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Gardening with Wanda: Take these steps to control nuisance pests
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The invasion of oak leaf loopers and kudzu bugs are a rampant problem this spring. The office has been flooded with calls about these creatures and how to get rid of them.

The oak leaf looper is a type of inchworm in the caterpillar stage and eventually will become moths that fly away and leave your oak trees alone. The tiny female caterpillar makes its way up the tree and lays eggs that hatch.

The offspring love to munch on the leaves, and your tree can become defoliated within weeks. Some people report that it sounds like rainfall at night. The good thing to remember is this will not kill the tree, although it might look stripped for a while. The tree will leaf out again this season unless something else is going on.

You might have the worms falling onto your deck or driveway, but eventually they will subside. They are not pretty to look at. Just keep the broom handy to sweep them away.

One solution is to spray the tree with a product called Dipel (Bt), or liquid Sevin. This may not be cost-effective unless your trees are small. It is hard to spray a full-grown oak tree without professional help. I would suggest leaving them alone this year and trying a preventive solution next year.

One preventive measure is sticky bands, on sale at garden centers. These bands should be wrapped around tree trunks in early April. As the females make their way up the tree, they are caught in the glue.

These caterpillars will not kill the tree. If we have a heavy infestation over two or three years, there is a risk the tree will become stressed, but that is seldom the case.

If the bark is looking stripped or you find pieces of bark around the tree, bird predators are devouring the caterpillars. This is a superficial thin layer of bark; the birds' pecking does not hurt the tree's inner cambium.

Kudzu bugs are a relatively new phenomena around here. This hard-shelled, dark olive stinkbug was first spotted a couple of years ago in north and central Georgia and now has been found in almost every county.

Last year, we saw them infiltrate in late summer. We have spotted them flying around in early spring this year. They resemble a lady bug in size and form but are not red.

Kudzu bugs overwinter in the kudzu and make their way out in warm weather. They munch kudzu, a good thing, but we find them on other plants.

This nuisance pest moves from kudzu patches onto warm, sunlit south and east exposures of homes and businesses. They especially gravitate toward light-colored surfaces.

While they do not sting or bite, they do stink if crushed and can stain clothing or carpet. Some people have reported skin irritations if they come in contact with them.

Most people report the bugs trying to get into homes. Homeowners can prevent this by screening entryways, patching up holes and making sure soffit, ridge and gable vents are screened. Make sure doors have a tight seal when closed and use door sweeps, if possible.

Owners can use an insecticidal spray on exterior surfaces of their homes to control the invaders. You can use any home defense perimeter insect killer to create a barrier around entryways.

Insecticidal soap is a more organic way to deter them. For a complete list of options, call the Extension office.

If you see kudzu bugs in your home, the insects should be vacuumed and the bagged insects destroyed in hot soapy water.

Neither of the nuisance pests are harmful, just aggravating. We live in a check-and-balance cycle with nature. We constantly learn how to keep peace with the tiny creatures in the garden.

Don't forget Mothers Day

Buy those special ladies in your life a new tree planted in their honor. Or maybe work in their gardens for a day! We are blessed to have mothers in our lives.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.

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