Mortal Combat — 5 Bad Bugs You’ll Battle This Summer

July 19, 2015 | By | Comments (9)
Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles. Photo: hyg.ipm.illinois.edu

INCOMING! The following five awful pests will seek to utterly destroy both your garden and spirit this summer. How can you fight back against a voracious army that numbers in the tens of thousands? By reading this post and doing what I say. 

Bad Bug #1 — Japanese beetle (above)
Brief description: Unmistakable beetle with a green thorax, green head, and copper wings. Often dines (and mates) alongside hundreds of its fellow warriors. Good work if you can get it.

Favorite targets: It’s probably quicker to name what plants it doesn’t eat than the ones it does. Anything in the rose family (roses, apple, crabapple, plum, etc.) and mallow family (hibiscus, hollyhock, rose-of-Sharon, cotton, etc.) are toast, but it also consumes pines, crepe myrtle, annuals, perennials, and veggies.

Damage: Devoured flowers; skeletonized foliage (everything is consumed but leaf veins). Larvae (white grubs) in ground eat lawn roots, killing grass.

Fight back with: Spray target plants according to label directions with neem oil. Don’t spray flowers, though, as neem is toxic to bees. Sevin (carbaryl) is also very effective, if you don’t mind “chemicals.” Treat infested sod with a granular grub control applied with a spreader. Don’t bother with Japanese beetle traps. They only attract more beetles to your yard.

Bad Bug #2 — Aphid

Aphids

Aphids. Photo: bigkahuna.apollo53.com

Brief description: Aphids are small, blob like insects that suck plant juices. They can be yellow, green, orange, red, gray, or brown. Practically born pregnant, they multiply with amazing speed. The reason you see ants above is because ants “farm” aphids. They carry aphids to a host plant and drink the sweet honeydew aphids secrete. Yum.

Favorite targets: Almost any plant with juicy, green leaves and stems. They favor new, soft growth and flower buds. Often hide on leaf undersides. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chinese hibiscus without aphids.

Damage: Puckered, distorted, discolored leaves; dropping leaves and flower buds; stunted growth; black mold growing on leaves covered with aphid honeydew; plants contract diseases spread by aphids.

Fight back with: Fortunately, aphids are easy to kill. Spray according to label directions with neem oil, horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap. Or fill a spray bottle with 4-5 drops of liquid detergent to a quart of water and spray aphids wherever you see them.

Bad Bug #3 — Spider Mite

Spider Mites

Spider mites. Photo: entuga.edu

Brief description: OK, OK — spider mites aren’t true bugs that have six legs. They’re arachnids, like spiders, and have eight. They’re tiny — about the size of a sharp pencil point — and may be red, yellow, brown, or green. They suck plant juices and, like aphids, multiply amazingly fast. They usually hide on the undersides of the leaves. During severe infestations, they envelop leaves and stems with tiny webs.

Favorite targets: Almost any plant if the conditions are right. Spider mites like dry weather and low humidity. Indoor plants are spider mite candy.

Damage: The first thing you’ll notice on broadleaf plants is a speckling or bronzing of the leaves. Needleleaf evergreens often brown at the branch tips. Foliage yellows or browns and drops prematurely. Branches die back. Plants lose vigor and may die.

Fight back with: Water (surprise!) Spider mites hate getting wet. So the first thing to try is blasting them to kingdom come with a strong jet of water from the hose. Wet foliage also slows their reproduction. Or use the same controls Grumpy recommends for aphids.

Bad Bug #4 — Armored Scale

Armored scale

Armored scale. Photo: ctahr.hawaii.edu

Brief description: Armored scales are weird bugs. Little scales have six legs and crawl onto the leaves and stems of target plants. There they insert feeding mouthparts into the plant to suck the juices, drop off their legs, build a protective shell over themselves to fend off predators, and remain in place until they die. Kinda like NASCAR fans. People often mistake them for harmless bumps or specks. Later, people regret this.

Favorite targets: Just about any kind of plant. Indoor plants are particularly susceptible because a scale’s natural predators aren’t around.

Damage: Foliage becomes spotted; growth is stunted; plant dies back; black mold grows on sweet honeydew secreted by the scales.

Fight back with: The first weapon I’d choose would be horticultural oil. Applied according to label directions, it smothers scales. Be sure to wet all upper and lower leaf surfaces, all stems, and the trunk too if it has scales. Or if you’re OK with “chemicals,” apply a systemic insecticide, such as Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control.

Bad Bug #5 — Brown marmorated stink bug

Stink bug

Brown marmorated stinkbug. Photo: njaes.rutgers.edu

Brief description: About a half-inch long, this shield-shaped insect is distinguished by its banded wings and antennae. It lays clusters of 20 to 30 elliptical yellow or yellow-red eggs on the underside of leaves of target plants. A recent arrival from Asia, it builds up incredible numbers in agricultural areas. When you smash one, it stinks.

Favorite targets: Fruits and fruiting vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, apples, peaches, plums, beans, corn, strawberries, figs, and citrus.

Damage: Feeding causes spotted, distorted, and dropping produce unfit for consumption. In winter, hordes of these stink bugs invade houses to avoid the cold.

Fight back with: You’re not gonna like this. Most insecticides are totally ineffective against brown marmorated stink bugs. However, one natural insecticide that seems to work is spinosad. You can get this at garden centers. It’s only for outdoor use. Follow label directions carefully. You can also reduce stink bug numbers by inspecting leaves for egg clusters and destroying any you find; draping target plants with floating row covers to exclude stink bugs; and knocking stink bugs into buckets filled with soapy water. To keep them out of the house in winter, carefully seal around all doors and windows.

COMMENTS

  1. Andrew T Godfrey Sr

    I have been growing giant pumpkins for the last fifteen,years.I thought I knew ENOUGH about controlling native insects and foreign until this summer.I promised I would not USE chemical insecticide,s how ever the Tomato horn worms have me retreating.I hand pick them offf my best ever N.J. beef steaks I finally broke down against my better judgement and my knowledge of the bees.without honey bees,wasps hornets ETC etc we will be in a MAJOR food shortages in less than 4 years.so this is were I stand.My pumpkins which are pure breed and crossed from some of the largest pumpkins in the world.I hand pollinated each AND every one of them.after picking my males for pollination I tie the female flowers with twine and pollinate them at first lite the following morning.After thousands of dollars in seed and fertilizer plus mushroom soil and promix all the proper gear to grow a giant WORLD record I thought I knew how to care for all my garden s but I got a wake up call with all things TOMATOS .I WANT TO GO ORGANIC BESIDES FERTILIZER IM STUCK PLZ HELP.MY GROW SITE is located in southern N.J.if that wasn’t bad enough with funguses high humidity and temperatures in high 90s all summer long thanks for letting me share.sincerely AT.Godfrey Sr.

    September 5, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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  4. Betsy Gero

    Dear Mr. GG, In this current, extremely hot and humid weather, my shrubs are growing way too fast and tall. When is the best time to trim them down.
    I’ve usually done this in the Fall, but this year they are about to swallow the house!

    Thank you.

    July 20, 2015 at 4:23 pm
  5. Kathleen

    Susan,
    I try very hard to avoid using chemical pesticides but finally had to pull out the big guns to save my little satsuma tree. Once it gets large enough, it will be better able to withstand the leafminers & worms & I’ll be OK for the bugs to get a small share.
    Japanese beetles are no more native than honeybees, but I hear you.
    Native plants are important for butterflies & other critters to flourish & that’s a good enough reason to plant them.

    July 20, 2015 at 1:17 pm
  6. Susan

    I wasn’t very clear about planting edibles of course, we will plant items the beetles want to eat as well. It just seems that the ornamentals that attract these pests aren’t worth the results…but then while I have nothing against say, roses, for example, they just aren’t worth the trouble to me.
    Others would argue my grape hybrids aren’t either. Mostly, I just wish the backyard gardeners around me not use toxic chemicals. I don’t have all the answers but I cannot control with guinea hens, for example as my HOA won’t allow. I do wish the ducks in the nearby pond would help me in my tiny vineyard, however.

    July 20, 2015 at 12:18 pm
  7. Brynn

    Japanese beetles don’t care if a plant is native or not. If they want to eat it, they’ll eat it. I personally wish I could persuade them to eat wisteria, but oh well! We haven’t had them for a few years because we had moles (they eat the grubs) but this year they’re back since the moles are gone. I’ve left them alone for now since they’re eating some native vine that decided to eat the deck, but I’m keeping a close eye on them!
    I wish somewhere near me rented out goats and guineas. I could sit on the front porch and sip tea and they could do all the yard work!

    July 20, 2015 at 9:51 am
  8. Kathleen

    Susan,
    If we only planted edible native plants, we’d have a very different diet. Plus,if I remember correctly, Japanese beetles don’t seem to distinguish much between native & European grapes anyway. Honeybees actually are an introduced species, too.
    We have a lot of other pests where I live now, but thankfully, no Japanese beetles.
    One “natural” method to rid vegetable gardens of insects is to give guinea hens access to pick off the bugs. The guineas are quicker than the beetles & don’t tear up everything like chickens do.

    July 20, 2015 at 8:38 am
  9. Susan

    Suggesting the use of carbaryl (Sevin) if you don’t object to “chemicals” spells doom for honey bees. Carbaryl is highly toxic to honey bees which have been severely decimated in many areas for this reason. We depend on honey bees for pollination. Spraying with toxic chemicals while plants are in bloom is the death knell for bees. Why not plant native plants which aren’t as attractive to japanese beetles? We are all battling them, however wholesale destruction of flying insects isn’t the answer.

    July 20, 2015 at 7:37 am

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