Under assault by stink bugs

The mid-Atlantic states have seen an invasion of stink bugs that's only getting worse because the Asian pest has no enemies in the U.S. Gardeners and homeowners sometimes feel under assault.

Courtesy of Karen Rexrode
The brown marmorated stink bug, a native of Asia, was found in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s and has now spread to other states. It feeds on numerous fruits and vegetables and is a big pest in homes during winter.

We in the middle Atlantic states are under assault, and people are shaking their heads about what’s going to happen this summer. Sounds like a drama, no?

It’s about alien insects traveling into the US on pallets and in packing material. Most folks across the country have yet to meet our little friend, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). But this invader from Asia has us in this region wondering if we should bother with a tomato crop this summer.

Spoiler of tomatoes and fruits

It has a long "magic wand" that punctures tomatoes, apples, and peaches, injecting some kind of slime that causes white bumps and soft rot spots in these fruit. You can cut around these spots but gee!

As a bonus, it hides inside grape clusters as they're ripening. And then, in the fall, as if all this was not enough, millions of them flock to our doors, windows, air conditioning units, chimneys, and cracks in the wall to enter the house for a warm winter.

And to think that we whined about Asian ladybugs trying to get in. Well, that’s over.

Here’s the fun part – stink bugs can get very flat, so they can hide under things like book jackets or inside parkas or up under the ceiling tiles.

And right about now, they're thinking about love and spring, so they are on the march out of our houses. They have direction problems, so one ended up on my toothpaste tube. That’s when I started storing my toothbrush inside the medicine cabinet.

No good controls yet

So what happens when you squish them? They emit the most intense odor of cilantro you ever smelled. We’ve gotten really good at picking them up with toilet paper and dropping them in for a little swim before flushing.

Pesticides have not been the answer because the stink bugs hide everywhere, and, besides, who wants pesticides in their home, too!

Still, we are not without hope. A pheromone trap is under development, but it’s based on our native stink bug and is expected to work on only one stage of development of the BMSB.

In addition, scientists tell us that a tiny wasp they're studying will control this invader and should be available in about two years.

And then there is the emerald ash borer that's expected to wipe out native white and green ash trees, a staple of the mid-Atlantic. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Welcome to the new world of global commerce. What fun!


Donna Williamson blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.

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