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April 7, 2011

Stink bugs: what vegetables don't they like?

stink bugs

Photo credit: Baltimore Sun/Jed Kirschbaum

Vegetable gardeners who had a bad time with stink bugs last season -- or who fear one this season -- are wondering what they can plant that these annoying and damaging insects don't like.

Stink bugs not only cluster in great numbers and smell terrible when crushed, they use their mouthpieces to pierce fruits and vegetables and suck out food and moisture. The resulting puncture wound causes fruit and vegetables to decay or develop disease.

I asked Ellen Nibali of the University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center what she would recommend. Here are her thoughts on which vegetable to plant, the use of row covers and mulch. (There is more information at the HGIC website on dealing with stink bugs in your home.)

Early crops will probably avoid the wrath of the stink bugs, at least intense damage.  Also, very late crops. So, timing is something to experiment with.

However, all we can say for certain is that legumes, tomatoes, pepper and sweet corn were heavily infested last year  There were reports on cucurbits, i.e. cucumbers and squash, plus the melons.  However, we don't know for sure exactly what part of the plant was damaged.  Stink bugs generally go for flowers, stems and pods of legumes (especially soybeans) and fruits of plants such as tomato.  They can insert their proboscus through the husk of corn.

All of which is to say, plant other crops.  Try lettuce or eggplant  or any of the brassicas--cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnips, etc.  Stink bugs have been seen on eggplant, but no injury  has been officially reported.   

Last summer we got reports, and noticed ourselves, that stink bugs seemed to leave some varieties of plants alone more than others.  In the case of tomatoes, we suspected that the thicker-skinned varieties may have been less attractive to the stink bugs. I had a orangy yellow variety that definitely was their least favorite.   There should be more information on all this by the end of this growing season as much research is on-going. 

Incidentally, blueberries and blackberries were reported to have no injury.  Red raspberries, I can say from experience, were hammered.  But I went out once or twice a day and knocked off the nymphs and adults into soapy water and got a reasonable crop. 

We highly recommend floating row cover for any vulnerable crop that does not require pollination. For those that do, row covers can be used up to that stage.  Patrol your crops, watching for egg masses.  Only the nymphs are vulnerable to sprays of horticultural oil and/or pyrethrins.  Once they are adults, even the big guns, such as Sevin, they just consider a dust bath.

Another thought:  stink bugs are elusive and drop when threatened.  They loved hiding in my mulched-leaf mulch last summer and tomatoes lying on the mulch were much more heavily damaged than the top fruits of staked tomatoes.  This summer I'll be mulching with landscape fabric--carefully, so it can be reused.   


Posted by Susan Reimer at 10:00 AM |
Categories: Insects
About Susan Reimer
Susan Reimer has spent 16 years writing about raising kids - among other topics - in her column for The Baltimore Sun. And every time son Joseph or daughter Jessie passed another milestone - driver's license, college, wedding or a move to a new military duty station - she has planted another garden. Now she will be writing about those gardens - and yours - here on Garden Variety.

Susan isn't an expert gardener, but she wasn't an expert mother, either. Both - the kids and the gardens - seem to be doing well in spite of her.

She lives in Annapolis with her husband, Gary Mihoces, who loves to cut his grass but has noticed that there seems to be less of it every time the kids pass another milestone.

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