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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: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74168.html

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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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