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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 Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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