A while back a reader said she was having problems with squash bugs. Well, that certainly stinks (literally if you have very many of them, or squish them). We have not had a problem with squash bugs so far, but you never know.
Right now, it’s too cold outside for me to even think about anything in the cucurbit family (insert sad face). Yet, I’ve done some research and I think I’ve found some great ways to help control them. Some of these we already utilize, so maybe that’s why we don’t typically have a problem with them… hmmm. Another thought is the crummy weather maybe killed them off this year since it frosted in the middle of May… I’ll stop complaining now, onto the issue at hand.
First, we’ll look at what squash bugs are, then we’ll look at what they do, and then how to try to combat them from becoming problematic pests in our gardens. I, for one, really enjoy pickles, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and pumpkin a lot. In fact, there isn’t much in the cucurbit family that we don’t enjoy! So, let’s figure out what these evil little creatures are and find a way to be rid of them once and for all!
What is a squash bug?
The squash bug (for you scienc-y people it’s apparently called Anasa tristis and my document application says that’s not a word haha) is pretty widespread across the whole United States. We call them stink bugs in my family, because if there are a bunch of them, or you squish one, they stink. Anyway, back to the bug. They smell bad, they’re kinda ugly, and they, along with their nymphs, will make your plants not so happy.
The squash bug is fairly big, long, and brownish in color. They have long antennae and in the spring they fly and find your beautiful, flourishing squash crops and the females will lay eggs. These eggs are bronze in color and the nymphs that hatch are whitish to grayish spidery looking creatures with red heads, legs, and antennae.
What do squash bugs do?
Search, conquer, and destroy! Seriously, they will make your plants leaves turn black and die off. They have these piercing suckers for mouths. They’ll pierce the plant, inject a toxin, and suck out the sap from the plant. The resulting icky, nasty wilting away, sad condition your plants are left on is called ansa wilt. While not a true plant disease, the effects are very similar to the real plant disease bacterial wilt.
While your plants, if not young and unestablished, can bounce back from squash bugs feeding off of them. If you have a huge infestation of them, it can be almost impossible to fix it before they kill your plant or at the minimum keep it from producing. This is a problem, so be sure you get a hold on these (if at all possible) before it becomes an issue.
10 Ways to Control Squash Bugs In Your Garden, Naturally
Well, now we know what these ugly critters look like what what they do, how do we keep them from becoming problematic on our beloved squash? The best way is to prevent them from becoming a problem. If you already have a problem with them, there are a few things you can do to try to solve the issue, but you might want to take some of these other tips into consideration when harvesting this season and planting next.
1.Use Row Covers – Just like in trying to keep cabbage worms from taking up residence on your cabbages, this uses the same principle. Row covers keep your plants protected from the adults ever flying onto your plants. If they can’t fly on your plants, then they can’t lay eggs. Just keep them on until your plants are larger and well-established. However, if you didn’t plan for it last fall, you may still get them. Why? Check #2. I recommend these.
2. Dispose of infested remnants after harvest – The infested remnants will have eggs on them. These eggs will overwinter in your garden space, hatch in the spring, and get on your new crop, creating problems. You need to remove all of the remnants of the infested plant from your garden as soon after harvest as possible to prevent this from happening. I highly recommend you take the remnants and hot-compost them.
3. Rotate your crops- While you should technically be doing this anyway to prevent nutrient depletion, rotate your crops every year. While getting rid of the remnants helps, if your crop is somewhere else entirely next year, you are even less likely for the overwintering eggs to hatch and find their way to your plants.
4. Search. Destroy & Squish. Daily! – If you want to keep the problem from becoming a problem, you need to keep an eye out for the bugs. I recommend you look at least once a day, if not twice a day for adults, nymphs, and eggs and squish every single one you find. Early in the morning and late in the evening are the best times to look. I go out in my garden (if it wasn’t so stinkin’ cold) at least one of those times every day, and usually both. It’s just part of my routine. I recommend you develop a similar routine if you haven’t.
5. Start indoors – Instead of direct sowing your cucurbit crops, consider starting them inside. This can help your plant be a little stronger to avoid being completely killed off during its most susceptible stages. It also means less time outside, which translates to less time for the populations to grow. Need tips to start indoors? Check out this post!
6. Straw & Newspaper mulch – Not only can this help control your weeds, it can help combat the squash bug. Beware that it can also give them an added hiding place, which could be bad. However, overall, it’s a good way to combat more than just the evil destroyers.
7. Guinea foul – These birds are ahhhmazing! For serious. They eat all kinds of ugly pests like the cabbage worms and these guys. They also eat ticks in abundance and other pest-like creatures. They’ve really kept our pest population down on our homestead so far!!
8. Diatomaceous earth – This stuff is like gold for pest control (amongst a million other things). You can safely dust your plants with Diatomaceous Earth in order to reduce the amount of bugs you have. This isn’t specific to squash bugs, either, but it will help control the population of many pests.
9. Tansy – Honestly, I had never thought of tansy until recently. It supposedly helps repel lots of destructive varieties of insects from your garden. The squash bug is just one of those. This is something I have not truly implemented, yet, but plan to this year. It sure can’t hurt.
10. Homemade repellent – This is easy and doesn’t stink. It doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, so I’m all for it. To make, just mix together 8 oz of water and 2 Tablespoons of eucalyptus oil in a spray bottle. You have to shake this well to use it (in order to disperse oil in water) but once you shake it up really well a few times, spray the plant.
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