If you have ever walked out to the vegetable garden and seen many holes in some of your vegetables it is most likely the result of flea beetles. Flea beetles are very tiny (about 1/10 of an inch in length) insects that chew holes in the leaves of many plants. They are called flea beetles because they can quickly jump out of sight when the plant they are damaging is suddenly disturbed.
Flea beetles have some vegetables they prefer over others, especially eggplant. They also enjoy bok choy, mustard greens and radish leaves. Typically mature eggplant can handle the attack of a few flea beetles, but young seedlings can be quickly devastated by a small swarm.
There are some practices you can use in your vegetable garden to protect your young eggplant from these ruthless leaf munchers. Here are a few tactics for preventing and treating flea beetles on eggplant.
Try growing vegetables in different areas of your vegetable garden each year. This is simply called crop rotation. Avoid growing eggplant in the same general area year after year. A good way to track your crop rotation from one year to the next is to develop a solid garden plan each year. By going back and looking at your garden plan from the previous year you can strategically rotate crops. This can play an important role in controlling flea beetles on your eggplant.
Use Plastic Mulch
If you lay down black or red plastic mulch in your vegetable garden in early spring, it can help to control flea beetle larvae from coming back up. The plastic mulch will block the larvae and thus help to control their populations. Using some straw or bark mulches around eggplant can give the flea beetles a good place to hide. If using straw mulches pull the mulch away from eggplant seedlings until they begin maturing. Once the eggplant has matured to a well established height, replace the straw mulch around them.
Plant A Trap Crop
The idea behind using a trap crop is to plant something near the eggplant that the flea beetles find more desirable. As mentioned previously, flea beetles love radishes, mustard greens and bok choy. Plant these near, or around, your eggplant to help keep the flea beetles preoccupied. The flea beetles will pounce on the trap crop and forget about your precious eggplant.
A great trap crop for flea beetles is radishes. Radishes grow quickly and they are small enough to be grown between eggplants. It’s a good idea to sow the radish seeds and allow them to sprout before planting the eggplant. If you go out and see holes in the radish leaves you know flea beetles are present. This is a great way to check to see if flea beetles may be a problem before you transplant the eggplant seedlings.
Use Sticky Traps
You can also use yellow or white sticky traps around your eggplants to catch the flea beetles. Use some sticky fly paper cut into small squares and place around your eggplant. Give the eggplant a gentle shake- the flea beetles will jump off and land on the sticky paper squares. Place several of these around your eggplant for a good trapping system.
A good organic solution is to apply nematodes to your vegetable garden area. The nematodes will attack and kill the flea beetle larvae and eggs in the soil. The best way to prevent flea beetles is to get them before they have a chance to hatch and spread. Nematodes will get the flea beetles before they even have a chance to jump on your eggplant.
Use Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous Earth is an organic powder that can be effective in killing flea beetles. Just sprinkle the eggplant with this powder and it will kill the flea beetles. Make sure to cover the top and bottom of the leaves as flea beetles will be on the underside of leaves many times.
Organic Pesticide Sprays
As a last resort, or for heavy infestations of flea beetles, you can use a liquid rotenone/pyrethrin spray that is quite effective for getting rid of flea beetles on eggplant. Although these sprays are organic in nature, they are still a pesticide and can affect the good insects if used in an irresponsible manner.
Growing Great Eggplant
Although flea beetles can be a huge problem for eggplant seedlings, using these preventive and control techniques can greatly reduce or eliminate their affect on eggplants in your vegetable garden.