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Arm Yourself Against Shield Bugs

January 26th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Dear Garden Gal,
Where have you been?

Missing You,
In Monrovia

Dear Missing,
Oh. You noticed. Like everybody else I’ve been dancing as fast as I can with one eye on CNN at all times. When the financial news gets really bad I jitterbug over to the community garden to pull weeds and fertilize my little victory garden. Need I say there is not a weed to be found, I have been pulling so frantically. If I fertilize any more I’ll have a bumper crop of gigantic, tasteless onions and green beans. I needed a break from all the fretting and physical work so I’m back at the keyboard, this week, at least.

Dear Garden Gal,
I’m cleaning out my summer garden and noticed an invasion of small black armatured bugs with red spots on their backs. These insects are all over my collard green plants. They are ¼” to ½” long and are frequently attached to their mates. The collard greens have discolored edges and also show small tan rings on the leaves, which looks like chewing activity to me. What are these insects and how can I control them?

Bugging Out
In Bungalow Heaven

Dear Bugging,

Without a photo of the insect you describe, I’m going with the armature as my biggest clue. I’m guessing this insect looks like it’s carrying a shield on its back. The red dot could be part of the pattern on the back of the harlequin bug, or any of a number of shield bugs, which some call love bugs. Like lovers everywhere, these are piercing-sucking creatures from the order Hemiptera. Adults have two pair of wings, which makes a distinct X-mark on the back of the body. Their cylindrical or barrel-shaped eggs will be found on the back or underside of leaves, and the larvae will drop to the soil, burrow, and feed on tender plant roots. Not to add to your distress, but one to several generations can occur in a year, during the warmer months. The younger nymphs are smaller in size and lack wings. These beetles cause damage by sucking out the content of plant cells. They may inject toxins as they go, leaving brown spots on leaves and ripening fruit.
Controls: You can hand pick them from the plants or set out boards overnight for cool places for them to hide and collect them in the mornings before they’re active. You might try a kaolin spray, which contains a clay material, an irritant to the mouthparts of chewing insects. Brand names are Cocoon or Surround. Or Neem oil, which is a vegetable oil used in organic farming. Sticky paper will attract some pests. Encourage predatory wasps by planting flowers such as nasturtiums, zinnia, geraniums, or garlic, onion, parsley and radishes. Some nurseries might recommend Sevin liquid or dust but be aware that this is believed to be a carcinogen. It’s highly toxic to pets and wildlife and kills many insects quickly. And if it’s that bad for them it’s probably not great for you, either. If you want to live dangerously and use this on produce you’re growing, please wait at least three days after spraying before harvesting.
Finally, consider the environment which fostered their growth. At a community garden you will often share the problems of your neighbors, but you can influence your crop by regular, deep watering. Plants that suffer from erratic watering schedules are often stressed, and stressed plants are more susceptible to damage from pests. A thick, 3” carpet of mulch will offer several layers of protection, too. First, mulch keeps ground and roots cool, preventing the roots from overheating. Mulch helps the soil retain water and nutrients, which will then be available to fine root hairs. And a thick blanket of organic matter may be impenetrable to larvae who need to work their way into the soil to grow. So, clean up litter and insects from the ground, mulch today, water regularly and interplant to confuse the interlopers.

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