What To Do About Stink Bugs In Your Home And Garden

What To Do About Stink Bugs In Your Home And Garden

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Brown marmorated stink bugs may have a funny name, but no one who has to deal with them is laughing. “They can be a significant issue for commercial growers and home gardeners in regions where the stink bug population is high,” says Jim Walgenbach, PhD, professor and extension entomologist at North Carolina State University. “All life stages of stink bugs can cause damage to foliage and fruit.” They feed on all kinds of plants, both edible and ornamental, but their favorites include peaches, apples, pears, pecans, tomatoes, peppers and sweet corn.

While there are a few native stink bugs in the U.S., the brown marmorated stink bug is the most worrisome because it’s an invasive species with no natural enemies. They were first detected in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1990s and are now well established in the Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South, and Appalachia. They’re less frequently found in states such as Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.

Adult stink bugs are easy to identify: They have distinctive shield-shaped or oval-ish bodies that are about ¾” long and wide with six legs, a “marmorated” or marbled pattern on the body, and lighter-colored bands on the antennae. They overwinter as adults, then emerge from their hiding places in April or May, laying eggs from late spring to mid-summer to create one to two new generations. When the eggs hatch, the yellow-red striped nymphs crawl around and feed on plants, too.

Here’s what else you need to know about stink bugs and how to manage them in and around your home:

Why are They Called Stink Bugs?

As you may have guessed, they’ve earned their name! “When disturbed, glands in their abdomens emit a pungent odor to serve as a defensive compound,” says Walgenbach. It’s not toxic or dangerous to people or pets, but the strong aroma can linger for hours. It’s been described as smelling like everything from almonds to cilantro.

Do Stink Bugs Bite?

The good news is that insects cannot bite or sting, and they don’t cause structural damage or spread disease. Their biggest threat is to crops. While you may think they’re disgusting, they’re mostly just a nuisance for most homeowners, says Walgenbach.

How Do I get Rid of Stink Bugs in the Garden?

Try a multi-pronged approach, says Walgenbach. First, look for clusters of light green eggs, often laid in a triangle shape like billiard balls, on the undersides of leaves, and crush them. After hatching, neem oil sprays may suppress (but likely won’t eliminate) the nymph stages.

You can hand pick adults and submerse them into a bucket of soapy water, but they tend to drop off the plant to the ground when disturbed so they can be tough to capture. For severe infestations, you can spray with an organic botanical insecticide, such as Pyganic. But Walgenbach cautions that these products are broad spectrum and take out the good bugs, too.

Other management methods, such as traps, have so far been ineffective. Fortunately, even in heavily infested areas, population surges don’t remain high forever and typically last a few weeks, not all growing season, says Walgenbach.

What Do I Do About Stink Bugs Indoors?

Stink bugs overwinter in the adult stage in areas such as under tree bark or in any human structure, including attics, walls, crawlspaces, sheds, or even your grill. They’re seeking a dry, cozy place to hide out until spring, says Walgenbach. If they find an ideal location, they’ll secrete a chemical odor to attract their friends.

Most of the time, you’ll find only a few stink bugs hanging out indoors. You often will see them on a warm midwinter day, which has tricked them into thinking it’s time to get active again, or in spring when they’re emerging for mating. Simply use a piece of tissue to grab them loosely (no squeezing!) and flush, or use your vacuum to suck them up.

In the future, try to keep them out in the first place. Because stink bugs can squeeze into a space that’s about the height of two quarters stacked, repair damaged screens, seal around windows and doors with caulking or weather stripping, and check for gaps where cable, plumbing and electrical lines enter the building. There are no pesticides for stink bugs recommended for indoor use, says Walgenbach.

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