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Stink bugs will move in for winter -- again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A "bug specialist" (read exterminator) recently told me we would see less of the Asian lady beetles and more stink bugs in our future here in the Kanawha Valley.

I immediately contacted Berry Crutchfield, plant and pest biologist with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture's Plant Industries Division, to get the scoop.

Berry writes:

"He was referring to the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). This Asian insect was first reported in Pennsylvania in 1996. It was first found in West Virginia in 2004. It continues to spread throughout the Eastern United States. It feeds on a wide range of fruit trees, small fruits, vegetables, field crops and ornamentals during the growing season. Like the Asian lady beetle, it has the habit of entering homes and other protected locations in the fall to overwinter.

"Control of overwintering stink bugs involves sealing logical entry points to the home with caulking, weather-stripping, screens, etc., during the summer. In addition, consider treating around logical entry points, on the outside of the home, with a perimeter insecticide (example: Ortho Home Defense) in mid-September and mid-October. Stink bugs found on the inside of the home should be removed by vacuum."

Well, isn't that lovely. We get these shield-shaped insects along a sunny wall of our home, and we've tried sealing/spackling/stripping the windows and doors, but they still get in. I guess I'll be vacuuming a lot this fall!

To keep the public up to date on the fight against stink bugs, a research website has been created at http://www.stopbmsb.org.

Ask the Bugman!

Identifying bugs is a labor of love for Daniel Marlos, aka the Bugman. His website, www.whatsthatbug.com, answers questions about bugs from all over the world.

The site has an extensive number of photos, making it possible to do your own sleuthing in categories such as beetles, flies and mites. If you can't find your specimen there, you can submit a photo of the bug in question along with a description, and Marlos and his team may respond (they receive so many questions they can't get to them all).

Ten quintillion insects

According to Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskin, authors of the popular blog www.littlehouseinthesuburbs.com, there are almost 10 quintillion insects in the world. That's not a made-up number, like "gazillion."

It's a real quantity, all 19 zeroes of it.

The article's authors discuss integrated pest management (or, as they call it, real-life gardening). Here are their tips.

Simple prevention

 

  • Choose disease- and insect-resistant plants. Most of your heirloom, open-pollinated, or other fancy-word seeds and plants are more vulnerable to disease and bugs than your run-of-the-mill hybrid.
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  • Feed your plants. Well-fed plants are strong, healthy plants. Humans can't fight off infection without a hearty diet, and neither can plants. Choose a balanced, organic fertilizer and feed from your local nursery or home-improvement store.
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  • Wise watering. Water your plants at the roots. Blasting the leaves spreads fungi and other diseases.
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    Advanced organic prevention

     

  • Use row covers to keep out bad bugs.
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  • Plant beneficial-insect-attracting plants such as dill, cilantro and marigolds. Beneficial insects eat the bad insects!
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  • Use companion planting. Some plants run interference for each other by repelling each other's enemies and attracting each other's friends. Companion planting guides can be found on the Internet.
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    And if they come anyway?

     

  • Calm down. The first sign of an insect or disease infestation doesn't necessarily mean you need to drop everything and head to the stinky aisle of the home and garden center. A few caterpillar holes in your mustard greens is not an emergency that calls for the big guns.
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  • Take a wait-and-see approach. That might be as bad as it gets. If you are reasonably alert and keeping an eye on the situation, that's the important part.
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  • Stop before you stomp. When you spot an insect in your garden, identify it before you squish it or spray it with something. It's hard to believe at first, but some of those insects are your friends. They're called beneficial insects, and they prey on the bugs that eat your food.
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    For example, the ichneumon, a small, harmless wasp, lays its eggs inside aphids. When the wasps hatch, they consume the aphids. In the meantime, though, they look like strange, white, bloated bugs on your tomato leaves. If you don't stop before you stomp, you might interrupt this beneficial parasitic arrangement.

    Other insects cause only minimal damage, like the golden tortoise beetles on my sweet potatoes. They might make a few small holes in the leaves, but they won't do significant damage to a crop. You can enjoy their pretty golden carapaces without fear.

    By identifying the insect before you go into attack mode, you'll learn how scared you should be (if at all), and what the appropriate controls are for that particular creature.

    Take evasive measures. This is a multipronged approach:

     

  • For many bugs, handpicking and crushing works fine. This is especially true of squash bugs (not borers, which come with force fields, cloaking devices and time machines)
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  • Some bugs are dumb and can't find their way under a piece of gauze, so row covers can help (not with borers, though. They also have teleporters and GPS).
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  • Spray. Botanical insecticides are commonly available at garden centers and discount stores. Look for ones marked "approved for organic gardens." If you want to do the least amount of damage to beneficial pollinating insects, spray late in the evening when the flowers are closed.
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  • Don't grow pest attractors. You may also decide, like me, that evasive measures include buying your summer squash at the market because you've exhausted all the organic squash bug, borer and beetle defenses known to mankind. You will discover your own particular nemesis.
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    Pick your battles wisely.

    Kill crabgrass, then aerate

    Charles Fleshman, of St. Albans, wants to know if he should kill his crabgrass before he aerates his lawn this fall. The answer? An emphatic yes -- get rid of that crabgrass before you do anything to encourage growth.

    Davis Park benefit

    The Kanawha Garden Club is hosting "Party in the Park," a benefit to support the refurbishing of historic Davis Park in the heart of downtown Charleston, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in the Capitol Street park between Lee and Washington streets. Rain location is the Capitol Conference Center, 815 Lee St.

    Tickets are $50 per person, and include cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and tours.

    To purchase a ticket, mail a check made payable to Kanawha Garden Club to Elizabeth D. Keightley, 22 Brittany Woods Road, Charleston, WV 25314. The Kanawha Garden Club is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

    For information, contact Keightley at 344-9667.

    Last week's mystery plant

    Not as many of you are familiar with last week's mystery plant. Here's what you said.

    Teresa Campbell said, "If this is the mystery , it is a bush sun flower called 'First light.'

    From Jeannie Skaggs: "The picture of the mystery plant in yesterday's newspaper (Sept. 23) looks a lot like some cosmos seeds that I planted this summer. I have had cosmos before but never like this one, at probably five feet tall it started to have blooms on the sides but the top has yet to bloom, very strange cosmos! It has very thick stems also, the seeds came from a store-bought package so it should have been the correct plant and the blooms look like cosmos blooms. Great conversation plant!"

    From always-entertaining Lawton Posey: "I always enjoy your informative columns, and even though I am no longer the possessor of a garden, I am always interested in what you come up with. The answer to your question about the Mystery Plant Number 2 is easy to acquire.

    "It is the common Planta Viridis Westvirginiaenisis. That is, a Green West Virginia Plant. Sub category: Topus Carrotus.

    "So there, Sara. I win! Right?"

    Yes, Lawton, you win.

    Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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