Stink bugs can damage many different fruits and vegetables.

Do Stink Bugs Hurt Plants?

by Michelle Wishhart

Stink bugs are easy to identify but difficult to get rid of. These sap-sucking, shield-shaped insects, which may be green, brown, pink, red or yellow, depending on species and stage of development, can damage many garden fruits and vegetables if allowed to run unchecked. Infestations are best controlled with organic methods, as insecticides are generally not considered effective.

1. Damage

Stink bugs attack new growth and seed pods, often causing the new growth to be deformed. On tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), stink bugs may cause depressed areas or blemishes, such as dark pinpricks surrounded by a discolored yellow or green area. The flesh under blemishes may be white and corky. Soft, tender fruits may turn brown and be rendered inedible. Stink bugs may also leave behind brown excrement on plants. Stink bug feeding may cause some fruits to develop a condition called "catface," in which sunken, buckled patterns appear.

2. Management

Removing weeds is crucial to controlling stink bugs, as weeds provide shelter for the pests. This is especially true in early spring when new stink bug colonies begin to form. University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program recommends hand picking adult insects and their barrel-shaped eggs directly off of the plants. Picked bugs may be drowned in a bucket of soapy water. Squish them at your own risk -- they release an unpleasant smell when crushed. Naturally occurring parasites may help control populations.

3. Home Infestations

Though not harmful to humans, stink bugs can become a noisy and unwelcome pest indoors. They often enter through cracks near baseboards, windows and door trims and exhaust fans or ceilings. All cracks should be filled with caulk to prevent more insects from entering. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences notes that both live and dead insects can be removed with a vacuum cleaner, though the vacuum cleaner may smell like stink bugs for a while afterwards.

4. Considerations

Insecticides that control stink bugs are available, although they are not recommended. Broad-spectrum insecticides kill beneficial insects, such as honeybees, and may also kill predators that would naturally keep populations low.

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