How to Deal with Leaf-Footed Bugs in Your Garden

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Video how to get rid of leaf footed bugs

A leaf-footed bug climbing on a plant stem

Leaf-footed bugs can wreak havoc on your garden, causing significant damage to your plants. While assassin bugs are known for their beneficial pest control abilities, leaf-footed bugs bear a close resemblance to their helpful counterparts, making them easy to mistake. To protect your garden and crops, it’s crucial to learn how to differentiate between these two species. Furthermore, if your garden is already infested with leaf-footed bugs, you may be searching for effective strategies to eliminate them. In this article, we will explore how to identify leaf-footed bugs, distinguish them from assassin bugs, and provide you with organic methods to control and prevent infestations.

What are Leaf-Footed Bugs?

An infestation of leaf-footed bugs on a tomato

Leaf-footed bugs belong to the Coreidae family, which also includes squash bugs. These insects overwinter in garden debris, leaf piles, and wood piles, emerging as temperatures rise in late spring. Seeking out food and shelter, adult leaf-footed bugs travel to host plants to feed and lay their eggs. The eggs, usually brown or copper-colored, are carefully arranged in rows on the underside of plant leaves. Within a week, leaf-footed nymphs hatch and cluster together on leaves and plant stems to feed. Nymphs exhibit bright colors, such as yellow, orange, or bright red bodies, and have slender black legs. As they mature into adulthood, their colors fade, and they grow to about ½ to ¾ inches in length. Adult leaf-footed bugs have drab colors and leaf-like flares on their hind legs, which give them their name.

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Spotting the Differences: Leaf-Footed Bugs vs. Assassin Bugs

A clustered group of leaf-footed bug nymphs

While both leaf-footed bugs and assassin bugs have brightly colored nymphs and more subdued adults, several key differences can help you differentiate between the two. Observing their behavior is an effective method. Assassin bugs are solitary predators, rarely seen in groups. In contrast, leaf-footed bugs often cluster together while feeding, particularly in their nymph stage. Additionally, leaf-footed bugs feed on plants, while assassin bugs primarily prey on insects. Another distinguishing feature is the leaf-shaped protrusions on the hind legs of leaf-footed bugs, absent in assassin bugs. Lastly, leaf-footed bug nymphs may have two black dots on their backs, whereas assassin bugs lack this marking or have three or more dots.

Damage Caused by Leaf-Footed Bugs

Leaf-footed bugs feed on plant sap and juices, using their long proboscises to pierce leaves and fruits, injecting their saliva in the process. This feeding behavior damages leaves and ornamentals and can transmit fungal spores, weakening and infecting plants. When leaf-footed bugs inject their saliva into developing fruits, it can cause stunted growth and premature dropping. While small infestations may not pose a significant threat, larger ones can devastate your garden and fruit trees.

Plants Targeted by Leaf-Footed Bugs

Small leaf-footed bug nymphs on a cherry tomato plant

Leaf-footed bugs show a preference for certain plants. Nightshades like tomatoes and eggplants, cucurbits such as cucumbers, squash, melons, and pumpkins, black-eyed peas, okra, hibiscus, pomegranates, apple trees, citrus trees, nut trees, and berries are commonly targeted by different leaf-footed bug species.

Organic Methods to Control Leaf-Footed Bugs

A spider building a web in the garden

In an organic garden, there are several natural approaches to controlling leaf-footed bugs:

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Handpicking

Due to their size, handpicking leaf-footed bugs is a simple and effective method. Using gloves, remove them from your plants and crush or drown them in soapy water. Regularly check your plants and eliminate any eggs found on plant stems or the undersides of leaves.

Neem Oil

Neem oil, an all-natural insecticide derived from the seeds of the neem tree, is highly effective at killing a wide range of insects. Carefully apply neem oil spray to infected plants, avoiding areas where pollinators may come in contact. Neem oil is especially effective against leaf-footed bug nymphs.

Insecticidal Soaps

Organic insecticidal soaps are another option for controlling leaf-footed bugs, particularly nymphs. Exercise caution when using these generalized insecticides around beneficial insects and pollinators.

Beneficial Insects

Predatory insects can play a vital role in controlling leaf-footed bugs. Consider introducing assassin bugs or encouraging natural predators like spiders to reside in your garden. Companion planting can also attract beneficial insects. Plants from the umbellifer family, such as carrots, dill, and chamomile, are suitable choices.

Attract Birds

Birds feed on leaf-footed bugs and can provide natural pest control. Attract birds to your garden by setting up feeders, birdhouses, and bird baths.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth, a natural powder made from fossilized marine organisms, acts as a barrier that slices the exoskeletons of pests, including leaf-footed bugs. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around infested plants, avoiding flowers to protect pollinators. Reapply after rain or high humidity.

Floating Row Covers

Floating row covers serve as a protective barrier against leaf-footed bugs, as well as other pests like cabbage loopers and cucumber beetles. Install covers early in the season and remove them for limited periods to allow pollination.

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Good Garden Maintenance

Practicing good garden maintenance is essential for pest control. Clean up your garden beds in autumn, removing any diseased or infested plant material. Rotate your crops in the spring and use floating row covers to stay ahead of potential infestations.

Conclusion

This leaf-footed bug is finding no purchase in the crop that is protected by its row cover!

Dealing with garden pests can be frustrating, but with the right techniques and products, you can keep leaf-footed bugs in check. By maintaining your garden, carefully observing your plants, and implementing organic control methods, you can protect your crops and maintain a healthy garden. Remember, leaf-footed bugs may come and go, but your dedication to gardening will prevail.

References:

  • “How to Identify and Control Leaf Footed Bugs.” Okra in My Garden. 16 June 2022. 2021.