Eggplants & Flea Beetles

June 24, 2007

In the last article I shared a few interesting gardening tips for growing heirloom eggplants in the backyard garden.

Today I wanted to discuss a common headache that you’re more than likely to encounter anytime that you raise eggplants in the home garden.

If You Plant Them, They Will Come

Heirloom EggplantOne thing that has always been a constant for me is that if I plant a single eggplant, flea beetles are guaranteed to make an appearance. For some reason these difficult to control pests are especially fond of eggplants and if left unattended will quickly chew hundreds of holes through the plant’s leaves.

The damage may not kill the eggplants outright, but will undoubtedly stunt the plants and put an end to any hopes of harvesting a bumper crop of colorful and tasty fruits. I’ve seen eggplants totally covered with flea beetles, which leave the plant’s leaves looking like Swiss cheese.

Organic Flea Beetle Controls

Flea Beetles are tiny (smaller than the size of a pin head), dark colored, and very much flea-like in the way that they can jump up and disappear from the plant when disturbed. Left unchecked they can quickly multiply and create havoc with crops such as potatoes and eggplants.

The traditional organic approach to controlling flea beetles has been to resort to the application of an organic pesticide such as pyrethrins or rotenone. While organic, this is still a pesticide that has to be handled carefully and can kill non-targeted insects including the beneficial ones that we want to keep around the garden.

As much as I resist applying any type of pesticide spray in the garden I have resorted to using organic pesticides to control pesky flea beetles on eggplants. Even with this deterrent the flea beetles will eventually return and require monitoring for additional follow-up applications.

Hands-On Approach to Eliminating Flea Beetles

A determined organic gardener with a little time on his or her hands can sometimes manage a small infestation of flea beetles in the home garden by stalking the pests and crushing the beetles before they have a chance to jump up and escape.

As a kid I lived next door to a family of Cuban immigrants that grew a fantastic garden, including the best and biggest eggplants that I have ever seen. They were also pretty much organic because they never sprayed chemicals and relied on wheelbarrow loads of aged horse manure from a local stable for their annual dose of fertilizer.

I still recall how someone would venture outside as the opportunity arose to walk through the garden and literally beat the bugs off of the vegetable plants by lightly tapping them with slender, flexible sticks. I never tried this technique out for myself, but they never seemed to suffer with flea beetle damage to their eggplants.

Other Ideas for Controlling Flea Beetles

If you can’t beat them then feed them… One trick to keep flea beetles at bay is to grow a trap crop that they prefer to eat, which will keep them occupied and away from your prized vegetable plants. For example, flea beetles will leave eggplants alone in preference to feeding on radish leaves or Southern Giant Mustard plants that are growing nearby.

Some gardeners have had success attracting and controlling flea beetles with yellow or white colored sticky traps that are suspended near the vegetable plants being attacked. You can even try homemade sprays made from pureed garlic diluted in water, or a combination of garlic and hot peppers. There are also species of nematodes that can be applied to the soil to control flea beetle larvae.

The critical time for controlling and preventing flea beetle damage is when the plants are young and during the early stages of the plant’s development. Older eggplants and mature vegetables can tolerate a little more flea beetle activity without becoming stressed or stunted.

A Flea Beetle Mystery

So far this season I’ve been looking and waiting for the appearance of sufficient numbers or damage from flea beetles to justify spraying, and surprisingly I just haven’t seen enough of either to be concerned about.

Not that I’m unhappy about the unusual lack of troublesome flea beetles, but it raises a big question of WHY, and exactly what has prevented their usual assault upon my heirloom eggplants?

Have the flea beetles wised up and moved on to another garden where they can feast upon eggplants undisturbed? I don’t think so! Have my eggplants developed some kind of immunity? Not hardly… so what happened?

New Remedy for Flea Beetles on Eggplants?

Plastic Mulched Eggplant BedThe only thing that I can possibly attribute to the decline in flea beetle populations is the fact that I’m using a red plastic mulch in the beds containing my peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants for the first time this season, so maybe that has something to do with the reduced presence of flea beetles.

I recall hearing that flea beetles like a dry crusted soil, which the red plastic will help prevent. The red plastic may also disrupt the reproduction cycle of the flea beetles which lay eggs in the soil where the larvae develop underground and feed on plant roots.

I’ll keep an eye on this one. There are some flea beetles present, but no where near the normal levels and not enough to warrant much concern. For now I’ll resort to the hands on approach to control the flea beetles that I see or can catch on the eggplants.

If this luck continues you will definitely find a plastic mulch covering my eggplant beds from now on. If you have experiences with successful organic solutions for controlling flea beetles on eggplants or potatoes I’d be very interested in learning about your techniques.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Hi Kenneth,

    Your site is a tremendous resource. Thank you for all of the great information you have here.

    Do you have any experience getting rid of Colorado Potato Beetles?


  • Kenny Point

    Thank you Graeme. Fortunately Colorado Potato Beetles have not visited my garden in recent years but I have dealt with them in the past. The adult beetles can be kept in check by hand picking. For the immature beetles there are strains of Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) that are very effective against young Colorado Potato Beetle larvae. BT is an organic control that is safe and targets specific insects such as caterpillars and larvae so beneficials are at less risk.

  • Joe

    I control pests on my eggplants (including flea beetles) through planting (seeding) dill directly around the base of the plants. I failed to recognize that this was the reason I didn’t have these pests (I just figured I was lucky) until this year and was struck by the fact that all plants with dill around them were pest free (including aphids, cabbage worms, leaf hoppers, etc) and the ones without dill had these pests on them – what an enlightening day that was!

  • Ray

    Great post! I also like Joe’s dill suggestion. That is sure easy enough.

  • Gab

    I tried a formula. Garlic, red hot chili pepper, and oregano. It works for me and I will keep on experimenting with a more natural formula like Soursop leaves diluted in water. Don’t ask me how, just dilute it. You can also mix garlic, onion, hot chili, and oregano. I’ve learned this formula by observing other plants that have no insects or any pest, like oregano. And it smells bad for me so wear a mask. hehehe

  • Linda

    If you are starting your eggplant indoors, start them a little later than usual and wait until the first week of June (or even a little later) to set them out. I live in central Iowa, and by doing this I seem to avoid the prime flea beetle time. And you’re setting them out when the weather is warmer, so they catch up fast.

  • sue

    Love this site – thanks for all the good information. I also use dill in the garden – as well as other herbs – use a mixture including onions, garlic, and herb and a little soap, with hot peppers – works wonders.

  • Greg

    The eggplant flowers, as soon as the fruit begins to appear fall off, friut and all. They fall off right where the stem meets the stalk. Help

  • Greg

    The immature fruit (still with flower attached fall off right where the stem meet the stalk, every one of them has fallen off so far. About 8 by count. HELP

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Greg, it’s still early in the season and that happens sometimes so don’t panic yet. It could be related to poor pollination or plant stress. What has your weather been like recently? Keep the plants watered if they need it, spray with an organic fertilizer like a fish and seaweed combo, and just keep an eye out to see if the situation improves.

  • Joanne Rice

    You are right. A few years ago, I wanted to put walls of water on my egg plants. Not wanting the walls of water to get dirty with muddy soil, I placed a barrier of newspaper around the plants and then placed the wall of water over the plant. Lo and behold, no flea beetle. It was just blind luck that this happened and since that time I have instructed our 300 members of our Community Gardens to do just that. When the egg plants get large enough to come out of the wall of water, I do just that and allow the newspaper to remain. My egg plants are always 4 feet tall, beautiful and productive. Yes, a few little holes do appear but at this stage, the egg plant can fend for itself. Our website is I think I have a comment on growing egg plants there. I do the disease and pest control of our organization.

    Here is another little hint. Brussels sprouts are well known to be aphid factories. This year I place cardboard pieces wrapped in aluminum foil beneath the sprouts and did not have one aphid. It is said that the foil confuses the aphid. I understand that this is true of other insects also. I don’t remember which catalog I saw it in recently but they are selling silver plastic mulch, like your red plastic mulch mulch and in the product information, they too attest to the fact that the silver reflection causes confusion for the insects. Good to know and I will be buying that silver mulch for our Fall Planting.

  • Adnan

    Try releasing few small types and less-toxic spiders into your plants, Let the spider nests be developed under leaves. Any type of bug may caught by the spiders or trapped into their nest. Just be careful from spiders while harvesting.
    Try and let me know:)

  • You are exactly right. That red mulch is protecting your egg plants. I usually plant my egg plants early and in a wall of water. To prevent the wall of water from getting dirty, I surrounded the plant with black and white newspaper and then applied the wall of water. For the first time in years, I did not have flea beetles. I allowed the plants to grow to a fairly good size and then removed the wall of water, left the newspaper, mulched around the plants and had beautiful egg plants, four feet tall. By the time the egg plant matures to the level where ther wall of water can be removed, it is not only flea beetle free but also mature enough to fend off any damage a few flea beetles can cause to it. I have done all of the above for several years but since I read your post, will switch to the red plastic mulch, which I also use on tomatoes.

  • Hi Bart. Ray here and last got advice from you on Sept.19th 2010. Well my two Goji plants lost all leaves over the winter period. Remember I kept them in a sun-house (Hot house). Well I took them out into the open last month (March) as the weather seemed okay. The leaves are back and getting quite bushy. But having seen loads of Goji plants on my computer, the pictures Iv’e seen have quite short and wide leaves whereas my leaves are long and skinny. Any ideas? My plants are in big pots now because I am trying to grow them as trees.No room for bushes in my garden because of my wife’s plants. So Bart I hope you are doing well with your plants and any more advice from you would be more than welcome. All the best mate, Ray

  • donna

    planted eggplant and when the eggplant started growing we found a hole right threw it. what could have done that?

  • Sylvia

    Any ideas about how much plastic mulch / newspaper is effective? Would a one foot diameter around the base work? Two foot? Or do you need a whole lot more?

  • Kenny Point

    I used a sheet that was about five feet wide to cover the entire raised bed that the eggplants were growing in but a foot or two around the base should be good enough.

  • Hi, i’m growing my first eggplants and the leaves are being eaten by a large looking ladybug. It has the colour and spots but not the black head, I’ve seen them on the tomatoes too but they dont eat tomato leaves like the eggplant. Love to know what this is … and what to do with them… Thank you.

  • AnjanetGriffin

    Hi I’m from Tucson,AZ I started planting veggies 2 weeks ago and my eggplant was doing fine but lately some of the leaves are getting dry?? A few little holes… I sprayed it with organic pesticide would this work or do I need to do something else?? So I can have a healthy plant ??
    Thanks ,

  • Kenny Point

    Sounds like you may have flea beetles. Look closely for tiny, round, black bugs that jump away as you get close to them. If they are flea beetles you can crush them between your fingers if you start early and check the plants a few times each day.

  • kathy kornbau

    Hello, very interesting webpage—thanks! I have some small holes in my leaves and the plants do not seem like they are grwoing, just dormant. I have used an organic plant food, I planted them Mother’s Day weekend, just not sure what is going on with the little fellows!!!
    Any help would be grateful!!

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Kathy, how badly damaged are the leaves on your eggplants? Sounds like flea beetles and if the leaves are all covered with holes like Swiss cheese it may have stunted the plants to the point that it will be difficult for them to recover. If you can locate replacement plants it may be easier to start over than to nurse those along. Next time watch them closely from the start to monitor for flea beetles and make sure that they receive adequate water. I also try to hold off on planting eggplants until the weather and soil temps have consistently warmed.

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  • Bill Horn

    For the Flea Beetles on my eggplants. I use a product called garden safe. It’s made up of Neem Oil and Orange oil. I also think Neem Oil by itself will work. It last for 7 to ten days unless it rains or I need to water. Heavy humidity will also bring a need to spray again. I also think a soap spray might work especially some of the Dr Brooner’s Soaps the minted ones or the orange oil one. The Diatomaceous Earth would take care of the unwanted pest but it is a last resort for me. Remember when you use Neem Oil you want your mixing water to be warm. You might be able to mix in some soap with the Neem Oil as well if you are using straight Neem Oil but with the garden Safe product you just add water and you are ready to go.

  • Sharon

    Hello from southern California…As usual, flea beetles on my young eggplants, even with row covers on them! I read an article recently that recommends dusting cornstarch on the leaves and at the base of the plants so I’m trying that now. Should know in a week or two if it’s working.

  • Lisa

    Years ago I planted eggplants with marigold seeds around my eggplant, and eggplant only at my moms house. The marigold grew quickly and when we went on vacation for two weeks, I came home to healthy plants, while hers were eaten down to the main stem by flea beetles. Neither of us had sprayed the plants, other than I had fertilized mine previously.

    The marigolds grew too huge, and blocked sun, so I am growing a few nearby this year. Also, I am growing in plastic mulch with holes cut into it for weed and disease control this year, so I am going to transplant some dill seedlings nearby also, and hope this helps.

    I am getting brown scarring on some eggplants that is covering some of them completely. Any ideas what this is? Please help!


    How close or far should the radishes be from the eggplant to lure the flea beetles away? I’ve use the advice from this site in the past, but I need to up my efforts because they are very strong pests.

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