Not the ones you wear and definitely pests!
What are they?
Leatherjackets are little grey-brown grubs that are fleshy with no legs that can grow as big as 50mm (the ones in our garden are more usually a couple of centimetres).They’re the larvae of the Crane fly, also known as daddy long legs. Adult females can usually be seen from late July to September flying around with their lollopy gait. (I can attest to this as I’m often camping when they’re about and I’m slightly phobic, despite them being harmless!)
Each female can lay around 300 eggs in the soil surface that hatch about 3 weeks later. As soon as the eggs hatch the larvae start to feed on vegetables, root crops and grassland. If it’s mild they can feed throughout the winter, but especially as temperatures warm up in the early spring.
In late May the larvae pupate in the soil, with the adults emerging during the summer months.
How do you spot them?
They’re often first noticed when turfed areas are turned into vegetable (or flower) gardens, or if you allow your patch to be overcome with grassy weeds. You might notice that plants don’t look as well as you’d expect them to, wilting as their roots are attacked.
How can you get rid of them?
When you’re weeding or harvesting keep an eye out for them and remove them immediately. (I usually carry an empty milk carton half filled with hot water around with me when I’m gardening to put all the pests in, drowning them straight away.)
They like to live in dark, damp places so you could try covering the soil with cardboard or old carpet, pulling it back in the morning and leaving the birds to come in and feed on them.
Parasitic nematodes can be watered onto wet soil once the soil temperature is over 10-12oC.
You could also try leaving bait around under pieces of bark with bran hidden underneath (also works for slugs), picking them off once you find them.
So good luck in your bug hunt!
Just for balance, next week we’ll look at a Friend.