Control Japanese Beetles Naturally

You don't necessarily need to stock up on traps and pesticides to control Japanese beetles, but you do have to have good timing and a plan. To beat these bugs, you need to be as cagey and as persistent as they are.  There's a natural approach, but it isn't magic.  It takes catching them early and using their scent as a deterrent. The good news is that this approach is relatively easy and inexpensive.

Natural Japanese Beetle Control

The first step is to take some precautions: Japanese beetles are attracted to diseased plants and trees. The cleaner you keep your garden, the better. This is particularly true when Japanese beetles first become active in your area.  Their emergence is predictable in the neighborhoods they inhabit, occurring during the same couple of weeks every year. If you've had an ongoing struggle with Japanese beetles, you probably know their schedule by heart.  If not, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office or ask at your local nursery. 

Before they emerge is the time for general yard cleanup. Get rid of any rotting wood lying around your property, dispose of dead plants and shrubs and bag dead leaves and general debris like dry grass. They also like windfall fruit from peaches and other early summer fruiting trees.

Deal With the Problem Early in the Season

Japanese beetles send out scouts to investigate the best feeding grounds. They scent mark locations that look promising, and other beetles move in soon after. What looks promising to a Japanese beetle is the presence of plants it enjoys eating.  Eliminate those plants and you're less likely to have a problem. 

The bad news is that these bugs aren't very discriminating. They like lots of different plants, shrubs and trees.  For a good list of their favorites, visit my post: What You Need to Know about Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles.  If you're designing or redesigning your landscape, maintaining fewer of these species in Japanese beetle infested areas will save you time and effort.

Beating Japanese Beetles at Their Own Game

Japanese Beetles' rely heavy on scent, and you can use that as a weapon against them. Here's how:

Kill the first Japanese beetles you see in your garden. It's important that you catch them early, so keep a close watch. They regularly appear during the second week of June in my area. You may be a few weeks ahead or behind that schedule.  When you see a few beetles, get to work:

  1. Fill a bucket about half full of water.
  2. Add a quarter of a cup of dish soap. (The amount of soap isn't that critical as long as it's present.)
  3. Snag beetles with you gloved hands and place them in the bucket.  If touching them doesn't appeal to you, you can knock them into the bucket by giving the branch they're on a quick shake. This could take some practice.
  4. Leave the beetles in the bucket. They'll die and begin decomposing.  The smell will deter other beetles, and the presence of soap will discourage or kill mosquitoes. (The bucket will only smell nasty to beetles.)
  5. Set the bucket in an area where you've had bad infestations before, or select a spot that gets good airflow.

In doing this, you're letting new beetles know that the area is off limits. Think of it as the beetle equivalent of razor wire.  Leave the bucket in place for at least a two to three weeks, adding to it every couple of days. You'll see beetle activity slowly diminish over that time.  If you start this procedure too late in spring, it won't work nearly as well -- if at all. 

Japanese Beetle Traps May Not Be a Useful Option

You hear a lot about traps and natural predators as options for controlling Japanese beetles, but the best method is to avoid making your property attractive to them. If you discourage them early enough in the year, Japanese beetles will bypass your garden in favor of more appealing real estate. Once entrenched, they are less likely to come back to your garden in destructive numbers. If you start seeing an increase in activity, kill more beetles and place them in another prepared bucket.

If you wait too long, beetles will settle in, breeding on your property and making more problems you'll have to deal with next year. If this happens, there are other methods you can use to eradicate these pests, especially if you have a large or long standing problem with them in your landscape.  Here are some options:

  • Put down milky spore.
  • Use nematodes.
  • Try insecticidal soaps.
  • Resort to using insecticides.

You can read more about these options in the post I referenced above: What You Need to Know About Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles


Photo1 - JapaneseBeetles1Wiki.jpg By User:SB_Johnny (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo2 - JapaneseBeetles2Wiki.jpg Lamba at the Italian language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons


5 Reasons You Should Grow Your Own Herbs (really)

Flowering Chives (Aren't they pretty?)
Every year I take a pilgrimage to the herb aisle of my local produce market -- usually in late spring -- to see what fresh cut herbs are selling for. It's an eye opener and an excellent first reason you should grow your own:

Fresh Herbs from the Store are Expensive

In produce parlance, herbs are a value added commodity. They're cut and sometimes prewashed, a service that apparently justifies ratcheting up the price for them -- sometimes into the stratosphere. If you've ever grown basil, dill, sage or oregano, you know they can be big leaf producers, more than earning the space needed to grow them. It's likely that an herb marketer would explain that the high price is justified because herbs aren't staples, and as "specialty" crops, are grown in smaller batches so the "economies of scale" aren't there to lower the price.

One easy way to save money -- and send retailers a message -- is to grow these herbs yourself. If you've ever spent a sawbuck on a couple of fresh herb bundles, you'll be happy to hear that many herbs like basil, chives, dill and cilantro self-seed in the garden. This means once they're planted, they keep coming back year after year. Think of it as a twofer -- or a ten-fer. You pay once but reap the rewards indefinitely. I have a patch of chives that's been growing, seeding and persisting beautifully near our clunky old air conditioner for over a decade -- with very little help from me. I water in July and August and fertilize once a year, if that. That's it. Think of it this way: Lots of herbs are weeds with benefits. No work, but they're actually good for something.

Herbs are Natural Pest Control


Herbs have strong scents and flavors. That's why we like to use them in cooking, aromatherapy and crafts. Those characteristics also make many herbs unappealing to insects, vermin and even larger mammals like deer. If you grow roses or vegetables, planting herbs near your other plants can protect delicate specimens from predation. Here's an example I've used before: Rue and garlic planted near roses are effective at keeping bugs away without relying in toxic pesticides.

Catnip, garlic, chives, marigold, lavender, rue, feverfew, tansy, cilantro, mint and rosemary all help control different types of pests. If you have problems with mosquitoes, fleas, flies, ants -- to name just a few -- consider adopting some herbs to help keep marauders out of your garden. Once established, many herbs can hold their own with little help. Even better, reducing your use of pesticides protects the environment and beneficial insects like honey bees, lady bugs and praying mantis. These last two control destructive pests, so keeping their populations high is in your best interest.

Herbs Need Your Help

If you've been checking the seed catalogs lately, you've probably noticed the prevalence of designer plants bred for hardiness, taste or appearance. Many of these cultivars are proprietary products. They're either illegal to reproduce or their seeds (if there are any) aren't viable. I won't recap the new wave of worry over "big brother" agribusiness, but I will say that growing heirloom herbs is one way to protect plant varieties we may be seeing less of in the future. If this sounds alarmist, it isn't.  Hundreds of vegetable varieties available a century ago have virtually disappeared through the widespread selection of marketable alternatives. Marketable doesn't necessarily mean more flavorful or healthier, either.  It means more profitable for the growers. If you want to promote flavorful herbs and wonderful vegetables, grow your own and make a large percentage heirloom varieties.

Fresh Homegrown Herbs Just Taste Better

If you've ever grown sweet corn, you know that fresh picked ears taste better than anything you'll find at the store. Herbs can be like that, too. If you want to try making your own pesto, turkey stuffing or marinara sauce this season, grow the basil, oregano, sage, marjoram, garlic, fennel or other herbs yourself. It will make a difference in the final product. Instead of searching for the perfect recipe, focus on growing the best ingredients.

Herbs are Just Plain Fun


There's a certain mystique to growing herbs. It usually brings to mind the vision of a free spirited young woman in a broom skirt gathering bouquets of herbs at dawn -- barefooted. Sometimes that woman is older, wearing a hat and gathering an herb harvest in a wicker basket -- with her shoes on. In truth, the herb hobby is more than the sum of its parts because herbs resonate with many of us in ways that are hard to quantify.

When you grow herbs, you become part of a long tradition that's romantic, mystical and a little whimsical, too -- even if your wardrobe tends toward mommy jeans and bargain tees. Although I'd like you all to set aside a dedicated herb patch tomorrow and begin making your own aromatic sachets, candles and seasoned vinegars, adding just one catnip plant to supply your favorite feline with some unexpected amusement is a good place to start, and an interesting lesson, too.

Here's why: Although *catnip is probably best known as a cat intoxicant, that's not all it can do. It:

  • Is a natural sedative when taken as a tea
  • Can help treat stomach cramps, arthritis discomfort, headache and hives
  • Is a natural ant, termite, cockroach, mosquito, squash bug, squash vine borer, flea beetle and cucumber beetle repellent.
  • It's also a lush green plant in the garden that self-seeds readily.
Catnip is one one example of an herb with many potential uses. Most herbs are as richly useful (or even more so) and fun to experiment with, too.

*Catnip should not be used by children or pregnant women. For additional information, please ask your physician and review online educational materials at MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), The National Institutes of Health and WebMd.


Photo 1 - FloweringChivesMF.jpg

Photo 2 TansyMF.jpg

Photo 3 - CatnipMF.jpg


How to Grow Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Growing Cilantro
If you buy herbs at the market, chances are you've purchased cilantro at one time or another.  It rivals parsley for shelf space in the produce department, and for good reason. Cilantro (Coriandrun sativum) is a main ingredient in lots of Tex-Mex, Mexican, Spanish, Indian and Asian dishes. With cilantro, you actually get two herbs in one. The leaves are commonly known as cilantro, while the seeds are often referred to as coriander. 

For all its good press, cilantro can be tricky to use.  A little enhances the flavors of other foods like peppers, yogurt, onions and tomatoes.  Too much and all you can taste is cilantro -- which can ruin a dish fast. Another potential problem is that according to published reports by Charles J. Wysocki, a biologist and psychologist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, some folks are genetically predisposed to dislike this little herb.  That makes it a love it or hate it proposition for many.

The solution may be to use a little as a seasoning and offer more on the side as a garnish for cilantro lovers.  I'm getting ahead of myself, though.  First, let's take a look at cilantro in the garden.

Growing Cilantro

Thought to be native to Italy, cilantro is an annual that matures rapidly (about 45 days to seed production). Sow seeds directly in the garden about 15 inches apart after the last threat of frost has passed for your area. Unlike some herbs, cilantro enjoys rich soil that's predominantly moist and drains well. Give it a deep hole, about 14 inches, because it has a long taproot. Provide neutral soil and a couple of scoops of sand, too.  For added protection, include a layer of mulch. 

Although cilantro likes good light, provide afternoon shade in areas where summer heat is a problem. One option is to locate it under larger plants that can provide some dappled light. Cilantro grows to a height of around 30 inches, with a span of 8 to 10 inches. It tends to be unruly -- which is the opposite of manicured.  It is a lush green with attractive notched leaves, though.  

Harvesting CilantroThe problem with cilantro isn't about getting it started in the garden.  It's about keeping it viable.  Here's how it works:  Cilantro is a "fast Eddie" kind of plant.  Seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days, and after that it puts on growth quickly, leafing out well and without much added fuss besides regular watering. 

Problems start when the days get longer, brighter and warmer, though.  This is cilantro's cue to stop leafing and start blooming. That's a bad thing if you're interested in harvesting leaves.  Blooming triggers the plant to devote almost all of its energy to developing flowers and seeds for the next generation.

This is called "bolting," and it's the most frustrating thing about growing some herbs.  The two biggest "bolters" are cilantro and dill.  There are some measures you can take to prolong a plant's leaf growing phase.  I talk about them in my post: How to Keep Herbs from Bolting.   It's a quick read and has some trick you may not have tried.

Cilantro and Bolting

Aggressive harvesting helps delay bolting in cilantro.  It effectively turns the clock back, telling the plant it hasn't produced enough leaves yet. Start harvesting when the plant reaches six inches or so, and keep harvesting regularly.  Don't just chop off the tops, though.  Instead, thin the plant all along the stem.  This will help increase air flow and reduce problems later. These measures only delay the inevitable by a couple of weeks, though.  A more long range option involves successive plantings.  Stagger seed starts every couple of weeks, and you'll have a series of young plants in leaf production mode throughout the summer.  Using this method, it's a good idea to start subsequent generations indoors and move them outside in stages as they mature.

You might also want to try one of the newer cilantro cultivars reputed to be somewhat less inclined to bolting.  One popular option is "Jantar."  In tests reported by the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), Jantar extended the useful life of commercially grown cilantro by about 10 days.

Harvesting Cilantro

Unlike some herbs, cilantro loses much of its flavor soon after drying. There are some ways around this:  Instead of drying your harvest, freeze it instead. You can also use fresh cilantro to make flavored oil or vinegar for use during the fall and winter months. A third option is to grow cilantro indoors during the off-season.  I have more information about growing cilantro in a pot here: Growing Cilantro in Containers

Cilantro Pest and Disease Problems

Growing CorianderYou've tasted and taken a whiff of cilantro I'm sure, so you know it has a strong flavor and aroma.  Bugs don't care for it much. They tend to give it a wide berth.  This makes cilantro a good choice for companion planting because it extends its aromatic protection to other inhabitants in your herb or vegetable patch. You may experience problems with aphids or possibly whitefly, but in the years I grown cilantro, I can only remember one occasion where pests were a big problem and that was during an extremely wet season. Powdery mildew can attack cilantro, so prefer watering your herb garden in the morning rather than in the evening -- and space (and prune) plants so they have good airflow.

Medicinal Coriander (cilantro seed)

Even though coriander is a popular culinary herb, it does have medicinal applications.  In some areas of the world, it's common to use coriander as a treatment for indigestion.  It's also sometimes used for the following conditions, although there is no solid research in place as of this writing to substantiate or refute claims that's it's an effective treatment:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Fungal infection
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Hernia pain
  • Joint pain
  • Measles
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset
  • Toothache

Generally considered safe, coriander use may still be contraindicated in medicinal concentrations in some circumstances. When applied topically, it can cause skin reactions (irritation, inflammation). When ingested, it may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight and allergic reactions as well.

Cultivated Cilantro Seed
Coriander (cilantro seed)
It has also been associated with stomach cramps, depression, diarrhea, dehydration and lapse of menstruation in a few instances.  For the latest medical information about this or any other herb, visit MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), The National Institutes of Health and WebMd. Discuss any medical conditions or symptoms you have with a medical professional before adopting or changing your current course of treatment.

Fun Facts About Cilantro

  • Butterflies love cilantro.
  • The compound dodecenal found in cilantro is very effective at killing salmonella and other types of foodborne bacteria.
  • Cilantro is also known by the name Chinese parsley.
  • Food historians have found evidence of cilantro cultivation as far back as 950 B.C.
  • Coriander is used in the perfumery industry -- usually blended with dozens of other scents.
  • One of the keys to authentic tasting regional cuisine is using the right herbs.  Although many recipes suggest parsley as an alternative to cilantro, there's no comparison. Use the real deal if you can. (Just my two cents worth.)


Mcgee, Harold. "Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault ." The New York Times. 8/2010.

University of Massachusetts - Amherst. "Cilantro."

Utah State University. "Cilantro."$ense_2011-11pr.pdf

WebMd. "Coriander."

Photo 1 - Cilantro2_PublicDomain.jpg By Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 - Cilantro1_PublicDomain.jpg By ZooFari (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 - Cilantro3_Wiki.jpg By Mrmariokartguy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (, GFDL ( or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons


How to Grow Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

Angelica Herb

Numerous historical texts going back to the 15th century sing Angelica's praises as a wonder herb, mostly because it was believed (erroneously) to cure bubonic plague. From that happy association, it developed a reputation as the go-to herb for whatever health problems were pesky at any particular  time -- a kind of cure-all panacea. Just give 'em some angelica tonic and send them on their way.  This went on for a century or more.

Lucky for us, angelica is as useful in the kitchen and in the garden as it was thought to be in the sickroom -- or almost. It has a lush and tropical appearance that makes a nice backdrop for less showy plants and herbs.  It also grows to a nice height, over five feet, and fills in nicely. For such a large herb, it manages to appear lacy and somewhat delicate, thanks to its flowers, which grow impressively large umbels.

How to Grow Angelica (hardiness zone range of 4 - 9)

A native to northern Europe, angelica loves rich humus and a nice, large planting hole. It also appreciates light shade in warm weather regions.  Provide regular watering and good drainage, and give plants room to spread out, about three feet.  Although it isn't fussy if the above requirements are met, angelica is happiest when planted in slightly acidic soil.

A native to leafy dells near running water, think of this herb as a woodland transplant and provide it with a moist spot away from wind and punishing heat. A nice protective layer of mulch twice a year is also a good idea. If you're looking for a great companion for angelica, choose sweet woodruff.  Woodruff loves the same conditions and is a nice groundcover.

Although it does tend to be pretty hardy, angelica can attract pests, including aphids, red spider mites and leaf miners.  Plants may also be somewhat susceptible to leaf spot.

Propagating Angelica

Angelica Herb
For the best results, start plants from fresh seed.  Because angelica seeds tend to stay viable only a short time, it's a good idea to plant them out directly in the garden as soon as they're mature -- usually at the end of August, or thereabouts. They need a good frost to quicken.  I have tried overwintering seeds and only succeeded once when I kept them in an airtight container in the refrigerator over the winter months.  Even at that, only about 20 percent of them germinated the following March.

Culinary Uses for Angelica

Angelica has an interesting flavor that's hard to describe.  It's a licorice aroma and taste, but there's something else in there too, like celery maybe.  Somewhat like basil and fennel, it has a complex flavor that works well with a surprising number of ingredients.  These are some culinary uses you might consider:
  • Chop young shoots into spring salads (both sweet and savory).
  • Steam and serve shoots as you would asparagus.
  • Sautee angelica shoots in stir fry.
  • Make candy with its ribbed, hollow stems. It's somewhat similar to the way you would candy ginger, and like candied ginger, candied angelica can be used to treat stomach upsets and motion sickness.
  • Use it as an ingredient in pie filling much as you would rhubarb.  In fact, it is sometimes served with rhubarb.
  • Use Angelica seeds to flavor jams, preserves, chutneys, bitters, liqueurs and gin.  If you do any canning or pickling, it's fun to experiment with it.

Angelica as an Herbal Remedy

Angelica is a natural antibacterial agent, so it does have beneficial properties when used as a remedy, but its reputation has taken a few hits over the last 400 years or so. You probably won't find it on a list of top 10 (or even top 20) herbs with health benefits. Given the hype, it was bound to have some image problems eventually. After all, at one time it was purported to cure just about everything but a rainy day.

It's probably best known today as an herbal treatment for dyspepsia (upset stomach), and may have benefits in treating nerve pain. It has been associated with the following conditions, but there isn't enough information available yet for there to be a strong consensus about its effectiveness:

    Angelica Herb
  • Arthritis pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Motion sickness
  • Nerve pain
  • Premature ejaculation
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sore throat (gargle)
  • Stomach ache

Angelica has also been used as a diuretic and was employed in the past to induce uterine contractions.

Herbs used for medicinal purposes are often more concentrated than those used in cooking.  Angelica leaves, stems and seeds are generally considered safe culinary ingredients, and angelica root is typically considered safe when applied in external salve form for pain treatment.

It is contraindicated as an herbal remedy for pregnant or nursing women.  In large doses, it also increases sunlight sensitivity. 

For the latest medical information about this or any other herb, visit MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), The National Institutes of Health and WebMd. Discuss any medical conditions or symptoms you have with a medical professional before adopting or changing your current course of treatment.

Angelica is known by these other names:

  • Wild parsnip
  • Holy Ghost
  • Garden angelica
  • European angelica
  • Herbe aux Anges

Angelica in Folklore

This is the famous legend associated with angelica's angelic reputation and name: In a prophetic dream, a monk was told -- possibly by the Archangel Michael -- that angelica could cure those afflicted with the bubonic (black) plague, so the monk spread the word far and wide.  The rest, as they say, is history -- and maybe an excess of faith and no small amount of desperation.

Angelica usually blooms in May.  Its association with the Archangel Michael may have persisted because it blooms early in the month, around the 8th in parts of Europe, which also happens to coincide with the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel celebrated in the Catholic faith.

The dried leaves of angelica were used in exorcism rites, too, and the plant was (and perhaps still is) considered an herb of protection that can repel evil spells and spirits.

Special notes: 

*A biennial plant is one that has a two year life cycle.  It becomes established, goes dormant in winter (usually) and revives the following spring to set seed and die. Typically, leaf growth the second year is spotty, so it's a good idea to stagger plantings of biennial herbs so there are always first and second season specimens in the garden. Although angelica is widely considered a biennial plant, it can be notional sometimes and hang around longer, setting seed the third season instead of the second.  This has only happened to me once, though. Parsley is another popular biennial you may have in your garden.

Avoid growing angelica with dill because it can cross pollinate and result in a less than tasty plant. It will also cross with fennel (I believe), but the results are more favorable.

There are actually a number of different angelica varieties, well over sixty.  Most do NOT have herbal benefits.

Oh, and don't confuse Angelica archangelica with Angelica Sinensis, another herb with medicinal properties that is popular in Chinese medicine. We'll discuss that angelica another day.


Clevely, Andi and Katherine Richmond. "Cooking with Herbs and Spices." Anness Publishing. 2003

Cornell University. "Angelica."

"Taylor's Guide to Vegetables and Herbs."  Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004

WebMd. "Angelica.>

Photo 1 - Angelica1_Wiki.jpg By Doronenko 11:13, 9 April 2007 (UTC) (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 - Angelica2_Wiki.jpg By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 - Angelica3_Wiki.jpg By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons