Just two days ago I found my first Lily Beetle of the season.... has anyone else found them yet? If not, be warned, it's time to start looking out for these nasty little beasties.
What's a Lily Beetle? I hear you say. Well, if you don't know what they are then you are either very lucky, in that you have never had them, or you don't grow lilies. Or, possibly, you have given up growing Lilies, as they never seem to do well for you?
Well, if you don't know what Lily Beetles are, they are quite large, shiny bright scarlet, beetles, which simply drool over our beautiful Lilies, and to a lesser extent our Fritillaries. I've had Clients in the past come running up to me, wailing about ladybirds eating their Lilies: it's an easy mistake to make, but Ladybirds are hemispherical, like half a pea, whereas Lily Beetles are longer and flatter: also, Ladybirds have spots, whereas Lily Beetles are plain red, no spots.
They eat the leaves, often leaving squared-off holes in the foliage, and then they lay their bright orange eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch into larvae, which then cover themselves in their own excrement (“charming!”) for disguise. These larvae then, under cover of the black poo, eat what is left of the leaves.
This means that the Lilies look like nothing on earth - tattered, ragged foliage with clumps of black icky stuff on them - and although they might still flower this year, the lack of foliage will cause the bulbs to be seriously distressed, to the point where they may well not flower at all the following year.
So, what can we do about it? Answer, get out there now, and start looking for them. They are ridiculously easy to spot, being bright scarlet, but they have a nasty little trick: when disturbed, they fall to the ground and lie motionless on their backs, so you can't see them. This means you need two hands - cup one underneath, then gently nudge the beetle off the leaf into your hand. Or, crease a sheet of stiff paper lengthwise, and hold it under the plant. Either way, once you have them, crush them!
As with many things in the garden, prevention is better than cure, so be vigilant now, early in the season, and catch them as they arrive. By killing every adult that you see, you can prevent them from laying eggs, thus saving your Lilies - and mine! - from an untimely demise!