University City

University City gardens host spring bugapalooza

You’ve heard about Buskapalooza, the new Charlotte event that transforms our entire uptown into a gigantic stage for street performers?

I have the feeling the insect world, perhaps inspired by this, has decided to create its own version in University City gardens this spring. Call it “Bugapalooza” if you like.

The first act, of course, was aerial silk artists a la Cirque de Soleil, except that – since this refers to last month’s intense cankerworm invasion – the performers ate the tent and the set and almost devoured the audience as well. Our trees and shrubs are still in recovery.

At least we don’t have a crawling border around our front door any more, and we don’t have to crunch through the frass every time we walk down a garden path.

As gross as it was, the cankerworm onslaught probably will have done no lasting damage. Some new acts, however, are ready to take center stage that may really make a mess of things. A couple of bugs are already in the national news.

Just to be clear, in this case “bugs in the news” has nothing to do with the Justice Department getting caught red-handed bugging editors and reporters at the Associated Press. That’s truly creepy, I grant you. But some plain old six-legged bugs are making headlines, too.

By now, everybody knows “The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are coming!” with their bulgy red eyes and 24/7 wall of sound. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), they probably won’t get this far south.

Instead, a new Southern celebrity bug is already here. Aptly, it’s called the kudzu bug, because back in Asia – where kudzu comes from – it lives on kudzu.

That should be great news, right? After all, the Vine That Ate the South needs something to keep it in check.

Unfortunately, though the pest has spread like wildfire since it first showed up in Atlanta in 2009, you, I and scientists are seeing no less kudzu. Our undocumented kudzu bug migrants – squat gray-green camouflaged armored sumos the size of ladybugs – have decided they’d rather chow down on American soybean crops instead.

They also eat garden beans and possibly other plants. Just as bad, they sometimes swarm all over houses and mass in crawling clusters on figs, magnolias, sunflowers and other plants.

Debbie Roos of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service said they are hard to control, and so far there’s no organic strategy for controlling them, other than brushing them into a pail of soapy water.

“Don’t squish the kudzu bugs with bare hands,” Roos warned, “because they release a yellow substance that can cause welts and inflammation.”

Kudzu bugs are close relatives of stinkbugs. They stab plants with hypodermic-like mouthparts and suck out the life. Their caustic yellow bug juice smells like industrial solvent.

Just wait: In the next X-Men movie, a mutant in Magneto’s gang will morph into a giant kudzu bug (known as “Kudzu,” of course).

I have yet to spot the first kudzu bug in our home garden or at the farm or community garden. The biggest problem now is cucumber beetles causing major damage to cucumbers and squash. I may have to replant these crops in a couple of weeks, after the worst bug outbreak is past and the temperature warms up.

I’m also seeing Colorado potato beetles, which can be controlled on a small-garden scale by conscientious hand picking and destroying the orange egg clusters under potato leaves.

But the kudzu bugs are on their way, and N.C. State University entomologists warn that 2013 is likely to be the year when these unwelcome guests make their presence felt in a big way.

Just think of it: Act 1, cankerworms; Act 2, kudzu bugs. Bugapalooza, indeed.

At least we can all get a break from the bugs by attending today’s premiere of a movie about Charlotte’s Buskapalooza and street perform ring scene by local indie filmmaker April Denée. “BUSK!” will screen at 4 p.m. today, May 19, in the McGlohon Theater uptown at 345 N. College St. Tickets are $5.

I hope the magic of street performance can spread to University City as well. Why not host a busking festival around Lake Hilton or on the UNC Charlotte campus?

We all, especially gardeners, are going to need something entertaining and fun this year to help keep our mind off all the bugs.

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