Belonging to the same genus as crickets and grasshoppers, potato bugs, also known as California potato bugs or Jerusalem crickets, are most common to the western United States. They will eat through the foliage of a number of vegetable, fruit and flowering plants, with no special preference for potato plants. Potato bugs can grow up to 2 inches long, have a rounded head, a brown-striped belly, large front teeth known as mandibles and thick legs. If left uncontrolled, potato bugs can decimate and destroy an entire garden. Several natural remedies and treatments will get rid of a potato bug infestation, including sprays and powders.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, a unwelcoming environment for the potato bug can be the most effective method of potato bug control. Preventing the infestation from taking root saves a lot of time and trouble down the road. As nocturnal creatures, potato bugs enjoy underground tunnels, and dark, damp and cool environments. Keeping your lawn and garden litter and debris free will help reduce the number of spots that make ideal potato bug living environments. Remove dead grass and leaves, trash, wooden boards, random objects, and rocks from your landscape to reduce the number of potential living spaces for potato bugs.
If the infestation is early on, or it is small and limited to a specific area, you can use traps to potentially control it. You can purchase insect paper traps at gardening supply centers, and their sticky surface will catch the bugs. For a homemade option, spread a layer of petroleum jelly on a wooden plank, and place it near areas where you believe potato bugs will inhabit. The jelly will catch the potato bugs in a similar fashion as the sticky paper. Remove all bugs or the plank when the trap is full. Repeat as necessary until the infestation has stopped.
Neem oil is a natural deterrent for many insects, including potato bugs. Neem oil kills potato bugs by slowly eating through its exterior skeleton, eventually causing the bugs to shrivel up and die. As a natural pesticide, neem oil is considered safer for animals and humans than chemical options. To treat a potato bug infestation, spray the oil directly onto the potato bugs or spray it onto infected plants. Regular application of neem oil is needed every one to three days during dry weather. In the case of damp or rainy weather, neem oil will need to be applied immediately after the weather clears up as rain will wash away the oil.
Made from ground silica from algae shells that have been fossilized, diatomaceous earth is safe for humans and pets, but will kill potato bugs and other pests. Diatomaceous earth kills potato bugs by cutting into the exoskeleton of the bug as it travels through the powder, as the fine powder is sharp edged. Sprinkle a small amount of diatomaceous earth in areas where you suspect potato bugs live or around plants that have suffered potato bug damage. Diatomaceous earth needs to be reapplied in cases of heavy rain or wind as it can be blown or washed away.