Shield your home against stink bugs, stiltgrass and skunks

Colder temperatures could mean fewer stink bugs. (Courtesy of U.Md./Mike Raupp)
Garden Editor Mike McGrath

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 9:09 pm

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Stop stink bugs before they move into your house

“The stink bugs are coming! The stink bugs are coming!”

That’s the warning recently issued by University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp, who reports that Montgomery and Frederick counties are already showing indications of “huge populations” of the Asian pests, and predicts “a big season this year, with large numbers of stink bugs collecting on the sides of people’s homes and then trying to move indoors.”

Luckily, you can trap and then destroy the stinkers when they land (which is typically on the south-facing side of your home) before they can get inside. The traps are simple and very easy to make: staple together two pieces of cardboard with spacers inside to create big hollow areas for the stinkers to congregate in.

Hang the completed traps on the south-facing side of your home, as high up as you can easily reach. The stink bugs will enter the traps, which you will then empty into trash bags or soapy water on a regular basis. And there’s no rush to empty those traps; the stink bugs are simply looking for an enclosed space in which to spend the winter, so they won’t be coming and going once they get inside.

Here is a YouTube video showing how to make the traps, starring none other than the inventor of this simple system, New Jersey-ite Jody Williams (or as we like to call him, Stink Bug Enemy No. 1).

UPDATE: I just spoke with Jody, who tells me that he’s been working on improvements to his system and has discovered two important things over the past few years:

  1. Stink bugs are attracted to the warmest parts of your house, which is why they cluster on the sunny side. So the higher you hang the traps on the side of your house, the better, because heat rises.
  2. Stink bugs also seem to be attracted by the smell and warmth of indoor areas, and Jody has improved on his already commendable success by hanging the traps just above a window with a fan blowing warm air from the home outside. The stinkers like the heat, the airflow and the smell, and that little bit of breeze coming from inside will lure many more of them to your trap.

Be prepared to deal with any that do make it inside with a dedicated bug vacuum. These simple devices (just search “bug vacuum”) make it easy to suck the little suckers to their doom. Don’t spray pesticides indoors or outside to try and fight them off. The poisons will make you sicker than the bugs.

Attack stiltgrass now, but not with tree leaves

Doug in Rockville writes: “This year, we were attacked by Japanese stiltgrass that covered our entire backyard and killed off the grass. We live in Rock Creek Park, and many deciduous tree leaves will soon cover the weed. Can we kill off the weed by leaving the leaves on the ground over the winter?”

I doubt it, Doug. Leaving whole leaves lay where they fall is a better way to kill the desired lawn grasses than a tall, invasive plant such as stiltgrass. I would instead pull the stiltgrass out of the ground now. It’s very shallow-rooted and surprisingly easy to remove from wet soil.

Then reseed the area with a wanted grass and be ready to vacuum up those leaves so they don’t smother the baby grass. But long term, you need to know that no grass is going to out-compete weeds if the area gets less than four hours of sun a day.

Stiltgrass thrives in shady spots.

Finish off your stiltgrass in the spring

Ari in Columbia, Md., writes: “Can I put corn gluten down next March to stop all the darn stiltgrass I get on my lawn? I hate it and want it gone!”

The short answer is yes, Ari. Japanese stiltgrass is a summer annual that dies over the winter, like crabgrass. But also like crabgrass, it drops lots of seed before it dies. One big difference between the two plants is that stiltgrass is a tall, shallow-rooted and pulls easily from wet soil. So soak your lawn and have a pulling party this weekend; you’ll greatly limit the amount of stiltgrass seed in your soil next spring.

Then, yes, be ready to spread corn gluten meal that’s labeled as a natural pre-emergent herbicide weed and feed next spring to prevent any seeds that escaped your not-so-tender mercies from germinating along with seeds from previous seasons as well. Stiltgrass seed can remain viable in the soil for a good (or bad) five years.

Don’t get skunked!

Diane in Sperryville, Va., has a potentially stinky problem. She writes: “Skunks are digging zillions of holes in my yard. What do I do?”

Nothing to startle them, that’s for sure, Diane!

Luckily, the nation’s leading expert on these strange creatures, Dr. Jerry Dragoo, aka Mr. Skunk, of the University of New Mexico, explains that although skunks do feed on lawn grubs and earthworms much like moles, skunks are generally just passing through and aren’t going to take up permanent residence the way moles do.

To keep them moving along, keep your grass cut at the recommended three inches in height (no lower) and as dry as possible (which is also good for the grass). It’s also important to make sure that there’s no other food outside to attract the skunks like pet food, spilled birdseed or garbage in unsealed cans.

Then, when you see no new holes, reseed the damaged areas, and open up the windows again.

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