Community Gardens: Flea beetles, Flea Beetles, Flea Beetles!

Holes on potato plant - flea beetle damage
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!  Oops… I mean Flea Beetles.  For some reason I had to open with a tribute to that classic 80’s horror/comedy, Beetlejuice.  On a more serious note, flea beetles are very much among us.  Flea beetles are the pests poking holes and yellowing the leaves of your nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes), a signature sign that flea beetles are about.  If you look closely, you’ll see tiny black fleas hopping from leaf to leaf.  Flea beetle damage can range from cosmetic to complete decimation depending on the infestation and how healthy your plants are.  I have pyrethrins and/or fish emulsion available for Garden City Harvest community gardeners to check out.  You can call me at 406-239-8236 if you’d like to use some.  Here are some tips in dealing with flea beetles.

Preventative Measures:

1. Cover germinating seeds and small plants with floating row cover (remay).  This is quite effective in keeping pests away while plants have an opportunity to mature.

3. Choose healthy starts that can withstand minor pest damage.

2.  Plant a “trap crop,” a crop that flea beetles prefer over the crop you’re protecting.  For example, flea beetles prefer radishes over tomatoes.  You can plant a row of radishes near the tomatoes and they’ll typically go for the radishes first.

4. Practice general healthy gardening techniques such as crop rotation, adding organic matter/compost, mulching, etc.

potato plant leaf with flea beetle

Dealing with flea beetles once they exist:

1. Give plants a boost of nitrogen to help them recover from the pest damage.  I like to use fish emulsion or compost tea and have found these fertilizers to be very effective.  Seaweed is also an option.

2. Pyrethrins (non-petroleum based) – follow directions carefully.  Apply in the evening.

3. Neem oil – reduces feeding (otherwise, same as #2)

4. Move foliage around while waving fly tape to catch fleas.  (Sounds silly but it’s fairly effective).

Please call 406-239-8236 if you have any questions or would like to check out some beetlejuice…that is, fish emulsion and/or pyrethrins.  Enjoy this quirky clip from the movie!