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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 Oct. 2

Plan to make the most of the mild weather in your garden.

* October is the best month to plant trees and shrubs.

* October also is the best time to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to planting holes or beds, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioluses, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

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