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Orem gardeners get go-ahead to plant in beetle-infested area

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OREM — Despite recent snow flurries, it's time to think about gardening. And this year, no shiny green beetles are going to get in the way of green thumbs in Orem.

This summer will be the second year Orem fights the plant-hungry Japanese beetle, and thanks to last year's success, the gardening restriction has been lifted for those in the infected area.

"We're highly pleased with the level of cooperating. We're very thankful," said Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

"If credit is to be given, it's to the residents for understanding the threat and ... being part of the solution."

The destructive bug first showed up in Orem in July 2006, prompting neighborhood meetings, eradication plans and massive sprayings, plus the state's first declared "insect infestation emergency."

However, thanks to 100 percent participation last year, including several alternative treatments for homeowners concerned by the chemicals, the beetle has been contained within the affected area.

This year's spraying will be on an even smaller, more concentrated area, and 2009's area will be even smaller, Lewis said.

Residents in the affected area should have already received a hand-delivered flyer, and they'll get more information in late June, 48 to 72 hours before the actual spraying, said Clint Burfitt, survey entomologist for Utah.

The chemical is the same product available for individual purchase at garden centers, and once again will be administered by lawn care professionals, Lewis said.

Burfitt said they're not sure exactly which product label of the chemical they'll be using, but each one is safe for food products. Residents should wait several days, however, after spraying before eating their garden produce.

Right now, the dreaded beetles are still underground in an immature egg state.

Once they hatch and begin growing, they'll start munching on grass roots that were treated last year.

If they survive and actually emerge, they'll start eating last year's treated leaves, which hopefully stops the circle of life right there, Lewis said.

Come July, officials will know just how effective the 2007 eradication program was, based on how many beetles actually end up in the traps. The number increased this year from 500 to nearly 1,200, Burfitt said.

The green and yellow hanging plastic traps are enticing to bugs, but officials remind kids and even adults not to touch them to avoid influencing beetle counts.

On a positive note, the spraying for the Japanese beetle has also reduced other lawn pests including the strawberry root weevil and the pill bug, said Adrian Hinton, extension area agent for the Utah State University extension service.

"People have taken the time here in Orem to understand the threat," Lewis said. "They've seen how devastating the damage can be in other states and they don't want that to happen here in Utah."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com