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Gardens Blog

The Red Peril

Have you squeezed a lily beetle today? Seriously, the only way to keep on top of these garden visitors is vigilance and daily rounds of your garden. For those of you who live a beetle free existence, I can only imagine that you are either living a life without lilies or that you (hush) spray… Sadly they seem established in our corner of England now, having travelled in on nursery stock from Europe. I have one friend who waged war on lily beetles without success and finally tore up the tattered remnants of her lily collection and burned them in despair.

At first I was enchanted by such an elegant Japanese lacquer red insect contrasting so smartly with its backdrop of fresh spring green. However that was before I learned of its powers of destruction and peculiar attitude to rearing its offspring. One shredded lily, leaves blackened and discoloured with blobs of unmentionable substance concealing a fat orange grub, and I saw a different shade of red. Battle lines were drawn and we have been skirmishing ever since. It must be something to do with pheromones given off by the leaves since I can clear the garden of beetles and within a few days there are new arrivals. This is similar to the behaviour of rose beetles in the USA, shield-shaped greeny-gold beetles which attack rose bushes and can be caught in traps. I dread them ever making it to England – the consequences are too awful to contemplate.

A straw poll of my gardening acquaintances reveal a range of disposal methods ranging from picking them off and dropping them into a yoghurt pot of insecticide to feeding them to goldfish. My own approach is to creep up on each plant quietly, identify the likely escape route, cup my hand below the leaf and not take my eye off as I lift the culprit off and either pinch it if wearing gloves or stamp firmly on it if not. Occasionally they can be found in a state of wedded bliss which earns you double points. It makes sense to go round your lilies several times a day in warm weather – interestingly they have been much less active during our cool late spring – and don’t forget to check your fritillaries too. Often lily beetles can be found on leaves of plants near their host so look closely – you quickly get your eye in and then any speck of bright red leaps out meaning that poppy petals, ladybirds and pimpernel become more visible too. I keep a score on the kitchen calendar and records show that close attention in the spring means far fewer later in the summer. Given the cost of lily bulbs it’s a no-brainer not to.

So squeeze early and often. Your lilies will thank you and so will your neighbours.