Although they sound rather cute, June bugs can spell disaster for your lawn, garden and trees. These aptly named insects, which are a type of beetle, make their unwelcome presence known in late May and stay into the summer months unless you put a stop to them.
What Are June Bugs?
Adult June bugs are oval with large antennae and three pairs of legs. They are black, brown or dark red about half an inch to an inch in length, and they make a hissing sound if touched. June bugs are harmless in that they won’t bite or attack humans or pets—they just want to wreak havoc in your yard. Adults can lay anywhere from 75 to 100 eggs beneath the soil by midsummer.
While you’ll likely see an adult June bug or two flitting about on a summer’s evening, it’s the grubs you have to worry about. Grubs are the generic name given to beetle larvae, which typically like to burrow into your lawn and devour the roots.
If your grass has brown patches on it, June bugs may be to blame. Additionally, if you see the presence of other pests, including moles, this means that they have come to feed on June bugs. It’s easy to hate June bugs for what they do to your yard, but on a positive note, they do provide nutrition for other non-destructive insects and critters.
The presence of a single grub isn’t a sign of an infestation, as grubs naturally do hang around gardens. However, you’ll still need to treat your yard in the late summer and early fall to ensure that recently hatched larvae are eliminated. The good news is that there are quite a few ways to combat these trespassers.
The Life Cycle of a June Bug
Adult June bugs lay 75 to 100 eggs underground in early to midsummer. After about 18 days, larvae emerge from the eggs. The larvae are legged worms about 1 inch long with brown heads, and it is during this phase that the insect can be extremely damaging. Depending on the species, the grubs can spend one to three years underground, chewing plant roots as they precede through three molt phases. During the overwinter periods, the grubs burrow deep into the soil and hibernate before becoming active again in the spring. At the final transformation of the larval stage, the grubs form pupae that will hatch into new adult beetles the following spring as the cycle repeats itself.
The annoying flying beetles you see on summer evenings, then, are only the tip of the iceberg. Where you see adult beetles, eggs and root-destroying grubs are soon to follow. Depending on the species, the time from egg to grub to pupa to adult can take one to three years. The real reason to rid your yard of June bugs is not just to make your evening recreation more pleasant but to save your lawn and garden from grubs.
Signs of June Bugs and Their Grubs
There are several red flags that indicate you may have a problem either with adult June bugs or their larvae:1
- You witness large flying beetles on summer evenings after dark. June bugs are nocturnal insects, and they become active after the sun sets on summer evenings.
- You have spreading brown patches on your lawn. This is a sign that underground grubs are likely feeding on the roots of turfgrass plants. Large patches of dying grass may be so loosened from the severed roots that you can lift them up by hand.
- Small holes are being dug in your lawn overnight. These holes are often made by skunks, raccoons, or other carnivorous animals searching for grubs to eat. In some regions, armadillos are prodigious eaters of grubs.
- You have a mole problem. Moles also eat grubs, so, if you have an issue with moles, the source of it may be a grub problem.
- Plant leaves have ragged holes. The adult beetles will feed on above-ground plants. Japanese beetle damage can be especially harmful.
How to Get Rid of June Bugs
It can be alarming to see even one destructive bug in your yard, let alone a whole crowd. The good news is that you’ve got a number of solutions to stop them from spreading.
Try Organic Methods First
Many people opt to go with natural methods first, as chemicals can be harmful to humans and pets and destructive to other parts of your garden. Try some of these organic methods first before calling in a professional exterminator:
Diatomaceous Earth (DE). DE is made up of minuscule fossilized remains of diatoms, aquatic organisms found in bodies of water. When DE comes in contact with soil, it creates a powder with sharp crystals, which help to destroy a variety of insects, including ants. This solution is harmful to pests (be sure not to harm any helpful pollinators) but not humans, making DE a good option for those who wish to avoid chemicals as long as possible.
Nematodes. Another natural solution that won’t harm humans or pets, nematodes will eradicate insects, particularly June bug larvae. The nematodes are absorbed through their orifices, and the bacteria that forms usually destroys them in about two days’ time. To apply, mix nematodes in water and spray onto the affected areas in your lawn or garden. Make sure the affected area is watered well so that the nematodes can settle into the soil and get to work.
Bacillus Thuringiensis. Better known as BT, this is yet another natural option. BT is a microbe that is actually already found in the soil, so it’s fine if humans or pets come in contact with it. When extra BT is added to the soil, grubs will eat it and soon regret it. The BT destroys their insides, killing them with infection or making them starve anywhere between a few hours to a few days.
Essential oils. These are the fragrant weapons of choice for many homeowners when it comes to combating pests. You can try a number of combinations that include citronella, lemongrass, lavender, eucalyptus, mint and rosemary. Mix up your oils with some water in a spray bottle and spritz the affected areas.
Tomato plants. By far the most palatable option on the list, tomato plants can get rid of June bugs as well as give you the ingredients for a delicious red sauce. It’s the leaves and not the fruit itself that keeps them away.
Enlist the Help of Natural Predators
If you’re squeamish, this step might not be the most attractive one, but it is effective. You can put a stop to your June bug garden party by encouraging birds, moles, toads or snakes to crash it.
In order to attract these natural predators, check with a local nursery to see what types of plants, trees and greenery attract them. You can also install bird feeders to help attract a flock of helpers. Once they arrive, they will feast on a June bug buffet—and your problem is solved.
Use Insecticides for Larger Infestations
It’s always better to use more organic methods of pest elimination when possible, but if your June bug infestation has caused damage to your lawn and garden, it’s time to try a more extreme remedy and use chemicals.
If you’re resorting to pesticides, you should first mow your lawn. Aside from keeping your yard healthy, this will remove bees and other pollinators and keep them safe as you apply chemicals. This is one of the major disadvantages of using chemicals to begin with—it can also eliminate other insects that serve as natural predators to the very pest you are looking to eliminate.
To take on grubs as they hatch, you’ll want to apply an insecticide with chlorantraniliprole, clothianidin, imidacloprid or thiamethoxam. Apply the pesticide any time from the end of July to the beginning of September.
You will need to ensure that you are protected from the chemical spray and ensure that it is not applied to any edible plants. If you are afraid of harming any humans or pets, or damaging the rest of your healthy garden, it’s best to call in a professional exterminator to do the job.
What Causes June Bugs?
June bugs will be more prevalent if your lawn has a heavy infestation of grubs, and the grubs themselves are more prevalent on lawns that are very thick with thatch. They can also be more prevalent in a landscape where lots of chemicals are used. The heavy use of surface pesticides can eliminate natural predators of June bugs and their larvae, and heavy applications of fertilizers make for very dense root systems that provide a banquet for grubs.
How to Prevent a June Bug Infestation
A healthy, manicured lawn is also a good way to prevent June bugs and other predators from making your yard their target. Be sure to remove any thatch, as this can attract destructive insects and cause more harm to your yard.
Make sure your grass is watered frequently and drained well. Keep it mown to around three inches tall to keep June bugs at bay; any shorter and they will invite themselves in to settle down instead.
Your backyard is a place for relaxing, which is hard to do when you have unwelcome visitors like June bugs. While prevention is always the best way to avoid any type of pest infestation, there are a number of options to stop them from spoiling your summertime fun.
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Beaulieu, D. (2022, January 20). How to Get Rid of June Bugs. The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-get-rid-of-june-bugs-4688779
Zito, B. & Pelchen L. (2022, January 28). How To Get Rid Of June Bugs. Forbes Home. https://www.forbes.com/home-improvement/pest-control/get-rid-of-june-bugs/