Garden Talk: November 4, 2013

From NGA Editors

Invasion of the Kudzu Bug

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If you live in the Southeastern or Mid-Atlantic states, you may find some unfamiliar insects congregating on the side of your house this fall, looking for places to shelter for the winter. If you're seeing humpbacked, mottled brown, little bugs (they're only about ¼ inch long) with a distinctively truncated flat backend, you've spotted the kudzu bug. This Chinese native was first found in this country in Georgia in 2009 and has rapidly expanded its territory to include at least 8 states, moving as far north as southern Maryland and as far west as Tennessee, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana by 2013.

No one is worried about these bugs dining on another foreign interloper, the invasive vine kudzu, which they relish. But folks are worried because the kudzu bug also feeds on other legumes, such as soybeans and other kinds of beans, and has the potential to become a major agricultural pest as well as a home garden headache. Kudzu bugs are also a nuisance pest for homeowners as they look for winter shelter. As the weather cools in the fall, kudzu bugs move from their host plants to search for protected to sites to shelter in from the cold, such as under the siding of buildings or in any crack or crevice; they're a nuisance not only because they congregate in such large numbers, but because they often make their way inside homes as well. They are especially attracted to light colored surfaces, so you may also see them on white cars, even your white laundry hanging on the line! In early spring, they appear en masse once again as they wake up from their winter rest.

The best way to keep kudzu bugs out of your house is to seal all gaps well with caulk or screening so there are no entry points for them. If some do get into your house, don't crush them as they give off a foul odor when crushed and can stain surfaces. To make matters worse, some people have an allergic reaction to these bugs that results in skin irritation and discoloration. Vacuuming the bugs up is the best option; dump the bag of bugs in a container of hot, soapy water to finish them off.

Some states, especially those on the leading edges of the invasion, ask the public to report if these invasive pests are found. To find out more about the identification, control, distribution, and reporting of kudzu bugs, check out Kudzu Bug and Maryland Kudzu Bug Survey. (Image courtesy of Daniel R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)

A New Twist with Celosia

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Looking for something unusual for your flower garden next spring? Give a new twist to your plantings with Celosia 'Twisted'. This eye-catching variety of Celosia cristata features bright red, convoluted, crested flower heads for a unique, bold accent in garden.

This new variety from Ball Horticultural will perform all season long when grown in full sun and given regular fertilization. Growing 16-20 inches tall and 12-14 inches wide with an upright growth habit, 'Twisted' will be at home in garden beds as well as container plantings.

Celosia hails originally from the tropics, so be sure to wait until the weather is warm and settled before setting seedlings in the garden, usually a week or two after the last frost date. Celosia doesn't like soggy soil, cold, root disturbance, or abrupt changes in conditions, so plant carefully in a well-drained location and give consistent water and fertilization for the best performance. Look for 'Twisted' at garden stores and greenhouses next spring.

For more about Celosia 'Twisted', go to National Garden Bureau.

Go with Gojis

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You may have heard the health benefits of goji (go-gee) berries touted of late. These bright orange-red berries, the fruits of the Asian shrub Lycium barbarum, as well as juice made from them, are offered in health food stores as one of nature's superfoods. Like many other berries, goji berries contain lots of antioxidants with potential health benefits. Whether goji berries live up to their nutritional hype, we'll leave to the nutritionists to decide. But if you'd like to try your hand at growing these tasty berries, you'll have two new varieties from Proven Winners to choose from.

The goji berry shrub is actually quite easy to grow. A sprawling plant with long, flexible canes and gray-green leaves, its brilliant royal purple flowers appear along the length of the canes in late spring and early summer. These give way to bright red, oval, raisin- to grape-sized fruits that grow sweeter the longer they remain on the plant; just be sure to harvest before frost. Plants are self-fruitful, so you'll get a harvest even if you only have space for one plant. Winter hardy to USDA Zone 5 and heat-tolerant to AHS Zone 9, these shrubs do best in full sun and consistently moist, well-drained soil with a pH near neutral. Plants can reach 5-7 feet tall and will be easier to harvest from if staked.

Proven Winners is offering two goji berry varieties in their Lifeberry® line. Sweet Lifeberry® has smaller berries, but produces them in greater quantity; Big Lifeberry® bears fewer, but larger fruits. The berries turn red quickly, but need to spend several weeks on the plant after coloring up to become fully ripe and develop their sweetness.

For more about Proven Winners Lifeberries®, go to Proven Winners .

Stopping Stinkbugs

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There's another relatively new introduced insect pest that's causing problems for both commercial agricultural growers and home gardeners. It's also a home-invading nuisance as it crawls into houses looking for a sheltered spot to spend the winter. The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) is an Asian native that was accidentally introduced in this country in the early 1990s. First spotted in Allentown, PA, it spread quickly and as of May, 2013 has been found in 40 states. Currently it's causing the most severe crop problems in the Mid-Atlantic states, but it has the potential to become a more widespread major crop and nuisance pest if its spread is not controlled.

To help come up with sustainable solutions for controlling brown marmorated stink bug, Stop BSMB.org was formed, a collaborative project involving 50 researchers from 10 institutions across the country working to come up with a defense against this invasive pest. Part of this project includes a helpful video series posted online. "Tracking the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug" shows growers and others how to identify BMSB, why this pest is important in agriculture, and what's at stake if it's not stopped. The series of ten videos covers history and identification; overwintering and spread; monitoring and mapping; host plants and damage in orchard crops, small fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals; management; and the newest addition added to the series, biological control, added in October of this year.

In addition, a helpful video for homeowners on how to keep stink bugs out of your house is available on the website. Mike Raupp, "The Bug Guy" at the University of Maryland Extension, demonstrates ways to keep stink bugs looking for winter shelter from getting inside buildings, and how to deal effectively with the ones that do make it in.

To watch these videos and learn more about identifying and dealing with the BMSB, go to Stop BMSB. (Image courtesy of David R. Lance, USDA APHIS, PPQ, Bugwood.org)

 
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