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Prepare to battle those fall bugs now

Bagrada bugs and other nasties can sneak into gardens

White alyssum and a yellow-green sage plant
At the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center's Herb Garden,
the sweet alyssum was on its way out and now it's gone.
(Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Sweet alyssum produces a lovely cloud of white blossoms in any flower bed. In the Herb Garden of the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center this summer, it surrounded a beautiful 'Golden' pineapple sage.

That latter sentence is past tense because this morning I pulled out all the alyssum in the container, as well as the two clumps that were growing in a raised bed nearby.

Why yank them out? Well, it's getting to be fall planting season, and soon the FOHC's Vegetable Garden crew will be planting their brassicas -- cool-weather cole crops that include cauliflower, cabbage, kale, turnips and mustard greens. Alyssum also is part of that family.

You know which pest is attracted to brassicas? The bagrada bug, a nasty stink bug that was first seen in Southern California about 2008 and has spread north since.

The alert to the Herb group went out from master gardener/vegetable expert Gail Pothour -- she'd been checking around and under our lush alyssum for offenders. So far she'd only seen harlequin bugs (more about those in a minute) but the concern was there.

So there's no point making the vegetable gardeners' job harder: Out went the alyssum.

Those of us who mostly grow summer vegetables are accustomed to battling aphids, tomato hornworms, spider mites and leaf-footed bugs. But even though the weather's still very warm, fall planting plans have to include prevention of the pests of cool-weather crops.

Female and male bagrada bugs
Bagrada bugs are only 1/4-inch long; the female
is larger than the male. (Courtesy UC IPM)

Note this sentence from
UC IPM's page on bagrada bugs : "Even though Bagrada bugs prefer cool-season cole crops, their development is favored by warmer temperatures." Bagradas will feed on stems, leaves, flowers and seeds, UC IPM says, and are "particularly damaging to small plants and may kill seedlings."

In addition to monitoring or removing potential host plants, including weeds, the gardeners also put floating row covers on hoops over the vegetable seedlings. This is to deter those little butterflies you see in the fall from laying eggs on the plants. Those eggs grow into cabbageworms (white butterflies) and cabbage loopers (brown moths), which will skeletonize the leaves given the chance.

Harlequin bug
The harlequin bug is 3/8-inch long and is brightly colored.
(Courtesy UC IPM)
Harlequin bugs , by the way, often are confused with bagrada bugs, UC IPM notes. But harlequin bugs are larger. They are piercing-sucking pests, too, but have some natural predators that contribute to control.

If you find bagrada, harlequin or other stink bugs in the garden, handpicking is the easiest way to handle them. Don't squish them -- there's a reason they're called stink bugs. Instead, knock them into a bucket of soapy water.  And keep a close watch for additional invaders; they can multiply quickly. Your fall and winter crops depend on your vigilance.


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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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