Beware the spotted lanternfly and how to protect your peaches

For The Baltimore Sun

I’ve heard we should be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly. What is it exactly? A moth? A fly? The picture I saw looked like a moth.

Name notwithstanding, spotted lanternfly is a giant plant hopper, a whopper of a new invasive insect. The photo you’ve seen is the adult in flight. Its spread wings show brown, red, and black and white sections with black spots and are, ironically, quite attractive. At rest, it looks grayish and spotted. In its immature stages, it looks more bug-like. It transitions from black with white spots, to red and black with white spots.

At all stages, its mouthpiece sucks out a plant’s juices and it excretes copious quantities of honeydew (a euphemism for liquid excrement). Nymphs feed on an ever-expanding list of plants, including apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes, hops, oak, pine and poplar. Adults prefer — and may need — to feed on tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), another non-native invasive species. The nymphs hatch out in early to mid-May, so be on the alert now.

Don’t fool around with this one. If you see it, capture (okay to kill) and report immediately to the MD Department of Agriculture at DontBug.MD@maryland.gov. Search ‘spotted lanternfly’ on the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center website for more.

A couple of native fungi may be lethal to this new pest. We can only hope, because lanternfly has spread to eight states in five years.

The bamboo poles for my climbing string beans don’t provide enough grip. What kind of string should I attach to help the beans climb: poly, hemp or clothes line string? Also, how do I keep squirrels from eating my marble-sized peaches?

Sisal hemp or polyester string will both work fine.

Fortunately, peaches need to be heavily thinned to produce a crops of large peaches anyway. (Only 5% to 10% of blooms are necessary for a full crop). There should be 4 to 5 inches between peaches to allow them to “size up.” The squirrels can help thin or you can hand thin the small fruits. Usually, the peach tree self-thins, called "June drop". To prevent further squirrel incursions, net the entire tree or tie small paper bags around each peach.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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