In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Leaf-footed plant bugs on pomegranate trees are easily recognized by the flat, wide section of their back legs.

Leaf-footed Plant Bugs on Pomegranates

In autumn, deep red fruits hang from pomegranate trees, adding rich color to our landscapes. However, when some fruits crack and split because of moisture stress in our arid climate, leaf-footed plant bugs are visible on the scene, clinging to the fruit and taking advantage of open wounds.

Measuring about three-quarters to one-inch in length, leaf-footed plant bugs range in color from brown to gray to blackish, with a pointy head, and long antennae. Their hind legs have an obvious flat, widened area, somewhat resembling a leaf, thus their common name. When they are on the fruit, they are slow moving and can easily be grabbed and stepped on. (They emit a stinky chemical defense spray, so wear gloves.)

There are various species of leaf-footed plant bugs that feed on stone fruit trees, pecans, pistachios, prickly pear cactus fruit, and even flowers such as roses in a pinch. Most gardeners I know choose not to spray pesticides on edible plants. In addition to the snatch and stomp technique, over time, control these bugs on pomegranates without pesticides by following these two methods.

Cover the Fruit
Called an "exclusion method" by pest-control experts, one of the easiest and most eco-friendly techniques for saving your harvest is to slip a small cloth bag over individual pomegranates. Typically made of cotton or muslin with drawstrings, the bags provide a barrier against the bugs' sucking mouthparts. In the Southwest, our aridity and limited rainfall allows fabric to dry quickly, so mold or rot isn't typically a problem. Depending on where you live and what sorts of uninvited visitors you have, the bags may also discourage birds and other pests from ruining fruit.

Clean Up
Quickly remove any cracked fruits from the tree because they are an open invitation to all sorts of pests. Pick up old fruits that drop to the ground and dispose of them in the compost pile. Bugs overwinter in plant debris, so you may consider raking up and replacing leaf litter mulch if bugs were a big problem. (This may not be practical if you have a home orchard with lots of trees.) If you are lucky enough to have chickens or live near someone who does, they don't mind damaged pomegranates and will peck away at them with gusto. Chickens also will patrol through mulch to eat the bugs. Or, if you have time to pick large bugs off your tree, toss them to the hens for a protein treat.

Over a period of two or three years, continue these steps diligently, and you will hinder the bugs' food supply. The bug population will move on or thin out sufficiently that it is less of a problem. As with all insects, it is impossible, and not even desirable, to kill them all off. The goal is to have manageable and balanced numbers that create a sustainable ecosystem for all!


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