Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Stink-bug Damage Update

Stink bug on Golden Treasure pepper, with
serious damage beginning near stem
Damage to vegetables by brown marmorated stink bugs was “mixed” here at Meadow Glenn this summer.

Early in the vegetable growing season I noticed a stink bug or two, but not enough to concern me.  They got my attention later, however, when I found 10 or 20 on the small green pods of my two Crimson Select pepper plants—and a few more on my two Golden Treasure pepper plants.  I then closely examined my tomatoes and found a few more stink bugs.

Since stink bugs are skillful at avoiding capture when I try to remove them manually from garden plants, I had researched possible insecticides and chose bifenthrin, a commonly available pyrethroid, to spray when needed.  I follow directions to the “T” and use the longer California standard for “Days to Harvest” for both tomatoes and peppers.  So when I found the bugs, I sprayed the pepper plants carefully, and I sprayed the main stems of my 25 tomato plants and any stink bugs that I found on fruit.  I sprayed once a week another two or three times—and was relatively free of stink bugs for most of the remainder of the growing season.

“Most of the remainder” means that I didn’t notice stink bugs again until today, when I noticed two stink bugs on two of our remaining Golden Treasure peppers.  I hadn’t sprayed for more than a month.  Today I noticed two stink bugs on two of our few remaining Golden Treasure peppers.  I just squished the bugs thumb and finger—not a disposal method I recommend to squeamish gardeners or those with sensitive noses—since this late in the season I see little value in spraying again.

How much damage did my tomatoes and peppers suffer from stink bugs this year? 

Stink-bug damaged peppers,
Crimson Select (top) and Golden Treasure (bottom)
Tomatoes showed little to no fruit damage.  Loss of Crimson Select peppers has been nearly 100% on my two plants despite multiple sprays.  When the stink bugs puncture pepper cells, bacteria enter through the punctures and in most cases the peppers over time become unattractive before totally collapsing.  Even though my two Golden Treasure pepper plants were next to the Crimson Selects, I lost only two or three of the early pods, though several more showed minor damage.

Bottom line:  Stink bug news here at Meadow Glenn was good for tomatoes and bad for peppers.  Now that nighttime temperatures are sinking, we’re finding a few adults inside our house, likely looking for cozy wintertime hiding places.  Today we found four or five, and they’ve all failed their first swimming test in a bottle of soapy water.

My experience with the stink bugs in 2013 may not be typical.  J.S., a Master Gardener in Harford County—about an hour away—in an email recently told her sad story:  “I read the GIEI blog … about the wonderful tomatoes and the lack of stink bugs.  I could have cried.  I lost about 60% of my corn, all my cherries, peaches, pears, and apples and now am losing about 40% of my tomatoes to stink bugs.  I guess they just love me best.  Oh, whoopee!”

What impact did brown marmorated stink bugs have on your gardens this year?

In the Environment section of Monday’s Washington Post, Darryl Fears reviews regional stink-bug happenings in his article, “Stink bugs are plentiful in Mid-Atlantic states, and they’re ready to come indoors for winter.”

Knock, knock.  Got a cozy place for winter?


  1. So far we’ve been fairly stink-bug free and the tomatoes keep on coming. The neighbors have been very happy with their portions. A.G.

  2. My tomato/pepper report for 2013: We enjoyed one large Hawaian Pineapple tomato, two dinners with Chili Rellenos, and one large batch of salsa. Then the stink bugs arrived. Hundreds of peppers and tomatoes were inoculated and destroyed. And Gertie, our square groundhog, broke through our quadruple enforcements and mowed down the cilantro, along with all the other "row crops." Hence, I will rethink even planting veggies next year!

    I felt a bit better when we visited the demonstration veggie garden at Longwood Gardens yesterday. The few remaining tomatoes had been inundated with the nasty bugs. Most of the tomato and pepper plants had been pulled up and replaced with transplanted chard. If their huge staff couldn't handled the stink bugs.... P.G.

  3. I have a plot at the Howard County Conservancy Community Garden and have been gardening there since the beginning about 5 years ago. The stink bugs have attacked different plants each year in the garden! Three years ago when the stink bugs made their awful appearance they destroyed my tomatoes and green peppers. They swarmed my sunflowers. Each year I adjust my gardening plans for the next year.

    The Conservancy's community garden is organic and I personally try not to use any insecticide on my plants. I figure at that point I might as well buy from the farmers market. I do not want to bother with toxic stuff, it just isn't enjoyable and I worry for the pollinators. I just use soapy water in a jar to drown the bad bugs.

    This year I was not going to plant any peppers or tomatoes on my plot. The plot was going to be herbs and cutting flowers. At the last minute I decided to put a few tomatoes and peppers in my garden. I planted a few Juliet tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and another smallish tomato that regrettable I forgot it's name. The community garden has had great success with the Juliet tomato and gardeners rave about it. I planted a hot pepper and California giant pepper.

    Surprisingly my peppers and tomatoes have done well with minimal to no damage to them by the stick bugs. They are embedded in my cutting garden. However my Strawflowers, Zinnias and Dahlias have been brutalized by the stink bugs. The stink bugs are all over the flowers destroying the buds. I use to come out of the garden with buckets of cutting flowers in years past. I am lucky to have a small vase of flowers now.

    I believe even more now that planting large amounts of any one plant makes those plants a target for predatory insects. N.P.

  4. Here in the middle of Virginia the stink bugs are worst this year. Between the early spring rains just about everyday and the stink bugs it has not been a very good gardening year here.