garden bugs i have known: knowledge is power

YES, I HAVE GONE BUGGY. (As I keep saying semi-jokingly, with a last name like Roach, what other outcome could there have been?) The last year, camera and field guide in hand, I’ve tried to get to know a lot more of my immediate neighbors, such as the nymph of the green soldier bug or stink bug, above. A roundup of some other visitors:

green soldier or stink bug,

Acrosternum hilare or Chinavia hilaris

I LOVE THAT the species name for this bug, hilare or hilaris, means cheerful or lively, and indeed its nymph stage (top photo) is colorful as a clown. The adults are bright green and shield-shaped. With its sharp, piercing mouthparts, the green soldier or stink bug is good at eating most anything plant-wise, but really enjoys black cherry, flowering dogwood, pine, highbush blueberries, apples, eggplants, tomatoes and much more. A more complete list of the green stink bug’s diet and a look at its life-cycle. They can damage soybean crops, and out West, Acrosternum is a pest of almonds.

squash bug, Anasa tristis

IF THE GREEN SOLDIER BUG’S name is cheerful, the most common squash bug’s, Anasa tristis, says it is sad–which is what it was making me when I was picking these guys off regularly earlier this summer.  How to prevent and eliminate squash bugs.

three-lined potato beetle,

Lema daturaphila or trilinea

WHEN I FIRST SAW THESE on my potato foliage in late spring, I thought they were cucumber beetles who’d gotten lost. But then I looked closer: the three-lined potato beetles‘ heads are orange, not dark, and so is their thorax. I squashed a lot of eggs I found on the foliage undersides, at first fearing I had Colorado potato beetles in the making, and kept after it until no more appeared. Though not as voracious as the Colorado potato beetle, I still didn’t want an unchecked outbreak of this first-time visitor to the garden. Apparently Lema will also chew on foliage of tomatoes and eggplants, but likes tomatillos best of all. A Rutgers factsheet on this pest.

japanese beetles, Popillia japonica Newman

IT’S NEARLY A CENTURY since this destructive, much-loathed but very beautiful beetle got accidentally imported to the U.S. from Japan in 1916, and gardeners East of the Mississippi know their impact full well. I’ve tried to keep Japanese beetles somewhat in check here by tackling the white grubs who overwinter in the soil and turf, using beneficial nematodes.

In my garden they love raspberries, ostrich fern, cannas, and roses in particular. This USDA bulletin (pdf) outlines the life-cycle of the pest, and includes a section on biological (non-chemical) control for Japanese beetle, including two nematode species. If you have them, handpick (as with other obvious pests like tomato hornworms) in early morning and drown in a can of water to reduce infestation. Entomologist Dr. Dave Smitley at Michigan State Extension is among those working on a possible solution. A recent story by him, which also explains why Milky Spore sold in garden centers may not be the answer.

bug books and websites i rely on

EVERY GARDENER NEEDS a bug book or two. I love the “Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America,” along with “Garden Insects of North America,” from Princeton University Press. Online, I marvel at the free help available in the form of BugGuide.net.

  1. kristi says:

    Never thought to drown bugs. I have been tying them in plastic bags and putting them in the trash. I’m always afraid they are going to stage a revolt before they perish.

  2. narf7 says:

    I LOVE reading about bugs! Way back in certificate 2 of our horticulture course our town had a massive influx of green vegetable bugs. They were fully intent on sucking the juice out of anything that even vaguely contained vegetable matter and our friend Jen was watching her precious vegetables succumb to these teeny little terrorists and even though she waded through every massive chemical bible and pest book on campus she couldn’t find an answer. In the end, in sheer frustration, she allowed her chooks into the fenced off vegetable patch (more in sheer bloody mindedness to at least allow SOMETHING that she owned to get something out of the veggies before they were reduced to sucked husks…) and they ate every single bug with relish! Talking about relish…I noted the “bug pickles” at the bottom of the post, the Japanese beetle juice…NOW I am intregued! I can see me spending a few days wading through the archives here on this wonderful blog. Cheers for giving us all this wonderful information. I am off to my very first permaculture day today and will take as much as I can from here before I go. Can’t be looking like a complete permaculture virgin now can I! ;) (4 armed is 4 warned…the bugs have 6 arms so I am going to have to think smarter NOT harder ;) )

  3. I’ve had a full-on infestation of those green stink-bugs. One serving of filet beans from 5 plants before they took over and sucked them into oblivion. Now they’ve moved into the beets and are even showing up in the tomatoes. The good news is that insecticidal soap kills ’em dead, so I keep a big squirt bottle and make regular rounds throughout the day. I’ve read that one adult can produce up to 400 offspring; the adults winter over in the soil and underbrush. I figure the more young ‘uns I kill, the better. All the more reason for us to finish up the coop and get started with chickens next spring!

  4. Janeen says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I had a couple of questions off topic…

    I’ve been using a database to keep track and catalog plants in my garden but find using that type of software a little awkward when storing additional photos and information about my garden as a whole – like where to add new plants for next season… something you touched upon in this past Monday’s podcast. I was wondering when you take notes out in the garden, do you keep them in a notebook and/or transfer them to some sort of software on your computer? Also, I’m not sure if you mentioned it already but, what type of camera do you use to take those great photos!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Janeen. I don’t have any very orderly system — except that my photos are all chronological, of course, in my computer and that helps remind me of what is going on where and when in the garden. I can’t manage one more piece of software so I write myself notes on a clipboard, too, of garden to-do’s and ideas. Low-tech!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, TatteredSpinner, and welcome. They are pesky, I agree. Managed to keep them under control this year with early, frequent capture/squishing on my part.

  5. Terryk says:

    I have seen some green stink bugs but I get invaded with brown ones (or that is what I think they are!). The season begins as it is cooling down and they seem to want to find a warm spot inside our house. We will have to see it the new windows we installed cut down on our indoor fall visitors.

  6. Dahlink says:

    Margaret, thanks for encouraging people to use biological (not chemical) controls. We should all try a little live and let live philosophy (can you tell I don’t grow my own vegetables?)
    Some years ago when my husband and I were on an island in the Caribbean we visited a “butterfly farm.” We were all enchanted to be surrounded by the lovely and colorful butterflies, but one little girl in the group swiftly decided that bugs were to be killed. Fortunately the guide quickly intervened. We all need to get past that knee-jerk response.

  7. June says:

    Been seeing those marmorated stink bugs this year. My tropical hibiscus plants haven’t bloomed since I discovered them. Maybe this is why they stopped blooming last year too? I’ve heard stories from others about how they come inside the house and are wayyyyy stinkier to clean up than ladybeetles.
    I hope they stay out of my house this year :-(

    Chook is Australian slang for a chicken.

  8. Susan says:

    Am asking for some help…….I have a beautiful hydrangea bush in my
    front yard and last year it bloomed profusely, but, alas, this year it did
    not bloom, but for one or two…..the green folliage was beautiful, but
    nothing else….

    Thank you…….

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Susan. Need to know: Which kind of Hydrangea? Would it bloom round and blue or sort of football-shaped and white-turning-pink-then-tan or ??? In other words, mophead (H. macrophylla) or panicle (H. paniculata) — or the big white round heads of H. arborescens such as ‘Annabelle’ or ??? Need to know that first.

  9. Beverly says:

    Each summer I see a totally new bug in the gardens. This year it was the Swamp Millkweed Leaf Beetle, also a clownishly colored specimen. (link below) I researched it and later was able to find and destroy a newly hatched clutch of youngsters on the back of tomato leaf. I “cooked” them in a lidded jar in the sun – put the whole leaf in.. They will feed on various Milkweeds, unfortunately, and I am fond of growing two kinds to encourage Monarchs. I am happy to report many more Monarch butterflies this summer compared to the recent past, really lots of moths and butterflies in general – perhaps due to our unnaturally mild winter? ….zone 6 eastern PA.

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