles to the area.
Physical Deterrents Against Japanese Beetles
Using a combination of scents, habitat modification, and physical deterrents is the best way to keep your beetle problem from becoming unmanageable.
Try using mesh netting such as the Alphatool Insect Tree Cover to cover larger vulnerable plants such as fruit trees and shrubs. You can use a smaller version of this netting for your potted plants. Make sure to uncover blooming plants that need to be pollinated, as the netting will prevent bees and other pollinators from accessing the plants.
You yourself can be a physical deterrent to Japanese Beetles. It may seem a bit repulsive, but physically removing the beetles from your plants is an effective deterrent. This is only practical if you have a small landscape or a few plants.
Be sure to remove the beetles daily, preferably in the morning when they are less active and before they begin feeding on your plants. If you notice damaged leaves, remove them as soon as possible to prevent attracting more beetles to the plant.
Special Note: Japanese Beetle Traps
Using Japanese Beetle traps around your home and garden is not an effective deterrent. In fact, it can increase your problems. Unfortunately, the name is misleading, and many people buy them unaware of their original purpose.
These traps were originally created to monitor areas for the presence of Japanese Beetles. This way, departments that manage this invasive species would know if they were present in certain areas.
Traps release an odor that mimics the female sex pheromone as well as odors from flowers that Japanese Beetles are attracted to. Research has shown that more beetles are attracted to the trap than are actually caught by the trap.
What could end up happening is you set up a trap because you have a small beetle problem, and you end up attracting hundreds to your yard with the trap, only to catch a small percentage in the trap. Yikes!
Time To Buzz Off
That’s all we have on how to use scents to repel Japanese Beetles!
To recap…Japanese Beetles use their antennae to sense different smells and pheromones. These are important to the beetle’s survival, and help it find plants it can feed off of.
Here are some of the scents you can use to deter these six-legged plant destroyers:
- Wintergreen essential oil
- Gaultheria oil
- Teaberry oil
- Peppermint essential oil
- Neem oil spray
- Wormwood essential oil
- Juniper berry essential oil
- Chive plants as companions to more vulnerable plants
- Garlic plants as companions to more vulnerable plants
Japanese beetles tend to come out of hiding in late June. This will be the opportune time to begin using a combination of scent deterrents and physical deterrents.
C., B., K., B., & D., S. (2012, March). Neem Oil. Retrieved from National Pesticide Information Center, Oregon State University Extension Services: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html
Hahn, J., Weisenhorn, J., & Bugeja, S. (2020). Japanese Beetles in Yards and Gardens. Retrieved from University of Minnesota Extension: https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/japanese-beetles#using-pesticides-1591112
Ishida, Y., & Leal, W. S. (2008). Chiral discrimination of the Japanese beetle sex pheromone and a behavioral antagonist by a pheromone-degrading enzyme. National Academy of Sciences.
Potter, D., Potter, M., & Townsend, L. (2006, January). Japanese Beetles in the Urban Landscape. Retrieved from Entomology at the University of Kentucky: https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef451
The Best of Enemies: A Brief Guide to Companion Planting – Part 2. (1991). Retrieved from University of Arizona: Cochise County Master Gardeners: https://cals.arizona.edu/cochise/mg/best-enemies-brief-guide-companion-planting-part-2
Youssef, N. N., Oliver, J. B., Ranger, C. M., Reding, M. E., Moyseenko, J. J., Klein, M. G., & Pappas, R. S. (2009). Field Evaluation of Essential Oils for Reducing Attraction by the Japanese Beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 1551-1558.
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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