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These bugs like it hot

Leaf-footed bugs thriving in triple-digit weather

Leaf-footed bug attacks a tomatillo in Midtown. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Leaf-footed bugs on rosebud.

Besides spider mites, one other pest apparently loves recent hot and smoky weather: Leaf-footed bugs. (They’re pretty crazy about tomatoes, too.)

Triple-digit heat has brought out an explosion of leaf-footed bugs in the greater Sacramento area. Right now, they’re scrambling around on ripe tomatoes and other fruit, sucking out juice. For example, dozens of young leaf-footed bugs were spotted in Midtown this weekend as multi generations feasted on the same tomato plants.

With distinctive leaf-shaped back legs, the leaf-footed bug is a close cousin to stink bugs – only bigger. Leaf-footed bugs often are an inch long and look like strange alien creatures. When young, they like to hang out in groups. Relatively slow to mature, they take six to eight weeks to reach adulthood. But once fully grown, they can stick around for months.

In the overall garden scheme of things, their damage is relatively minor. The leaf-footed bug stabs its long mouthparts into nice juicy fruit, flower buds, seeds and other favorite targets, then sucks out moisture. Usually, that results in only cosmetic damage; the fruit is still edible. But when their population grows like it is now, leaf-footed bugs become a bigger nuisance.

Three different species are native to California and they attack a wide range of crops and ornamental plants. The most common in Sacramento is Leptoglossus zonatus.

In home gardens, they primarily attack tomatoes, pomegranates and roses. They also have a huge appetite for almonds, pistachios, citrus and watermelon. But L. zonatus also will eat many different fruit, vegetables, nuts and flowers.

Leaf-footed bugs tend to congregate in weedy areas around vegetable or flower beds. (That’s also where they overwinter.) By removing weeds, you evict any leaf-footed bugs that may be sheltering in those plants, too.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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