Garden Detective

What’s that pest? It’s a leaf-footed bug, and it’s hungry

Garden Detective: What’s attacking these tomatoes? Those are leaf-footed bugs, a kind of stink bug that can attack in numbers. They also like roses.
Garden Detective: What’s attacking these tomatoes? Those are leaf-footed bugs, a kind of stink bug that can attack in numbers. They also like roses. Sacramento Bee file

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: Can you identify this insect? They’re all over my Mr. Lincoln rose tree. I’ve never seen them before. This rose is at least 5 years old.

Diane Cummings, Citrus Heights

Bee garden writer Debbie Arrington: That’s a leaf-footed bug, a stink bug cousin. They’re considered mostly a nuisance pest because they’re relatively easy to control. But you still want to remove and destroy them ASAP before they suck the life out of the new blooms on that rose bush.

They really like to attack fruit and tomatoes, sucking out the juice until there’s nothing left but empty skin like a deflated balloon. One mama bug can lay 200 eggs at a time. They can produce three generations in one season, so their numbers can grow rapidly. The most common variety attacks almonds, pistachios, pomegranates and other popular fruit and nut trees. But they also like roses.

Fortunately, these bugs are slow. They can’t fly until they’re fully mature. You can suck them up with a hand-held vacuum or knock them off the plant into a can of soapy water. (Or just squish them, but wear gloves – they’ll stain your fingers.)

“The females generally lay groups of shiny golden eggs on leaves of host trees,” according to retired state entomologist Baldo Villegas, Sacramento’s “Bug Man.” “The eggs hatch usually about the same time, and they generally feed in groups as there is usually a pheromone that keeps the group together. This is also a clue to how to control them.”

Villegas’ advice: Shake them off the bush.

“I consider these bugs a nuisance pest rather than a garden pest as one can easily control them by just shaking them into a bucket containing soapy water,” he said. “Once the bugs hit the soapy water, they usually drown.”

According to the UC master gardeners, leaf-footed bugs overwinter as adults in debris, woodpiles, loose bark and other garden refuse. When the weather warms, they come out of hiding and start eating – and breeding.

Find more information on how to control leaf-footed bugs on the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management website at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74168.html.

Debbie Arrington is a lifelong gardener and consulting rosarian; darrington@sacbee.com, 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
  • Amador: 209-223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; website: ceamador.ucdavis.edu
  • Butte: 530-538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
  • Colusa: 530-458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
  • El Dorado: 530-621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
  • Placer: 530-889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
  • Nevada: 530-273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
  • Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: 530-242-2219; email mastergardener@shastacollege.edu
  • Solano: 707-784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
  • Sutter, Yuba: 530-822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
  • Yolo: 530-666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned
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