Garden enemy number one: the rose chafer



Kate Aley

The first time I saw a rose chafer flying past me, I was actually charmed. So small, so funny, bumbling through the air with an almost velvet-like olive coloured carapace contrasting nicely with comically splayed-out shiny orange legs. That was then.


Fact is, the rose chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus) will "chafe", that is skeletonize, pretty much everything in it's path, particularly any flower that has large colorful petals such as roses, peonies and irises.

I won't tell you about them here. If you have them in your garden, you know all this. If you don't, look them up, I beseech you. There's certainly plenty about them to read and be appalled by.

One year, chafers totally devastated our apple trees: leaves, buds and blossoms. This year, they are now busy in the grape vines, having come out a bit late for the iris.

I've tried soap spray, garlic spray, even a spray I made out of other rose chafers... Yeah, that was a bad year.

I got these traps with a pheromone lure but I'm still not convinced of their efficiency.

What always works is cutting off the swarming flower head and plunging the whole thing deep into a bucket of hot soapy water. They're dead in seconds. It involves a bit of work but it's 100% foolproof. If you get them early or late in the day, they'll be a bit dozy and won't bail out in wriggling hordes the second they sense danger. It's a terrible shame to cut all your flowers in their prime, but I can assure you they won't be very picturesque for long.

Bring a massive bouquet or two in for the dining room table and then go grimly to work.

[Of course, make sure you squish or drown all the chafers that will inevitably later emerge from the flowers and go staggering around the house like hung over booze hounds.]

With no soap added, chafers will float around in the water struggling gamely for hours, which is horrible and unnecessary. However, sometimes they are obliging enough to fly into the bucket of water, especially if it is white. [Ask at your local restaurant for those nice square buckets that industrial strength mayonnaise comes in: they're perfect.]

Apparently, there are pesticides or nematode treatments for chafers which will destroy them while underground in their larval stage. But hate them as I do, I haven't taken that fatal step. Yet.

The point I especially want to make is we've got to stop the chafers from spreading.... So be careful when dividing and giving away plants that have been under a chafer attack and be very careful when cutting and giving away flowers. 

You only need two chafers to make two million of them, seems to me. And since their main activities appear to be eating and -- um --- fornicating, usually simultaneously, it's clear the world needs less chafers, not more. Be vigilant and keep that hot soapy water coming.