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What's this bug? It loves triple-digit heat

Leaf-footed bugs appear on roses, tomatoes and other juicy plants

Leaf-footed bug nymphs
These are leaf-footed bug nymphs. They tend to stay
in a pack when young. (Photo courtesy Alan Moritz)

“Good guys or bad guys?” That’s the question that accompanied this photo of mystery insects that suddenly appeared on a rose bush in a Sacramento garden.

Definitely bad guys – and they’re beginning to pop up all over town, especially on tomatoes, soft fruit and roses. The reason? They love triple-digit heat.

Those are nymphs (babies) of the leaf-footed bug, a relative of stink bugs. They'll make holes through your roses (and lots of other things). They’re very bad on tomatoes and can be a pest on apricots and peaches. They also like pomegranates, almonds, pistachios, citrus and watermelons.

Most of their damage is cosmetic, but in big numbers they can be a real nuisance. They puncture the fruit’s skin and suck out its juices.

The good news: They can't fly and they're slow. When young, they stick together. They release a pheromone that keeps the developing bugs in a little pack. (The better to attack your plants.)

Here's what leaf-footed bugs look like as adults.
(Photo courtesy UC IPM)

As they get older, they get bigger – more than an inch tall with distinctive leaf-shaped back legs.

Like many stink bugs, they're resistant to any pesticides (unless it’s a direct hit). Because the young nymphs are wingless, their instinct is to jump down from wherever they’re dining and scramble for cover.

What to do? Under the plant, put a bucket or dishpan of water with a teaspoon of dish soap (to break the surface tension). Then, gently shake the bush, vine, branch or cane and knock the bugs into the water. (Often, they will just jump when they see your shadow.) They can't swim and they drown.

You also can blast the hell out of them with a hose (you’re watering the plants at the same time). Or you can just squish them, but wear gloves; they'll stain your hands (and they stink).

For more on leaf-footed bugs, check out these recommendations from the UC Cooperative Extension Pest Notes:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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