Potato Bug Infestation in a Garden

Colorado potato beetle (USDA)

Potato bug infestations can be a major problem for gardeners growing potato plants. These pests belong to the genus Leptinotarsa, and there are several species that feed on potato plants. They feed on the leaves, stems, and tubers of the plant, causing damage that can significantly reduce the yield. In severe infestations, the plant may wilt, become stunted, or die.

It is important for gardeners to be vigilant in monitoring their potato plants for signs of potato bug activity and to act quickly to control infestations. By taking steps to control potato bug populations and protect their plants, gardeners can help ensure a healthy and productive garden.


  • Yellowing, wilting, or curling of leaves: This is a common symptom of potato bug damage, as the pests feed on the leaves, causing them to become discolored and wilted.
  • Holes or ragged edges in leaves: Potato bugs feed by biting into leaves and chewing on them, leaving behind holes or ragged edges.
  • Stems that are partially or completely eaten: Potato bugs can also feed on the stems of the plant, causing them to become weakened or to break.
  • Decreased plant growth and reduced yield: Infestations of potato bugs can reduce the overall health of the plant, leading to decreased growth and reduced yields.
  • Presence of potato bug eggs or adult insects on the plant: Gardeners can look for the presence of potato bug eggs, which are oval-shaped and yellow to orange in color, or adult insects, which are typically brown or grayish-green and about 1/4 to 1/2 inch long.

What is a Potato Bug

  • Oval or rounded shape: Potato bugs have a distinctive oval or rounded shape, which sets them apart from other garden pests.
  • About 1/4 to 1/2 inch long: They are generally about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length, although size can vary slightly depending on the species.
  • Brown or grayish-green color: Potato bugs can be brown or grayish-green in color, which helps them blend in with the surrounding foliage.
  • Six legs and antennae: They have six legs and two antennae, which they use to move around and locate food.
  • Distinctive ridges along the back and sides: Potato bugs have distinctive ridges along their back and sides, which can help gardeners identify them.
  • Can roll up into a ball when disturbed: When disturbed, potato bugs can roll up into a tight ball, which can protect them from predators.

Treating a Potato Bug Infestation

The potato bug is a hardy pest that can quickly reproduce, making it important for gardeners to take steps to control infestations as soon as possible. This can include using insecticides, removing infested plants, and using row covers to protect the plants from adult bugs. Gardeners should also practice good garden hygiene, such as removing plant debris and rotating crops, to reduce the risk of potato bug infestations.

It may be necessary to use multiple methods to effectively control potato bug infestations in a garden. For example, using physical controls, such as row covers, in conjunction with cultural controls, such as crop rotation, can help to reduce the risk of infestations.

Physical Control Methods

  • Hand picking: Gardeners can manually remove potato bugs from their plants, taking care to remove both adult bugs and eggs. This method is best for small gardens or for early detection of infestations. Gardeners can use gloves or a tool, such as a pair of tweezers, to carefully remove the bugs and eggs from the plants. They should also dispose of the bugs and eggs in a sealed container to prevent them from re-infesting the garden.
  • Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder that can be sprinkled around the base of the plants to deter potato bugs. The sharp edges of the powder will damage the exoskeleton of the pests, causing them to dehydrate and die. This method is most effective when applied to dry plants, as the powder will adhere better to the foliage. Gardeners should reapply the powder after heavy rain or watering to maintain its effectiveness.
  • Row covers: Row covers can be used to physically exclude potato bugs from the plants. Gardeners should place the covers over the plants when they are still small and secure the edges to the ground to prevent bugs from getting underneath. This method is best used in conjunction with other control methods, as it will not kill the bugs, only prevent them from reaching the plants.

Cultural Control Methods

  • Crop rotation: Rotating the location of potato plants in the garden can reduce the risk of potato bug infestations, as the pests are less likely to find their preferred food source. Gardeners should avoid planting potatoes in the same location for several years in a row to reduce the risk of infestations.
  • Sanitation: Keeping the garden clean and free of plant debris can reduce the habitat and food source for potato bugs, making it less likely that they will infest the plants. Gardeners should remove any dead or dying plant material from the garden and dispose of it in a sealed container to prevent the bugs from laying eggs in it.
  • Companion planting: Planting companion plants, such as marigolds or nasturtiums, near potato plants can deter potato bugs, as the pests do not like the scent of these plants. Gardeners should plant these companion plants throughout the garden to create a barrier that will repel the bugs.
  • Beneficial insects: Certain beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, feed on potato bugs and can help control their populations. Gardeners can attract these beneficial insects to their garden by planting nectar-rich flowers and providing a source of water. They should also avoid using insecticides that will kill these beneficial insects

Chemical Control Methods

  • Insecticides: Gardeners can use insecticides to kill potato bugs and prevent infestations. There are several types of insecticides available, including botanical insecticides, such as neem oil, and chemical insecticides, such as carbaryl. Gardeners should carefully read and follow the instructions on the product label to ensure that it is used safely and effectively. They should also consider the potential impact on beneficial insects and the environment before applying insecticides.
  • Systemic insecticides: Systemic insecticides are absorbed by the plant and can provide long-lasting protection against potato bugs. They are particularly useful for controlling infestations in large gardens, as they can be applied to the soil and will be taken up by the plant roots. Gardeners should follow the instructions on the product label carefully, as some systemic insecticides can be harmful to other beneficial insects and the environment.