Got Japanese Beetles? Five Plants to Avoid & Their Garden Alternatives

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Stop a Japanese beetle infestation before it starts with these plants!

The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) is a destructive species of scarab beetle native to northern Japan. They emerge from the ground from early June to late August, feeding on various flowers, foliage, and fruits. They’re readily identifiable, thanks to their iridescent green heads and copper bodies. Japanese beetles are considered destructive from their grub stage, where they feed on plant roots and lawns, to their more familiar adult stage. They are heavy feeders, taking bites and skeletonizing foliage, potentially killing beneficial insects and pollinators while also severely disfiguring plants.

But not all hope is lost! Being choosy with your garden plants can help avoid these nuisance pests. Something important to note: much like deer, rabbit, and other pests, Japanese beetles are opportunistic eaters, and there is no telling for sure what this beetle will snack on. However, there are a few plant features this little crawler is drawn to. Japanese beetles generally seek plants with large flower petals and surrounding foliage with a soft, smooth texture and a light sweet scent. Fruit trees and plants are especially susceptible to this damage. 

Here we’ll list five plants to avoid if your garden is susceptible to a Japanese beetle infestation and what to plant instead.

Japanese beetle on crabapple tree
Pictured above: Japanese beetle feasting on a crabapple tree. 

Plants favored by Japanese beetles:

Japanese beetles eating rose petals

#1. Roses (Rosa)

The beauty of roses attracts all those who gaze upon its romantic petals and intoxicating scent. Sadly that also includes the Japanese beetle. These creepy crawlers love the sweet smell of the flowers and will often take bites out of petals and surrounding leaves, leaving a lace-like skeleton behind.

If you’re not looking to sacrifice the gorgeous rose appeal, you can aim to plant other full sun plants around it that Japanese beetles avoid to deter them from staking claim in your garden. If you want to reduce the risk, some rose garden alternatives require similar light and soil conditions. And most importantly, they also are generally avoided by Japanese beetles!

Top rose alternatives & companion plants that Japanese beetles avoid:

close up of Scentara Pure lilac flowers

Lilac (Syringa)

Don’t want to give up the intoxicating scent of roses? Plant lilac instead; they are extremely fragrant, and Japanese beetles generally don’t care for their scent.

Pachysandra evergreen ground cover in the garden landscape

Pachysandra (Pachysandra)

If you’re looking for a companion plant for roses that can help ward off Japanese beetles, pachysandra is a great choice. Try planting at the base underneath your rose bush, as this ground cover does best in part shade.

Pink magnolia flowers

Magnolia (Magnolia)

Never sacrifice the flower power for Japanese beetles; plant magnolias! They feature large blooms over a small tree/shrub come spring.

Crape Myrtle pink and red flowers

#2. Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)

Crape myrtle is a heat-tolerant upright shrub that helps support bees by creating two different types of pollen from its frilled flowers. According to research conducted by the Journal of Environmental Horticulture, a kind of pollen from crape myrtle aids bees’ digestion, while the other aids in fertilization. Pretty impressive, right? While it attracts pollinators in droves, it attracts Japanese beetles too, who love to munch on the blooms and  subsequent seedpods.

Luckily you can still support the pollinators by adding these companion plants for sun that Japanese beetles generally avoid!

Top crape myrtle alternatives & companion plants that Japanese beetles avoid:

Close up of the bright yellow blooms of the Flying Machine Forsythia

Forsythia (Forsythia)

Bees, butterflies, and birds will feast upon forsythia nectar in early spring before other pollinator plants bloom. But don’t worry, Japanese beetles generally don’t feast on these come summer!

Silvery-grey green stems with blue flowers

Catmint (Nepta)

Are you a purple flower lover who hates Japanese beetles? Catmint is an excellent choice due to its scent which repels these pests. 

Close up of a cluster of white flowers on the Whorled Milkweed

Milkweed (Asclepias)

Keep the pollinator appeal all while deterring Japanese beetles by planting milkweed in your garden!

Blue Chiffon rose of sharon shrub covered with blue purple blooms

#3. Hibiscus (Hibiscus)

The large petals and stunning colors of hibiscus have made it a garden favorite across the globe. Unfortunately, hibiscus flowers, especially Rose of Sharon varieties, are a magnet for Japanese beetles due to their soft foliage. They especially love chomping on the leaves surrounding the flowers during the daytime, making for an unsightly spectacle. The loss of foliage surface also makes their habit less beneficial to pollinators.

Luckily, there are hibiscus alternatives and companion plants that Japanese beetles generally do not favor, all without sacrificing the flower power. Try planting these alternatives in a sunny area alongside your hibiscus plants to help keep Japanese beetles at bay.

Top hibiscus alternatives & companion plants that Japanese beetles avoid:

orange poppy flower

Poppy (Papaver)

If you’re dealing with a Japanese beetle infestation, you can get the enormous flower appeal in various colors without the nuisance of pests with poppies!

Close Up of the vibrant pink blooms of the Sunsparkler Firecracker Stonecrop

Stonecrop (Sedum)

Much like hibiscus, stonecrop thrives in full sun environments. Luckily Japanese beetles tend to avoid this hardy succulent!

Masses of violet-blue flowers dotting dark green foliage

Cranesbill (Geranium)

According to the USDA, geranium leaves and flowers contain a substance that temporarily paralyzes Japanese beetles up to 24 hours, making them easy to remove!

Dark purple hollyhock flower

#4. Hollyhock (Alcea)

Hollyhock is a cottage garden staple for its tall habit, large flowers, and pollinator appeal. Unfortunately, Japanese beetles will munch out of nearly every area of this plant, potentially obstructing or removing any home for pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds, which adore its cup-shaped flowers full of nectar.

If you’re looking to spruce up your cottage garden, but want to keep the Japanese beetles at bay, try these hollyhock alternatives! Not only do the beetles not bother with these plants, but they are also cottage garden staples that bring all the grace and charm to your landscape.

Top hollyhock alternatives & companion plants that Japanese beetles avoid:

purple foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis)

The unique habit of foxglove dazzles nearly everyone who lays eyes upon it. Japanese beetles tend to avoid it due to its toxicity when consumed.

Mix of pink and purple columbine flowers

Columbine (Aquilegia)

Get a colorful mix of old-fashioned cottage garden favorites with Columbine! Not only are they resistant to Japanese beetle damage, they are also resistant to deer and rabbits.

bright orange and yellow blooms of the Uptick Gold & Bronze Tickseed

Tickseed (Coreopsis)

Tickseed is a cottage garden staple that deters Japanese beetles. Plant around your hollyhock to reduce the chance of damage come summertime!

Green and yellow leaves on Japanese Maple Tree

#5. Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese maple is sought after for its versatility, lacy foliage, stunning fall color, and low-maintenance habit. Unfortunately, it’s also sought after by Japanese beetles for its tender leaves and light, slightly sweet scent. If you’re dealing with a significant infestation, you may even find the foliage of your Japanese maple completely skeletonized. Once Japanese beetles have done the damage, it can start a chain effect for maples and attract more insects that target dying foliage, which could result in irreversible damage.

If you’re looking for a landscape shrub or tree without creating a buffet for Japanese beetles, these alternatives will do! Regular Japanese beetle infestations come summertime; skip the maple and deter them by planting them close to these alternatives.

Top Japanese maple alternatives & companion plants that Japanese beetles avoid:

arborvitae in landscape

Arborvitae

Fast-growing arborvitae trees are excellent additions to your landscape and make an excellent companion plant to Japanese maple. 

Burgundy leaves on burning bush

Burning Bush

Get the fall color without the beetle problem with burning bush! Try adding to a privacy hedge for sensational red hues.

Inkberry Holly

Holly

Native evergreen holly brings vibrant green foliage year-round while keeping the Japanese beetles at bay.

What is the best plant spray for Japanese beetles?

If changing or adding companion plants to your garden isn’t an option, you can try spraying an organic insecticide or neem oil on your plants. Neem oil is also low risk to bees and other beneficial insects and can easily be found shopping online. For more information, visit the University of Minnesota website HERE.

To avoid spraying completely, pick them off by hand and dump them into a bucket of soapy water. As a forewarning, this isn’t for the squeamish! 

I hate Japanese beetles, but I don't want to give up the beauty of roses in my garden. What else can I do?

If you grow long-blooming landscape roses, you may be able to foil Japanese beetles with carefully timed pruning. Just cut your whole rose back as soon as the beetles appear, removing all the flowers. The beetles are far less attracted to roses with no flowers, and during the 6-8 weeks it takes the plants to recover and set new flower buds, the beetle population will usually have moved on or have a significantly reduced population. 

Can I avoid Japanese beetles by choosing spring-blooming plants?

Yes, this applies to fall-blooming plants too! When you design your garden with plants that bloom in the spring and fall, there won’t be many flowers to munch on when adult Japanese beetles are active in the summer. This potentially means your garden plants will go completely damage-free from Japanese beetles throughout the summer months.

What are some other plants resistant to Japanese beetles?

Some foods like garlic and chive from your backyard garden can be excellent at repelling them too. Discover an extended list of Japanese beetle-resistant perennials, trees, and shrubs from Proven Winners HERE.

Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Let us know! We have an experienced, knowledgeable staff ready to make sure your garden turns out perfect. Or check out our other blogs, here.

 

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