Gardening with Laurie: Treat leaf-footed bugs early to get rid of them
The occasional rain showers and pleasant cooler-than-normal mornings and evenings have been wonderful. There also seems to be less humidity, which is one factor that can make our heat so much worse.
Needless to say, I have enjoyed being outdoors. I know what's ahead weather wise, so I'm trying to appreciate all the pleasant weather while it's here. Hope you are, too.
It seems like I have had more pest-related questions this season than in previous years. It seems that the pests gardeners are complaining about are in larger numbers. Perhaps the mild winter had something to do with this.
Many complaints about leaf-footed bugs. Leaf-footed bugs are in the stink bug family, which I'm sure you'll realize if you smash one. Like the stink bug, leaf-footed bugs secrete a very stinky foul-smelling, and foul-tasting fluid from pores on the sides of their bodies.
This secretion helps to protect them from some predators. Fortunate for gardeners, many birds, spiders, lizards and frogs do eat leaf-footed bugs.
Adult leaf-footed bugs can intimidate people, but they do not bite and need to be dealt with. This is one creature that can ruin a vegetable garden, as well as many other plants. Left alone, they will reproduce in great numbers. They are much easier to kill when they are young.
Leaf-footed bugs get their name from the flattened leaf-like flare on the lower portion of each back leg. Adults are about 1 inch in length, dark brown in color and have white marks on the margins of their folded wings. Young leaf-footed bugs are orange with skinny black legs. These youngsters will usually be found in large numbers. Young leaf-footers do not have wings, making it easier to eliminate them.
The bugs have a piercing and sucking mouth part that allows them to feed on the juices of many edible and ornamental plants.
Planting some of their favorite plants in close proximity to your desirable plants is one way to lessen damage to other plants.
They especially love sunflowers and plants in the thistle family, like artichokes and cardoon plants. I have a cardoon plant that always has these pests all over it and seems to help deter them from other plants.
Once you have to deal with adult leaf-footed bugs, you will have to get serious. You can't just smash them as easily as the younger ones. One of the few sprays that seem to help eliminate them is a mixture of orange oil mixed with another natural pesticides, Spinosad or Neem.
Mix the insecticides as instructed on their labels and to this mixture add two ounces of orange oil, plus one tablespoon of molasses per gallon of water. Only use this during cooler morning or evening hours. Orange oil can burn plants if not mixed in proper proportions and applied during high temperatures. As a last resort, you can always use a hand-held vacuum to try and suck up the pests.
Until next time, let's try and garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.
Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.