Squash Bugs; a Recurring Garden Nightmare

March 31, 2009

Kim emailed to share her frustrations over a recent growing season that was spoiled by one of the gardener’s biggest nightmares; the detestable Squash Bug.

Here’s a tale of gardening misery over Kim’s failed efforts to control and eliminate the squash bugs from her organic vegetable garden:

Massive Invasions of Destructive Squash Bugs

“I planted several squash, cucumber, melons and pumpkin last year that were completely taken over by squash bugs! I went to sleep seeing these things. I spent countless hours out there literally, squashing them. But it didn’t matter, they kept multiplying.”

“Then they would spread to another type of plant to infest that. I sprayed, sprinkled and cut with no resolve. I started to spray right away when I would plant baby newcomers into the garden thinking if I got to it before they did then I’d be ok. Nope!”

“The squash bugs eventually attacked them too. I still got “some” fruits, but only a fraction of what should have been. Let me share with you what I used. Garden Safe fungicide/insecticide, and a powder, I forgot what it was called but I would mix it with water so I could spray it on. I think that was it.”

Searching for Answers to Controlling Squash Bugs in the Garden

“So, Kenny, if you have any suggestions I would so much appreciate it. I’d like to get the garden off to a good start this year. I also had a huge problem with cabbage worms eating my cabbage and broccoli. Then had something, may have been a fungus or something that tore up all my heirloom peppers.”

“It was a disaster last year. It should have made me want to give up gardening. I was real close! Help me if you can to regain more joy this year.”

Don’t give up Kim, the problem of dealing with squash bugs is a common one and they can be a huge nuisance. They are resistant to pesticide sprays and their populations are driven by a life cycle that progresses from nymphs to adults in a very short time frame!

To make matters worse, squash bugs are destructive at every stage of their development, and they don’t seem to be kept in check by predatory beneficial insects. Left uncontrolled, you’ll soon be facing a large infestation of both adult and juvenile squash bugs. Frequently targeted crops are pumpkins and various types of squash.

Striking Back Against a Formidable Garden Pest

The best chance of deterring or controlling squash bugs will require close attention, quick action, perfect timing, or a lot of luck. Start by learning to identify the squash bug’s eggs which are usually laid on the undersides of plant leaves. These dark yellow to reddish oval eggs can be crushed to help control squash bugs before they even begin to hatch out.

Adult squash bugs are especially difficult to manage so do your best to control the insects during the juvenile stages. They move around and congregate in groups, which you can often use to your advantage.

Crush unsuspecting squash bugs under foot as they gather beneath low lying leaves or prop a board up on the ground near affected plants and destroy the pests when they seek shelter underneath the trap that you’ve set for them.

Organic Pesticides and Biological Insect Controls

I try to avoid spraying pesticides, even organic ones in my garden but if you must resort to spraying then do it while the squash bugs are still small and less resistant to the sprays. Organic pesticides used to combat squash bugs include; pyrethrum, sabadilla, and neem. Take care to protect yourself and limit the impact on beneficial insects anytime you apply a spray, even if it is totally organic.

One beneficial insect reputed to prey on squash bugs is the Tachnid Fly, but they don’t seem to do a sufficient job on their own. A few plants are also recommended as companions to help deter squash bugs, they include; tansy, marigolds, radishes, and nasturtiums. I mix these into my garden beds but can’t vouch for their effectiveness at deterring squash bugs.

Some gardeners swear by trap crops, which are planted away from main growing area. For example, you could plant pumpkins merely for the sake of keeping the squash bugs off of your cucumbers or squash. The trick is finding a crop or variety that the squash bugs will favor over the crops that you prefer. Personally I’d rather tr not do anything to invite or attract the pests in the first place.

Effective Strategies to Eliminate Squash Bugs without Spraying

One thing that I have noticed some success with is delaying my plantings and growing squash as a late summer or early fall crop. Delayed plantings may allow the backyard gardener to dodge the normal reproduction, growth, and infestation patterns that squash bugs maintain. I have gotten better results when planting my squash out a few weeks later than usual.

Floating row covers can be very effective at providing a barrier between the insects and your crops if they are applied properly. Get the row covers on early and make sure that they are anchored down so that the squash bugs can’t simply sneak underneath. Also remember that the row covers will need to be pulled back, at least temporarily, to allow for pollination when the crops are flowering.

Finally, at season’s end do your best to make things difficult for any squash bugs that are interested in hanging around to infest and lay eggs in next year’s garden. Clear out the old squash plants, spent cucumber and pumpkin vines, and don’t leave the fruits to rot on the ground. Also remove other garden debris that could be used by the squash bugs to over-winter.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • So is this what a squash bug looks like? http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecrameri/3400535759/

  • Kenny Point

    Yes, those are the critters. The small red insects are the squash bug nymphs and there are a couple of adult squash bugs in the upper right portion of the photo. Thanks for the link, I didn’t have any of my own squash bug photos to post and I’d like to keep it that way!

  • Great post! Thanks for this useful information on such an aggravating problem.

  • “Start by learning to identify the squash bug’s eggs which are usually laid on the undersides of plant leaves.”

    I think you’re touching on something very important here. It seems a lot of pests like to lay their eggs/hide on the underside of leaves until it’s too late.

    Something I haven’t done enough is to be diligent in checking under leaves of my plants. I guess I’m a little afraid of flipping a leaf over and having some enormous bug jump at me and bite my face. haha..no seriously I should be checking under my leaves more.

  • Thanks for solving our pest problem! Very timely… Pest Detective

  • Cynthia

    I have found that the Waltham Butternut seems to have less of a problem with squash bugs, so it is the only one I grow now.

    Anyone tried wood ashes, dusted lightly on the leaves?

  • What other forms of squash are NOT preferred by Squash bugs.

  • Rebekah

    When all the other varieties of squash I planted this year have died, my seminole pumpkin plants are still going strong in late August. The squash bugs don’t seem to like these.

  • If only a few plants are affected, it is most effective to hand pick and destroy squash bugs and eggs. Another option is to place boards or shingles on the ground next to the plants. At night the squash bugs will aggregate under the boards and can then be destroyed each morning. Using resistant varieties such as Butternut, Royal Acorn, or Sweet Cheese and maintaining a healthy plant through proper fertilization and watering are also important to limiting squash bug damage.

  • Peggy

    I started early in the year checking for squash bugs. It is now the second week of July and I am still killing squash bugs. And removing leaves with eggs on th em. I have found them on ever kind of squash zuchinni, butternut, acorn and patty pan. I have lost a couple of plants I am guessing from the squash bugs. I have gotten a few zuchinni, more patty pan and I have several butternut that are not quite ready. I have used 7 dust, neem oil and dawn dish soap 1 Tbs with a gallon of water. The soap will kill the bugs when you spray it on them. I don’t know if spraying the plants with the soapy water will kill anything. I think the bug itself has to be sprayed. I have decided this will be my last year of planting squash. Hunting these bugs is exausting and time consuming. I will buy my squash at the store.

Previous post:

Next post: