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MY BATTLE WITH LEAF FOOTED STINK BUGS

The Leaf Footed Bug is from the stink bug family of insects. These include Shield Bugs, Harlequin Bugs, Green Squash Bugs and other squash bugs. They all emit an obnoxious odor and stink when squashed. They have piercing-sucking mouth parts that can also inject a liquefying substance to aid their sucking damage. 

    In the late 1990s, hundreds if not thousands of Harlequin bugs descended on my garden and flower beds in El Paso, Texas. I picked them off by the handful and also used a vacuum cleaner to drop them into soapy water. Then I used several poisons to try to reduce their numbers and destruction. Within a week’s time all my garden plants had been stripped of their leaves, most of their fruit, and many of their small limbs. Many plants were dead and the fruit that was left was scarred and had a bad taste.

    In these ten years here in the Rockport, Texas area, the Leaf Footed Bug has shown up in various numbers. It varies in size from ¾” to over 1”, is black with what looks like a leaf on its hind legs. We live in The Preserve (POA) which means everything is left in its natural state as much as possible. There are all kinds of places for these Leaf Footed Bugs to hide and over-winter. Tomatoes get ripe in May and usually the Leaf footed Bug damage on ripening tomatoes does not show up for 3 weeks when the eggs hatch and the red bodied black legged nymphs in the dozens start sucking whatever they are on. The tomatoes develop green or yellow spots, appear blemished, have bruised areas, become deformed and taste sour and off flavor.

    This year (2018) the trees taken out by Hurricane Harvey have been replaced by Silverleaved Sunflowers and other green multi-limbed sunflowers which are attractant plants for the Leaf Footed Bug. The first week the tomatoes started ripening, I was killing 5-10 adult bugs with my fingers. By the second week I was squashing up to 15 bugs a day. The third week hatched several of the nymphs and I was squashing over 50 adults and nymphs a day. Organic poisons like Neem and Pyrethrin don’t kill the adults and didn’t control the nymphs. The 9 tomato plants were too thick with large leaves to use a vacuum cleaner. I did use a heavy spray of water pointed up from the bottom of the plants every day. This drove the bugs up to the tops of the tomato plants. The wet adults were easier to catch. (I do not spray water down on the ground around tomato plants for it would splash disease spores up onto the plants.)

    During four weeks in May and June, I gathered over 100 softball to baseball sized ripe tomatoes before the tomatoes became too blemished. They were delicious until they weren’t. The Leaf footed Bugs became too prolific to catch and kill. So, I pulled up all the tomato plants. Good News! The Celebrity Tomato plants had very few Root Knot Nematodes.

-Herman Green

6/19/2018    Garden Journals