Doing Battle with Stink Bugs


More than 200 species of stink bugs call North America home, and you may very well think most of them have taken up residence in your garden.

These shield-shaped munchers are known for the odor they produce when disturbed or squished, which is said to be similar to skunk, powerful cilantro, or coriander.

Personally, I don’t find coriander to be stinky at all, but I suppose that’s a to-each-her-own kind of thing.

Anyway, these greedy critters eat through a wide variety of homegrown fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, berries, squash, tomatoes, apples, and peaches.

Macro shot of a brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) on a green veggie leaf.

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How do you protect your crops from these voracious vermin? Let’s look at some tried and true techniques.

Rule No. 1: Cleanliness

The first step to control stink bug populations is to keep your gardens clean and free of debris.

A close up horizontal image of a red and orange stink bug on a leaf in the garden, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus green background.

These pests like to hide in decomposing logs or under decaying plant matter, so keep areas clear of potential homes and breeding grounds.

Remove dead leaves, weeds, and overgrown plantings.

About Those Brown Home Invaders

We know many of you in the Midwest and Northeast suffer each fall from an invasion of brown marmorated stink bugs into your homes, where they seek shelter from chilly weather.

This “gift” from Asia is not native to the United States, but has made itself quite at home here, wreaking havoc on crops and in homes along the way.

A close up horizontal image of a brown stink bug feeding on a leaf pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

This article deals primarily with ridding your garden of any of a wide variety of stink bugs, but some of these techniques will also be applicable to getting rid of the dreaded home invader.

Oh, the Irony

Try repelling these odiferous arthropods by planting – get this – smelly plants. Garlic, catnip, lavender, and thyme are examples.

Radishes, marigold, and chrysanthemum are also known to repel these pests.

Also consider planting plants that attract enemies of the stink bug.

A close up horizontal image of a red, yellow, and black stink bug feeding on the foliage of a plant pictured on a gray background.

A study conducted by Lauren G. Hunt, Armando Rosario-Lebron, and Cerruti R. Hooks found that French marigold, buckwheat, and purple tansy were effective at attracting parasitic wasps.

These wasps lay their eggs in stink bug eggs, destroying the developing insect. The wasps are tiny and don’t pose a problem for humans.

A close up horizontal image of a red bird in the garden perched on a wooden branch, pictured in bright sunshine on a green soft focus background.

Cardinals, bluebirds, and wrens are partial to a stink bug snack, so work to attract these birds to your garden.

Some gardeners will plant a sacrificial “trap plant” such as tomato or sunflower away from the main gardens, and hope the pests settle on that plant, leaving the main crops alone.

When the bait plant is covered in the insects, pull it up, bugs and all, and carefully contain it in a plastic bag. Leave it in the sun to kill the insects, and then dispose of the whole mess.

How About a Nice, Warm Bath?

You can also try trapping the little pests by rigging up a battery-powered light over a pan filled with soapy water. At night they’ll be attracted to the light, fall into the water, and… game over.

A close up horizontal image of a green stink bug on a yellow fruit pictured on a soft focus background.

Commercially available pheromone traps emit a scent that the creepy crawlers supposedly find irresistible, but many gardeners seem to find the effectiveness of these negligible at best.

A Stream of Misery

Going back to our stinky-beats-stinky theory, you might want to try a garlic spray. Here’s how to make your own at home:

Chop five or six garlic cloves finely and boil in a gallon of water. Let it cool, then strain the mixture and spray it on susceptible plants. Simple, right?

Neem oil is often effective against these smelly invaders, and it’s available on Amazon.

Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract Concentrate

Insecticidal soap tends to work better against soft-bodied insects, but some gardeners report success using it against the stinkies.

Safer Brand Insecticidal Soap

You can purchase commercial insecticidal soaps, such as this one available on Amazon.

Or, make your own by combining five tablespoons of liquid soap with one gallon of water.

Bonide Pyrethrin Spray Concentrate

Pyrethrin is another organic insecticide that can be effective against stink bugs. Find it at Amazon.

Clean Out the Fireplace

Some gardeners have found wood ash to be a good stink bug repellent, while others say it works better against slugs and snails.

If you want to give it a try, simply spread a thin layer around your vulnerable plants after a rain.

Last Resort

When all else fails, you can try a chemical-based product such as Sevin.

A close up horizontal image of a stink bug on a green leaf, pictured on a dark soft focus background.

Sevin is quite effective against stink bugs, but keep in mind that it is toxic to humans and classified as a likely human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so you’ll want to thoroughly wash food treated with this product.

Also note that this chemical will also kill beneficial insects such as bees and ladybugs.

Ready to do Battle?

We’ve described a number of techniques you can try to rid your garden of these fruit- and veggie-loving bugs. Are you ready to do battle?

These pests may have a shield, but now you’ve got a number of arrows in your quiver.

A close up horizontal image of a stink bug on a leaf, pictured in light sunshine.

Whether it’s giving them a dose of their own medicine by planting smelly plants that repel them or taking a more aggressive stance with lethal sprays, it’s time to find a way to spare your plants from the stress of the stink. (And speaking of stress… gardening is excellent for stress relief.)

Do you have any tried-and-true methods for vanquishing these bugs? Share in the comments section below!

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Bonide, Garden Safe, and Safer Brand. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

34 thoughts on “Doing Battle with Stink Bugs”

  1. I’ve tried to type a comment three times and it disappears before I get it posted. So I’m going to make it short and direct. When it comes to killing insects in the garden I recommend skipping all the way down to pyrethrins or stronger. I’ve wasted countless amounts of money on organic stuff. They either don’t work or take too long to work. You can lose a crop waiting for something to happen. Sevin is safe and does a good job. You don’t have to spray it on the actual fruit or blooms for it to work. Bees land on/in blooms so they’re not affected if you don’t spray the blooms. Also you can pick all the veggies before you spray.

    • Hi Jeff! Thanks for reading and commenting. (I’m sorry about the website troubles; I’ll mention it to our webmaster.)
      Interesting about skipping straight to the tough stuff. I suppose depending on where you live and what your plants are plagued by, that might be a pretty smart strategy!

    • SO… Last year was it for me with ALL the bugs PERIOD! I’ve had about enough!! I live in Michigan (lower-thumb area), a small inner city that used to be all farm land, now little by little it’s growing. I love the country, so living here still has the country feel. So I can’t complain to much except for the what seems like BIGGER bugs. I’ve encountered big spiders that I believe should of been someone’s pet, I’ve encountered the ever-so freak-me-the-bleep-out millipedes, where their size don’t make a bit of difference to me, it’s their what looks like hundreds of tiny legs moving at the speed of light towards me – as I’m running away from it scared outta my mind. There are a couple more, so I’m also Petrified of those pincher bugs, earwigs. I see them in my garage sometimes at my house. I will flip out and cry with those bugs, that goes along with the ever-so-huge black carpenter ants. If you own an oak tree you’re going to have them. Now THOSE I will wear a net around my whole body to bed if I had to. I haven’t yet. But I would. Seven dust definitely did the job. But if it rains and breaks the dust trail that goes around the outside perimeter of your home, you WILL see them again very soon. So be sure to keep checking for any breaks in the powder/dust. Also use boric acid powder (found in your health/vitamin aisle or in the pest control aisle) with a mixture of sugar 1:2 ratio. (Less sugar, more boric acid) place in pop bottle cap all around your house. This boric acid is not poisonous in small amounts. Read package. But when consumed by the carpenter ant they are supposed to take it back to the nest where the queen is and I guess that kills them.

      Lastly THE STINK BUG. We have one, maybe more living in our home right now. These things I don’t know what to do. They say not to squish them as they smell. (Note: I normally do not kill anything so my way of removing a bug or bugs takes a lot longer than most). Should I just wait until summer and it will find its way out or what?

      • No! Don’t squish. Find and flush down the toilet! As long as they are around, they let out a pheromone that attracts others.

    • I have gardened for over 50 years never used chemicals can let my kids and grand kids eat food right out of the garden the way it should be the way it’s been for over 10,000 years If you let your garden reset the natural balance will be restored. Poison just isn’t the way to a healthy life.

  2. I was finding stink bugs in my apartment since the spring came. A few weeks later I noticed they were all under the leaves of my money tree on my windowsill, munching away. Gross. I have potted plants outside and several inside, but I also have a pet chinchilla, so I have to be especially careful. I ordered the product with neem oil that you recommend. I hope it helps.

    Any tips on grain weevils? My kitchen is over-run. I have the worst luck. I moved to the south shore of Long Island near a big state park and I’ve had anaplasmosis from a tick bite, wolf spiders in my bedroom, and it never ends! I’m desperate. For a while, peppermint and coriander oil were helping.

    • Oh no! I can certainly sympathize, Dani- an apartment where I once lived was infested with silverfish and pantry moths, and I was absolutely miserable until I found a solution. But I think I can offer a little help- grain weevils are similar to pantry moths in some ways, at least in terms of eradication.

      The bad news is, if you haven’t already, you will need to clean out your kitchen cabinets entirely, and get rid of everything from your pantry that might be infested. If you’re reluctant to toss unopened products, some experts recommend storing them in the freezer for about a week, to kill any eggs or larvae that might be present. Next, thoroughly clean each shelf and the interior walls. Wipe your cabinets out well, then get in there with your vacuum attachments. Wipe the walls, shelves, and cabinet doors down with white vinegar or your choice of cleaning solution, and let them air dry completely. Before you restock, spray down the cabinet surfaces with an insecticide that’s effective on weevils. Eradicator is a nontoxic option that’s safe for use around pets, and it is available on Amazon.

      If you store any of your shelf stable items in lidded containers or canisters, give those a good washing as well. In my own experience, trying to buy less flour and grains (anything in a box, bag, or cardboard canister, essentially) for shelf storage and getting through them quickly before buying more is always good advice, and switching to refrigerator or freezer storage for things like rice and oats can help too.

      I haven’t tried this myself, but black pepper is rumored to keep grain weevils away- you can try scattering whole peppercorns around your cabinets, or filling little sachets (empty tea bags that you can fill yourself would work) with ground pepper and placing a few on each shelf.

      Hope this helps! Good luck with the stink bugs as well. Please let us know how it goes!

    • I have one suggestion…..when you bring home any new grain products or spices put them in the freezer for a minimum of 3 days. This kills any larvae and the weevils won’t hatch.

  3. Oh thank you so so much!! I just moved into this apartment in Kansas and our entryway is OVERRUN by stink bugs. They dive bomb worse than freaking June bugs. I was also looking at planting flowers on our balcony. So marigolds are a win-win!

  4. Stink bugs appear to be intelligent too. Last week, I spotted two on my pepper plants. One I flicked off a leaf immediately (and have done so before). The other, on the main stem, saw me and reacted to my movements. It was literally playing hide and seek with me. As I would move left, it would stay behind the stem from my position and move right. I would then move right and it would move left to stay opposite of me on the plant stem. I’ve never seen an insect do anything like it before. Luckily, I don’t see too many of them and have been able to keep them reduced enough by direct physical intervention without any noticeable destruction of my plants. Now with fall here, I’m not overly concerned about a lot of them moving in and eating my plants since they’ll be dying off soon anyway due to the ever increasing cold temperatures. If I were though, my next step would be an attempt at the garlic spray.

    • Funny story, Jim! Stink bugs are truly stinkers! Let us know if you end up having to go with the garlic spray next summer.

    • I just have to reply to your smart bug comment. I had a little black spider at my mailbox. When he would see me, he would hide, like you said, and as I moved, he would hide to keep me from seeing him. I couldn’t kill him. As the summer went on, he became used to me coming to the mailbox and would crawl out and on top and look at me as though we were friends. I would say hi and get my mail. I thought my neighbors would find me odd, so I stopped actually talking to the spider and he eventually moved on.

  5. Diatomaceous earth should kill any insect with a shell for its outer body, also known as an exoskeleton. Also, I keep a mixture of Murphy’s Oil and water handy for mopping. I accidentally left it open once and later found two stink bugs had been attracted to it and drowned. I ALWAYS leave it open now!

  6. I will take a mason jar of soapy water out with me and pick the stink bugs off the tomato plants. I surround my garden with marigolds whose seeds I save each year to replant. I also discovered that a sunflower with a full head will attract stink bugs like a lure at night.

  7. How can I get rid of the stink bugs in my house? I hate them so bad! We do have a fireplace which we heat our house with so we have to keep it going. How can I get rid of these nasty critters?

    • Dar, how frustrating! The first step, of course, is keeping your garden free of the bugs, as described in this article, so they aren’t a just a step away from the house. For invaders, consider a soapy water or sticky trap.

  8. I use a blend of dish detergent, white vinegar and hot water (and optional crushed garlic extract/hot chilly) and found it effective when spraying the stink bugs directly. It took a few direct quirts to kill the adult insects and less for smaller ones. These bugs are amazingly intelligent and will hide on opposite side of stem to evade detection!

    • Most dry, powdered ingredients meant to repel pests should be reapplied after watering or after it rains. Instead of applying powdered cinnamon, you might also try spraying your plants with diluted cinnamon essential oil in water.

      • How much cinnamon essential oil would you dilute with water? I have some and would love to try it. I’ve tried marigolds which did absolutely nothing down here in Florida. I used Sevin a few times but you can’t use it all the time, so I’m ready to try something else.

  9. What about food grade diatomaceous earth? Can you use that in the garden? I have had these bugs try getting in my windows. We have crank out. So we put the diatomaceous earth on the tops of my windows and it keeps them away.

  10. Stink bugs are terrible to have. They are also so destructive in terms of my peace of mind. I am glad I came across this article.

  11. The stink bug my Mum killed the stink bugs poison went into my mum’s eye she fainted, she said it’s the hotest liquid that beats any pepper that exits, her eye is still burning, and on her neck is a big red Mark, that’s burning her.

    • That sounds awful, Giolina – I hope your mum is feeling better now and that she was able to get some medical attention.

  12. I bought the Bengal roach spray. It’s also for stink bugs. I sprayed it every where I knew they were went in my shed the next day and they were laying EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t kill them instantly but they just lay there upside down until they die. Or you can vacuum them up (not in a vacuum you use in your house) you use the straw that comes with it which makes a very powerful spray and they just start crawling out of cracks and crevices. You can’t spray them directly, they have to walk through it. It lasts for 4 months and Bengal guarantees their product.


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