The Dreaded Lily Beetle
It has to be said that the Lily Beetle is a handsome creature, with its scarlet colouring it must be one of the brightest pests in the garden. But however handsome it is I would rather it stayed well away from my plants!
I hadn't seen a Lily Beetle in my garden until about four years ago but now I can't seem to get rid of them! You can try to sneak up on them -they are easy to spot with their bright red colours but at the slightest touch they all drop off the plant or scurry into the leaf axles and are very difficult to find.
I checked my garden last night and my lilies were nowhere to be seen, on a closer look the couple I spotted had been eaten almost completely there was about a foot of stem with a couple of sticky, chewed leaves and that was it, there will be no lilies in my garden this year that's for sure!
Although adults do eat the foliage, their primary function is to reproduce, so if you spot an adult it's highly likely you will find eggs on the undersides of the leaves, they will lay throughout summer. Eggs are tiny and laid in narrow, irregular rows hatching after about a week it is the voracious larvae that do the most damage. They start by nibbling away at the leaves moving on to the flowers when they open and they will even tackle the seed pods too.
They tend to feed under the leaves or at leaf nodes along the stem. The larvae would be relatively easy to spot as they are orange in colour but they have a nasty way of disguising themselves - as they feed they cover their bodies with their own excrement - yes it really is disgusting! It makes them difficult to see as they just look like specks of soil and if you do find them they are difficult to kill as squishing the pile of poo may not always destroy the larvae inside. I prefer to drop the lot on the pathway and squash them really hard with my boot!
The larvae usually feed for about two weeks then pupate in the soil more adult beetles emerge and continue feeding until autumn. The adults overwinter in sheltered places, often in the soil but not always in the vicinity of lilies or fritillaries.
If you prefer not to use sprays to rid yourself of pests there are a number of things you can try, the obvious one is to try to catch and destroy the adults while plants are small and before they have begun to lay their eggs, they usually start to attack between March and May so keeping a sharp eye out from then on could help to contain them. I have heard various remedies over the years but cannot say I've tried many of them, spraying with a garlic solution is a common one as beetles appear to find the host plants by smell so this could confuse them. Another one that might work is dusting with Diatomaceuos Earth over leaves and around the soil at the base of the plant again I can see how this might work but you would probably need to repeat it several times throughout the summer.
But for now I think I have to resign myself to the fact that I might have to forgo growing lilies in my garden for the foreseeable future.