Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print
If this won’t prepare you for Halloween, I’m not sure what will. Allow me to introduce you to the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). Chances are you saw one in your garden over the summer, or in your home during the past month, perhaps in alarmingly large numbers.
I hope this reaches you before you instinctively squash one of them. If you have already done so, you’ve likely gained a healthy respect for the reasoning behind its common name: Crushing the 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch shield-shaped bugs causes them to release a foul, pungent odor you’re not likely to forget.
Originally from Asia, brown marmorated stink bugs are believed to have been accidentally introduced to Pennsylvania in the 1990s. They were first spotted in Maryland in 2003, and reproduced prolifically, destroying crops along the mid-Atlantic coast.
Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, entomologist and senior extension associate for Cornell University’s New York State Integrative Pest Management Program in Babylon, has expressed fear that within a few years, we “could be dealing with large numbers.”
Gangloff-Kaufmann said she saw “zillions” of them in Rockland and Westchester counties earlier this fall, including thousands on a single building.
“They’ll eat anything — trees, seeds, holly berries — but they prefer peaches, apples, beans and developing ears of corn, so we’re seeing higher numbers in agricultural areas, including out east, near orchards and crop fields,” she said. Still, “they are generalist feeders, so we won’t see the true impact for a while.”
The good news is that stink bugs don’t bite, cause any structural damage or pose any human health hazard. But like so many other pests, they are seeking shelter indoors now that temperatures are dropping. More unsettling, Gangloff-Kaufmann points out that it is possible that hundreds — even thousands — of them may already be living in your home, under baseboards, in window and door frames and other hiding places without your knowledge; you’d only notice when you run the heat on that first chilly night and they come out to warm up.
Should that happen, your best defense is to vacuum them up, seal the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and then dispose of it in the trash, preferably outside. Pesticides aren’t recommended.
I had my first stink bug sighting in January, when one crawled across my TV screen. Fortunately, I recognized it and scooped it up with a tissue, then flushed it without crushing it. Disaster averted — and completely forgotten until a couple of weeks ago when various members of my family reported (loudly!) five or six sightings in rapid succession over the course of a few days.
Whether you’ve seen any or not, Gangloff-Kaufmann recommends repairing holes in screens and sealing gaps around windows and doors. Remove window air conditioners as soon as possible, and cover wall-mounted units. Check the attic eaves from the inside during daylight, when gaps are apparent, she advises, and “check the area under the siding near the sill plate (top of the foundation). Brush away any debris and check for gaps.” They should all be sealed, lest you end up with more tricks than treats in the coming weeks.
DEAR JESSICA: I have an annual called Melampodium ‘Showstar’ that I planted in a container. It looks great and keeps flowering. I am wondering whether I should plant it in the ground, bring it in or expect it to die soon due to the impending cold weather. The plant looks so happy right now, and I love all its flowers. -- Adrienne Meyers Wilber, Holtsville
DEAR ADRIENNE: Melampodium ‘Showstar,’ which goes by the common names “butter daisy” and “show daisy,” is a tender perennial that’s hardy only in Zones 10 and up. Here in Zone 7, we treat it as an annual because it won’t survive our winters outdoors. You could bring the plant indoors and try keeping it as a houseplant until spring, but it requires a lot of sunlight, and even the sunniest window in your home won’t likely provide all it needs to thrive during winter.
Sometimes mistaken for a variety of zinnia, Melampodium is a mounded plant that blooms prolifically from spring through fall. Its bright, one-inch yellow flowers don’t need to be deadheaded to get repeat blooms, but if left on the plant it will self-sow. In your case, harvesting the seeds would be the best route to new plants next year: Collect seeds after they’ve dried on the plant and store in a paper envelope in a dry, dark, cool spot. Start seeds indoors before the last frost and set seedlings outside in May.
DEAR JESSICA: I have a problem that has been going on for several years that has me totally stumped. Every few weeks I find holes in my lawn or vegetable garden. There are no animal droppings, so it’s not a cat doing its business and then burying it. This is destroying my lawn. Can you tell me what this is, who’s doing it and how to stop it? --Dan Barbaro, Valley Stream
DEAR DAN: What you’re dealing with is a classic one-two punch: the problem of raccoons digging up the lawn because of a problem with grubs. I consulted with Tamson Yeh, a turf and land management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, who put it more eloquently: “These are caused by raccoons wearing dinner jackets and bow ties,” she said, adding, “you can confirm this by carefully peeling back more of the turf and digging down a few inches: My guess is you’ll be poppin’ land shrimp in no time.”
Yeh said she and her colleagues have been seeing a lot of grub-digging recently. “They are late this year because of the drought!”
So, how to get rid of the “land shrimp” and, in turn, get rid of the raccoons? Grub eggs typically hatch in August and are susceptible to treatment only when they are young and feeding near the surface, so treatment must be applied in late summer or fall. This year, as Yeh, points out, they’re a little behind schedule, so you’ll likely still see results if you act quickly. Mow the lawn short to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment, and water the lawn well the day before application. Milky spore powder is an environmentally friendly control but is not very effective as a remedy. Instead, use a product that contains trichlorfon, such as Dylox 6.2 G. Then -- and this is very important -- water the lawn again. Good luck!