What can I do to control flea beetles?

Answer: Flea beetles are one of the most difficult to manage pests of eggplant and cole crops. They are also a problem on seedlings of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, turnips, radishes, and corn. There are various genera and species of flea beetles, all members of the Chrysomelidae family. The adults are active leaf-feeders that can, in large numbers, rapidly defoliate and kill plants. Symptoms of flea beetle feeding are small, rounded, irregular holes; heavy feeding makes leaves look as if they had been peppered with fine shot. Some species also vector serious diseases such as potato blight and bacterial wilt of corn. Further damage may be done by the larvae, which feed on plant roots. Some flea beetles are considered general feeders, though many species attack only one plant or closely related kinds of plants.Life history varies somewhat with species, but most appear to pass the winter in the adult stage, sheltering under plant debris in the field, field margins, and adjacent areas. The adults emerge in spring and may feed on weeds and less-desirable vegetation until crop plants become available. As a result, they are frequent pests in seedbeds and on new transplants. They may become especially troublesome when weedy areas begin to “dry up.” Flea beetles cause the greatest damage by feeding on cotyledons, stems, and foliage.In organic systems, the preferred approaches to pest management are those that enhance the diversity of the farm system, such as cover cropping, rotation, and interplanting; those that use special knowledge of pest biology, such as delayed planting; and those that take advantage of existing on-farm resources. These approaches are typified by cultural and biological controls. Alternative pesticides, while frequently necessary for some crop pests and conditions, can be treated as “rescue chemistry” to be used when and if other strategies fall short.Check out the ATTRA publication Flea Beetle: Organic Control Options for a more detailed look on different cultural and biological control options, as well as alternative pesticidal materials.