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Garden Q&A: Don’t fret about the leaf-footed bug and how to keep a giant houseplant happy

This is a leaf-footed bug, a mostly harmless plant eater. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun
This is a leaf-footed bug, a mostly harmless plant eater. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun(Ellen Nibali / HANDOUT)

This guy has been wandering around our sunroom for a few weeks. He’s very slow and seems harmless. It’s so cold I hate to put him outside, but is he dangerous? I confess to a web search, and he does look a little like the blood-sucking kissing bug that’s freaking people out.

See the leaf-shaped widening on the back legs? This is a leaf-footed bug — a plant eater. They feed on seeds or other plant parts. Occasionally, they can be a crop pest, but for the most part are simply a component of the wider ecosystem. He’ll die inside, so you can put him outside in a sheltered place on a mild day. He overwinters in the adult stage.

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The kissing bug that carries disease is not found living naturally outdoors in Maryland. We have one native kissing bug species, but it is not dangerous. When a disease-carrying one is inadvertently imported from the south, it should be reported.

I have a giant houseplant which is too big to repot. It’s very happy. Other than fertilizing, anything I can do to keep it that way?

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In time, you may see a build-up of fertilizer salts on the surface of the potting soil. To avoid this, try watering with water containing no salts, such as rainwater or purchased water.

You can refresh potting soil by top-dressing. Top-dressing consists of gently scraping off one or two inches of the old surface potting mixture without disturbing too many roots, and then replacing the removed soil with fresh potting mix. If the pot is hard packed, consider inserting a pencil at intervals to let more fresh potting soil get into the root area.

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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