Red lily bugs

red lily bug–photo from the internet

Meet the red lily bug (Lilioceris lilii), which is currently one of my biggest garden challenges. As far as I know it is not widespread in my area, so I’ve been careful to not give away any lilies or lily bulbs. The University of Rhode Island seems to be the leading center for working on this bug. Here is the website and what they say about insecticides:

“To date, our material of choice for treating flowers is neem, an insecticide based upon extracts from the neem tree. Neem can be purchased at garden centers under the trade names Turplcx, Azatin EC, Margosan-0, Align and BioNeem. Neem kills larvae and repels adults. Neem is most effective on first instar larvae; it must be applied every five to seven days after egg hatch.”

Tall, striking yellow Asiatic lilies in my back yard garden

I successfully dealt with Japanese Beetles by patiently plucking them every morning. I’ve never used any herbicide or insecticide in my garden. I’ve been picking lily bugs and larvea for years and it is much harder than grabbing Japanese beetles. The red adults are bright but nimble and hard to grab. The larvae and eggs are on the underside of leaves, so you have to kneel down and laboriously check every leaf. Not how I want to spend hours every day.

The dark pink are Asiatics, and the lighter pink is La Reve orientals–the earliest of my oriental lilies to open. Also wine-colored monarda here in my “pink” garden

I have hundreds of lilies scattered all over the gardens, but I’ve been downsizing for the last two years because of these bugs. This year I decided that it’s just not worth the time and effort to save my lilies. I’m going to remove and destroy all but a dozen or so (of my favorites–the fragrant orientals).

Beautiful pure white Asiatic lilies bloomed even in this semi-shady spot.

The only worry I have is that the bugs might then move on to attack and decimate our “wild” patch of tiger lilies. The bugs seem to prefer the other varieties, but they do nibble on tiger lilies, and I hope that by removing the others I don’t doom the tigers.

Orienpet “red hot” in the meditation garden. These are not my favorites–in fact, I admit I will not miss them. They smell wonderful but this variety was sort of unmanageably and crudely vigorous–it grew so big and tall that it fell over, and also stems fused to create mega-stalks with distored flower stalks. Tree frogs liked these, however.

I bought 450 lilies about six years ago, from Scheeper’s. It was a collection with gigantic, gaudy orienpets, lovely, fragrant orientals, and the tall, stately asiatics. The asiatics don’t have any smell. They bloom first and mine had gorgeous saturated colors–and also a pure white variety.

Negros, near the sun-porch door. This patch bloomed beautifully for five years, then started to decrease dramatically in size. It made babies–and turned into a thicket. The little stalks with one blossom each were perfect for medium bouquets. I should have dug up the bulbs to thin them and fertilize more, but that chore got away from me.

The Asiatics are good for bouquets that I take to the local cafe, because of that lack of overwhelming fragrance. All the lilies are excellent cut flowers. Some of my favorites are the so-called “heirloom” varieties. They have a very slight fragrance, and are like “turk’s cap” in shape.

I got this lily by mistake–I forget which company I ordered it from, but it was supposed to be light pink, and I got this one instead. I was happy with that mistake. These are quite a small variety, and unfortunately a favorite of the bugs.

The first Asiatic I ever got was a deep red rather short lily called “Negros” (photo above). It reminds me of my friend Kathleen who inspired me with her lilies, and urged me to try them. I still remember the June morning I spent waiting for the fat, red bud to finally open.

Orange Asiatic lily

One of my favorites from the Scheeper’s mix is this orange–it just glows in the garden and made stop-in-your-tracks bouquets mixed with blue delphinium and golden yarrow.

The buds are so big! These are white Asiatic lilies.

My garden will be different without these showy lilies. But on Saturday the first hour of my gardening day was spent cricking my neck and shredding my knees searching for tiny red beetles and even tinier red eggs. An hour —  and I didn’t even make it through a third of my lilies. Some of them are already badly damaged. So, I’ll save out a few of my favorites, and protect these few fiercely from this bug, and hope that the tigers make it through.

Asiatic lilies in the backyard


1 thought on “Red lily bugs

  1. I just reached your blog while trying to identify a couple of new lilies. But you should not let those little red lily beetles prevent you from enjoying your blooms (these are my favourite flowers). Several years ago I learnt how to control them while attending a flower show. The larvae of the beetles spend the winter in the earth around the dormant bulbs. A 10% mixture of household ammonia sprayed just when the bulbs are emerging will greatly reduce their numbers. I am very good at catching the beetles in my hand and squishing them, but apart from that, just take a gloved hand and run it up each stem. That will dislodge and destroy any newly laid larvae without having the back breaking job of picking them off. Another approach: the beetles will drop to the ground if your hand approaches them, so just hold a bowl of soapy water under the stems, point your finger toward them, and they will fall into the water. Then you can have the joy of squishing them. Like you, I have several clumps scattered around and I find it worth the trouble. I do not use any chemical sprays in my garden and this works for me.

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