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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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