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Squash Bugs – End of the Season Strategy

If you’ve raised squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, or any variety of melon (all called cucurbits) then more than likely you’ve had problems with squash bugs.  If you don’t know what a squash bug is ——then you live in a section of the country that’s not bothered by them.  But here in Virginia they’re the arch enemy of many a gardener.

Preferred Plants

Pumpkin and squash are the preferred plants of squash bugs. But they’ll readily move to cucumbers and melons when their favorites aren’t available.

One of the favorite foods of the squash bug is summer squash.

Tough Bugs

Gardeners who use poisons on their gardens are not free from being troubled by the squash bug either.  Squash bug eggs are impervious to insecticides and the adult squash bugs have thickened outer layers that protect most of them from falling prey to poisons.

Damage to Plants

They damage plants by piercing and sucking sap from the leaves, stems and fruits.  Leaves yellow, dry, turn brown and then die.  The inexperienced gardener might think these symptoms are a result of drought when actually it’s squash bug damage. If damage continues the entire plant will wilt and die.

Up to 250 eggs per bug!

A female adult squash bug can lay 250 eggs over a long period of time. She can hibernate through the winter in the top 6 inches of the soil. When temperatures are right the following spring she can emerge and continue egg laying without having to mate again!

An Important Control Tactic

You need more than one tactic in your arsenal of strategies to control these pest. One of your most important tactics for squash bug control is to prevent their overwintering in your garden.

Whether it’s early summer or late summer, here’s what I do when any cucurbits in my garden have finished producing:

  • Before removing the plants from the garden, I want to kill as many squash bugs as possible. I pull the plants up and leave them — along with any damaged fruits —in a pile on the garden bed. Since squash bugs have a tendency to stay with the vines even after they wilt and reduce in mass, I’m able to check every day for more adults and nymphs – killing all I find.
  • I  also look for eggs and remove those. (I tear them off, take them with me, and throw them in the trash.  They’re next to impossible to crush. So I take no chances of having them hatch anywhere in my yard or garden.)
  • Usually it takes about a week before I can’t find anymore bugs. Then I remove the plants and any damaged fruits from the garden.

When you remove plants from the garden without following the above procedure, you miss killing a lot of squash bugs even after a diligent search.  (They’re experts at hiding.) Remaining in the garden, they’re free to search out and destroy any other cucurbits you have growing in your garden.

In late summer when mating slows or ceases they’ll continue to eat, storing fat in their bodies that’s necessary to take them through the winter.

Bottom Line

By killing as many as you can and removing the food source (the finished plants) from the garden you greatly reduce their chances to make it through the winter. Lowering the numbers that survive is your first step in keeping the prolific squash bug under control.

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All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights reserved.

16 comments to Squash Bugs – End of the Season Strategy

  • Gail

    How about stink bugs, Theresa? We are losing all our tomatoes, green peppers, even some of the hot peppers. So far, our squash has been left alone. Bah!

    Thank you for the research on squash bug behavior…I will file it away for some future year.

    Peace

    Gail

  • Theresa

    Hi Gail,
    I’ve been fighting squash bugs for 33 years, so I know a lot about them. (Know your enemy.)

    Our regular old stink bugs are usually not a problem. I think the stink bug you are talking about is that one that is from Asian countries that was “accidentally” introduced into this country. They have not yet arrived in my garden, but I’m sure its just a matter of time.

    It’s horrifying because they do such damage and there’s no natural predator here.

    The squash bug, vine borer, potato beetle and cucumber beetle keep me busy enough. I don’t look forward to having to deal with this “new” stink bug as well and I know it’s been hard for you to see your beautiful tomatoes and peppers ruined.

    I would apply every strategy to them that I apply to squash bugs. I think they’re even worse than squash bugs because of the damage they do directly to the fruit. But — we have to start somewhere — so — the things that come to mind without ever having experienced this horrible bug are:

    1. Kill everyone you see.
    2. Use row covers when its possible. (As with squash bugs – if they hibernate in the area you use rows covers on – the row covers won’t do any good because they’ll come out of the ground there. I don’t know this stink bugs life cycle.)
    3. Use a shop vac (I’ve never done this, but a lot of folks have great success with this.)

    Again, I’m so sorry about your tomatoes and peppers. I hope more solutions are on the horizon.

    Theresa

  • Yvonne

    Theresa,

    Should healthy zucchini plants continue to produce during August and perhaps even later? My plants are wilted looking and dried up, but they were prolific through June and July. I had a large number of squash bugs attack so I’m wondering if they did my plants in or it’s just that they were finished. I removed all the eggs I found and killed all the mature bugs I could find and spayed with a pesticide. After spraying I haven’t seen any more bugs, but the plants immediately started looking terrible. Maybe the insecticide killed them! As a first-time gardener, I just don’t know.

    Yvonne

  • Christine

    Luckily I haven’t seen any squash bugs these year but I had them last year. My biggest problem is those awful cucumber beetles. They killed off two of my cucumbers but strangely they aren’t interested in my patty pan squash yet. I’m waiting for the squah vine borer to hit because I always get those too. My curcubits have more bugs than anything else in the garden.

  • Theresa

    Hi Yvonne,
    If your zucchini produced well through June and July, they’ve done a good job. I have had them produce longer, but it has been the exception rather than the rule. I think without squash bugs they would go on indefinitely.

    As you know, I’m an organic gardener. Even the so called ‘eco-friendly’ or sprays suitable for organic gardeners still have an impact on beneficial insects and the bees. So I tend to stay away from those as well. If I do find it imperative to use one of eco-friendly sprays I try to plan carefully around the activity of the bees, spraying after 7PM when they are not active. Even then I check to make sure they are not on the plant.

    As you may or may not know, bees are in big trouble and we as gardeners need to do everything we can to make sure they have every opportunity to survive to continue to pollinate for us.

    Since your plants started looking terrible immediately after spraying — it would not surprise me if the insecticide didn’t have something to do with it.

    I would encourage you to resist spraying and if you feel you must — then at the very least check out the more “eco-friendly” options at someplace like Garden’s Alive.

    I wish you much success in your gardening endeavors and hope you will find TMG both encouraging and helpful. Nice to have you as a reader!

    Best,
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Christine,
    Bugs definitely seem to have been less this year. I think you are most fortunate not to have had squash bugs! If the borer has not gotten you at this late date you may be safe from that — at least for this year.

    Regarding the cucumber beetles. They really like the cucumbers – no doubt about it. And they end that plants production way too soon to suit me.

    I just read something recently about a lady who had had great success with Kaolin Clay which is marketed under the name of Surround. She said one bag lasts two or more years for her. It’s perfectly safe and coats the plant. She said the beetles go elsewhere is you start using it immediately when the plants get leaves. Otherwise, she said it doesn’t work as well.

    I’m very tempted to try it next year. It gives a dusty look to the plants and I don’t like that ——but the plants look horrible when they get that disease ——-
    so I guess it’s a toss up. You might want to check it out. Garden’s Alive sells it as Surround.

    The lady also said she planted varieties resistant to the disease such as Eureka and County Fair. Eureka is a pickling cucumber. County Fair is too but is said to be used as a slicer as well. I’ve never tried them, but might try County Fair since it is suppose to have excellent resistance to bacterial wilt.

    She also does successive plantings which I do as well.

    If you can add some of these strategies to your arsenal — (me too) — we might have better luck next year.

    Hope this was helpful, Christine.

    Theresa

  • Angie France

    What should I do if I want to plant my fall crop were I had my squash and lots of squash bugs? Do I need to do anything to my soil before I pull them up and till?

  • Theresa

    Hi Angie,

    I’m not sure I totally understand what you have in mind when you asked “Do I need to do anything to my soil before I pull them up and till.”

    If you have not killed the squash bugs (some might be killed by tilling) then they will hibernate close by this winter. They might move off a bit when you till, but they’ll be there.

    If I have not addressed your concerns, please let me know. Give me more detail about what you are thinking and we’ll try again.

    Theresa

  • Frances

    This squash bug is new to me and is a disappointment since this is the first year that our pumpkins are plumping up! Today, I found a flower full of the bugs (got a fabulous photo of them and spent an hour on-line identifying and reviewing organic controls).
    Is it possible to pick off the flower that is infested? Can I use dish-soapy water to clean off any other areas that are infested or ‘egg’ed ? Right now, I just want the pumpkins to survive. I will do the hard clean up, later, so the bugs won’t be a problem next year.

  • Theresa

    Hi Frances,

    When you said you found a “flower full of bugs” – it made me wonder if we are talking about the same bug. Google “pictures of squash bugs” and then Google “pictures of cucumber beetles” just to make sure it is the squash bug we are talking about. Usually cucumber beetles are the ones that many times stay in the flowers. The squash bug adults like the stems and underneath the leaves. The nymphs of the squash bug also like to stay on the under side of the leaves. But you can find them anywhere on the plant including the fruit.

    Soapy dish water will not kill squash bug eggs. They need to be taken from the leaf (sometimes they are found on the stem as well) and removed totally from the area. Some folks try to crush them, but they have great survival ability. I remove them from the garden, put them in an old plastic bag, and put them in the trash.

    And the soapy water won’t kill the squash bugs.

    Picking off flowers that are infested with cucumber beetles will not get rid of the beetles. If it was the squash bugs in the flowers — it won’t get rid of them either — unless you kill the bugs.

    Squash bugs are hard deal with. Even conventional gardeners who use sprays have a hard time with them. They have a tough hide that protects them from poisons.

    Diligence in killing them and clean up is the best control. And keep in mind that may not mean you’ll never have them again. Some years are better than others. And certainly we want to keep the numbers down, but you can still have them no matter what you. The idea is balance. If you keep the numbers controllable — you should be ok.

    Why don’t you send me a picture via email so I can see the bug you are talking about — theresa@tendingmygarden.com.

    Good luck with your pumpkins. I’ll bet they’re beautiful!

    Theresa

  • Heather

    Hi Theresa. Wondering if you tried the County Fair cucumbers this year and how they did?

    Heather

  • Theresa

    No Heather, I did not try County Fair cukes. I did try the Diva and loved them!
    Theresa

  • Eddie Jordan

    I was just wondering if diatomaceous earth would control the squash bug? or get rid of it totally.

  • Theresa

    Minimal control Eddie. And no, it will not get rid of them totally.
    Theresa

  • Susan

    My squash and zucchini were doing very well but we’ve had unusual hot weather and no rain. I see promising looking squash and zucchini only to watch them turn brown and soft before they’ve matured. What is causing this and is there a remedy?

  • Theresa

    Susan, I’ve had the same thing happen. As a matter of fact it happened this year a few weeks ago. Very dry and hot and those wonderful little squash turned brown and soft and I didn’t get the last few I had hoped for.
    When conditions aren’t right, that can happen.
    Theresa

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