Have you ever been in your garden, admiring how good your plants are looking and suddenly notice bugs on your squash plants? Those are most likely squash bugs. These rather unassuming bugs are one of the arch nemeses of the gardener here in the south and will tear through you plants in days if not hours if they aren’t kept under control.
We’ve survived the Japanese Beetle invasion, only to find ourselves elbow-deep in squash bugs. Personally, I’m not sure which I dislike more Japanese Beetles or Squash Bugs, especially when I look over my plants only to find these garden pests devouring my plants.
Identifying Squash Bugs?
Squash bugs are rather large bugs (over half an inch) with brown or grayish bodies and flatbacks. The edges and underside of the body have orange stripes. Young squash bugs or squash bug nymphs have gray bodies and black legs. These stinkers are super fast and can often be found on the underside of the leaves in large groups. Squash bugs can fly but will often crawl across the plants.
If you begin seeing brown eggs laid in mass or “rafts” on the leaves (top or bottom) you most likely have a squash bug problem. Squash bugs join the party in late spring/ early summer but tend to get worse as the summer progresses. They fly into the garden around and begin mating and laying eggs almost immediately when vines begin to form. You’ll find the adults under damaged leaves or near the crown of the plant.
Squash bugs are often confused with stink bugs, they both have a stinky odor when squished but stink bugs are rounder than the squash bug.
What Are Squash Bugs?
So what are squash bugs anyway? Sure they’re a garden pest but how did they show up in my garden? Squash bugs are most often found on squash plants which is where they get their name. These bugs wreak havoc on gardens over the summer and are very hard to control. Sadly your squash plants are not the only thing in danger from squash bugs, according to the Old Farmers Almanac they like zucchini, pumpkins, winter squash, and even cucumbers, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
Squash bugs overwinter in dead leaves and vines in your garden, and even in buildings. It’s very important to remove and dead branches or plants that you’ve pulled out of your garden and burn them. This will remove their habitat and any bugs left on them.
How To Identify Squash Bug Damage
Squash bugs are a bit like tiny vampires, they inject a toxin into the plant and then suck the sap out. The resulting damage to the plant begins with yellow spots that eventually turn brown and then the limbs and branches wilt. The damage prevents nurturance from flowing to the leaves, which causes them to dry out and turn brown and in turn die. The leaves of plants attacked by squash bugs will sometimes have holes bored through them.
Young plants can be killed by these bugs and young fruit destroyed. Which is why it’s especially important to protect your young plants or you run the risk of losing your crop.
Controlling And Preventing
How To Get Rid Of Squash Bugs Naturally
- Find them early: You can either scrape eggs off on to the ground so beetles can eat them, scrape them into a bowl or cup of soapy water, or the method we use: a piece of duct tape. We simply lay it on top of the squash bug eggs and press lightly, then lift it off, fold and smash. This will remove any squash bug eggs from any leaves or branches and ensures that none survive to attack your plants. Squash bug eggs hatch in about 10 days so you will want to do this at least weekly, I try to do it every couple days to keep the amount manageable.
- Remove the squash bugs: Pick squash bugs off your plants in the morning or later in the day, I like to use rubber gloves (because I’m a baby and hate touching them) and a bowl with water with a few squirts of organic dish soap. Simply grab the bugs and drop them into the water. I’ve also been known to you a pocket knife to flick them into the water.
- Neem Oil For Squash bugs: We put to use many of the same methods for getting rid of Japanese Beetles as we do battling the squash bug. Neem oil is our go-to natural insecticide because it repels these bugs (and so many other bugs!) and minimizes their ability to feed. It also impacts their ability to breed which helps to control future generations.Neem Oil formulas come in one of two ways. If you are working with a concentrate dilute 1 OZ in 1 gallon of water. Use a clean pump sprayer or even a hose-end sprayer to apply it to your plants. Spray the leaves of the plant (MAKE SURE TO SPRAY UNDER EACH LEAF) until the affected areas are saturated. Be sure you spray it early in the morning or late in the evening when bees have returned to their hives. DO NOT SPRAY IF THE TEMPERATURE IS ABOVE 90F. Reapply every 7 days.
- Diatomaceous Earth For Squash Bugs: When nights are warm (like they always are during a southern summer) sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of your plants. This is a natural mined product that is sharp on a microscopic level that slices bugs that try to cross the white powder and dehydrates them.
- Place a board or shingle at the base of your plants, on cool nights the bugs will hide beneath it for shelter. Check them every morning for bugs and destroy any you find.
- Sprinkle baking soda on and around your plants to repel the bugs. Be careful using this method because it could change the PH of your soil.
- Companion Planting Squash: Plant things like calendula, daisies, dill, white icicle radish, alyssum, fennel, nasturtium, and mustard greens. Pro tip: squash does well with things like peas, beans, corn.
Preventing Squash Bugs In Your Garden
- About a month after you’ve picked your last veggie and wrapped up your growing season remove any mulch or dead plants. Replace with a cover crop or a fresh layer of leaves as mulch.
- Place a board where your infected plants were growing and check every morning for bugs looking for a place to winter. Destroy any that you find.
- Mark where your infected plants where for the following you and rotate your crops so that you aren’t growing susceptible plants in the same place year after year.
- Start plants a week or two early, or buy a size up when purchasing plants to give young plants a better chance of survival.
- Remove and winter mulch AND DON’T replace it, instead spread an inch of finished compost to keep out the weeds (it will also help to feed your plants). Reapply monthly as needed.
- Use row covers to protect your plants, make sure they are secure against the ground to prevent the bugs from getting in. You will need to check them regularly to make sure none have slipped through AND REMOVE when the first female flowers have opened. If you really hate squash bugs you can leave the row covers in place and hand pollinate your plants.