Flea beetles are tiny, but they can be very destructive garden pests. In this post, you’ll learn all about these annoying bugs, including how to identify them, what type of damage they do, prevention tips, and organic methods for controlling flea beetles.
Flea beetles are one of the most frustrating garden pests to deal with. Since they come out in early spring, and attack young seedlings, severe damage can happen before you even realize there’s a problem.
Luckily, controlling flea beetles isn’t too difficult once you know the best methods to use. Understanding the lifecycle and feeding habits of this annoying pest will also help you take steps to prevent damage before it occurs.
Here’s what you’ll find in this flea beetle pest control guide…
- What Are Flea Beetles?
- What Do They Look Like?
- Flea Beetle Life Cycle
- What Do They Eat?
- Damage To Plants
- Organic Treatment Methods
- How To Prevent Flea Beetles
What Are Flea Beetles?
Flea beetles are common pest insects that feed on small plants and seedlings. They can be very destructive in the garden in early spring, and can quickly kill immature plants.
Though they aren’t actually related to fleas, they get their name because they have large back legs that allow them to jump.
What Do Flea Beetles Look Like?
Up close, flea beetles look like tiny beetles. They’re shiny, and can appear to be black, brown or even bluish in color. Some species may even have spots or stripes.
From far away, they look like tiny black or brown specks on the leaves of a plant. It’s hard to see flea beetles from a distance, so infestations can easily go unnoticed.
A quick way to make a positive identification is to disturb the plant or surrounding soil. Flea beetles start jumping around when they are disturbed.
The Flea Beetle Life Cycle
Understanding their life cycle is important for controlling flea beetles. Adult flea beetles hibernate in the garden through the winter either in the soil or in plant debris. They emerge in early spring to feed and lay their eggs. The adults can lay eggs on plants or in the soil.
Once the flea beetle eggs hatch, the larvae live in the soil, and feeds on the roots of the plants. Flea beetle larvae are tiny white worms that are barely visible to the naked eye.
After several weeks, the larvae pupate in the soil, and new adults emerge a few days later. There can be more than one generation of flea beetles per growing season, depending on where you live.
What Do Flea Beetles Eat?
Though they can be found on any type of plant, flea beetles prefer vegetables. So, if you have them in your yard, you’ll probably find the damage is the worst in your vegetable garden.
I have also found flea beetles on some of my annual plants, and even on perennials before. But the damage has never been as bad on my ornamental plants as it is in my vegetable garden.
Flea Beetle Damage To Plants
Flea beetles cause the most damage in the spring when newly planted seedlings are still small. They can kill seedlings in a short time. At a minimum, they will stunt the growth of immature plants.
Often the first indication of a flea beetle infestation is faded, yellowing, or splotchy looking leaves. When you take a closer look, you can see the tiny beetles crawling around on the plant.
Adults cause the most damage by chewing irregular holes or pocks marks in the leaves. Sometimes the holes are small, but they can be fairly large too. The larvae usually cause little or no damage.
How To Control Flea Beetles
Getting rid of flea beetles completely isn’t usually an achievable goal. Most of the time, you just have to control them long enough for the seedlings to outgrow the damage.
Once the plants are large, flea beetles aren’t as much of a concern. The population will go down by summer, and your plants will be mature enough to withstand the damage.
There are several natural flea beetle control methods that are very effective to protect your baby plants from getting too much damage.
How To Treat Flea Beetles Organically
There are lots of different treatment methods that can you can use for controlling flea beetles organically. So there’s no reason to resort to using toxic chemical pesticides! Yeah!
Below are the most effective organic flea beetle control methods you can try in your own garden…
Use Neem Oil For Flea Beetles
Neem oil is a naturally occurring insecticide that kills bugs, and it works great for treating flea beetles organically. Spray a neem oil solution directly on the leaves of the plants (be sure to test a small area before spraying the whole plant).
Neem oil also has a residual effect, so you don’t have to spray it directly on the bugs. Learn more about how to use neem oil insecticide here.
Make Organic Homemade Flea Beetle Spray
Soapy water will kill flea beetles on contact. It’s easy to make your own organic spray for flea beetles by mixing 1 tsp mild organic liquid soap with 1 liter of water.
This homemade insecticidal soap spray will kill the adults on contact. But, it has no residual effect, and only works if you spray it directly on the beetles.
Apply Diatomaceous Earth For Flea Beetles
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is another great and inexpensive option for controlling flea beetles organically. It’s made out of tiny pieces of ground up fossilized organisms.
DE powder gets under the shells of beetles, and works like tiny bits of glass to kill them. Sprinkle it around the base of the infested plants, or directly on the flea beetles.
Capture Adults With Yellow Sticky Traps
Placing yellow sticky traps in your garden is another great non-toxic solution. They work to control flea beetles by capturing the adults as they jump from plant to plant.
Try Beneficial Nematodes For Flea Beetles
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic organisms that will kill flea beetle larvae in the soil. They are completely harmless to humans and pets, and won’t hurt beneficial beetles like ladybugs.
Use Repellent Plants Or Trap Crops
I haven’t tried this myself, but mint, basil, and catnip are said to repel flea beetles. You could also try using trap crops to lure them away from your main crops, and then spray them with soapy water or neem oil. Flea beetles love radishes the best.
Find even more natural garden pest control remedies & recipes here.
How To Prevent Flea Beetles
If you struggle with controlling flea beetles in your garden, there are a few things you can do that will help to prevent them. Here are a few flea beetle prevention tips…
- The adults overwinter in leaves and other debris leftover in the garden. So be sure to always clean out your vegetable garden in the fall.
- Adult flea beetles can also overwinter in the soil. Tilling or turning your garden soil in the fall will expose the adults, and help to kill them.
- Flea beetles emerge in early spring and cause the most damage on young seedlings. So try waiting a few weeks before planting your seedlings. This will give the plants more time to mature so they can withstand the damage better. Plus, the flea beetle population may not be as high once you plant everything.
Flea Beetle FAQs
Below I will answer the most frequently asked questions about flea beetles. If you still have a question after reading through this article and the FAQs, ask it in the comments section below. I’ll answer it as soon as I can.
Where do flea beetles come from?
Flea beetles hibernate during the winter in plant debris or the soil, and emerge in early spring.
When do flea beetles come out?
Flea beetles come out of hibernation shortly after the ground thaws, and temperatures start warming up in early spring.
Do flea beetles bite?
No, flea beetles do not bite. They only feed on plants.
Do flea beetles live in mulch?
Flea beetles can overwinter in the mulch and leaf debris, but they don’t live in the mulch. Their larvae lives in the soil.
What eats flea beetles?
There are several beneficial flea beetle predators that will eat the adults or their larvae, including ladybugs, predatory wasps, and beneficial nematodes.
Are flea beetles harmful?
Yes, flea beetles are harmful to small plants and seedlings. But they are not harmful to humans or pets.
Does mulch attract flea beetles?
No. In some cases, mulch can actually help with controlling flea beetles by protecting the soil. But mulch doesn’t always help for getting rid of flea beetles.
Are fleas and flea beetles the same?
No. Don’t let the name confuse you. Flea beetles are not even related to fleas.
Controlling flea beetles in your garden can be frustrating. But with so many effective organic control options to choose from, there’s no reason to resort to using chemical pesticides. Just be sure to be persistent with your treatments, because you can’t get rid of flea beetles the first time you try.
More About Garden Pest Control
- How To Control Slugs In The Garden Organically
- How To Control Cabbage Worms In Your Garden
- How To Control Squash Bugs Organically
- How to Get Rid of Squash Borers Organically
Share your experiences or tips for controlling flea beetles in the comments section below.