How To Get Rid Of Squash Bugs
What’s In This Guide
If you have a garden on your property, you’ve likely had to deal with a range of different pests trying to feed and lay eggs on your plants. Among the most common of these pests are squash bugs, which can be found throughout North America.Squash bugs are damage-causing pests that typically attack plants within the cucurbit family, which includes squash, melon, watermelon, and pumpkin. They’re particularly fond of the squash plant, hence the name. Adult squash bugs are also commonly referred to as stink bugs or leaf-footed beetles.The damage these little buggers — or rather, the nymphs — can cause is immense and, as such, most gardeners and farmers often look for effective ways to get rid of squash bugs. If you suspect that you have squash bugs in your garden, there are several important steps that you can take to properly assess and address the situation.
Identifying Squash Bugs
If you’re going to effectively learn how to get rid of squash bugs, you first must learn how to properly identify them. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s much easier to focus your efforts on where they can be found.
What Do Squash Bugs Look Like?
If you think you may have squash bugs in your garden, it’s important to make sure you’re right before you begin treatment. There are several questions related to the physical characteristics and behaviors of squash bugs that you should know the answers to:
- What do adult squash bugs look like? A typical adult squash bug is brownish or gray in color and grows over 1/2 inch in length. They have a flat back and the underside of their abdomen, as well as their edges, have orange stripes.
- What do juvenile squash bugs look like? Little squash bug babies are gray in color and have black legs. These nymphs move fairly quickly and operate in large clusters that congregate on the undersides of leaves.
- Can squash bugs fly? Yes, they’re able to fly but they don’t often do so. Instead, they just walk around, eating and laying eggs on the leaves of your plants.
- What are their typical habits? Squash bugs tend to overwinter in vines, dead leaves under boards, and in your house. Once vines start forming on your cucurbit plants, they fly off into your gardens and start to mate. They lay their eggs in large numbers on the underside of plant leaves. You will also tend to find adult squash bugs under damaged leaves.
By keeping an eye out for these physical and behavioral traits, you can detect the presence of squash bugs on your property more quickly and minimize the potential damage that they can do to your garden.
What Kind of Damage Can Squash Bugs Cause?
Another way to identify squash bugs is to monitor and assess the condition of the plants in your garden. One of the telltale signs of a plant that is suffering from a squash bug infestation is that its leaves get yellow spots and then eventually turn brown.Squash bugs cause this kind of damage by injecting a toxin into the leaves of the plants on which they are feeding. They suck the sap out of any leaves they attack with their sharp mouths. The leaves will then wilt away as the damage caused prevents the plant from providing them with the nutrients they need to remain healthy. After a while, the leaves dry up, turn crisp and brittle, then fall off. This can cause the plants to die if the problem isn’t properly addressed.
Getting Rid of Squash Bugs
Once you’ve identified squash bugs on your property, it’s critical to act quickly, as this can prevent them from causing permanent damage to your plants. Adult squash bugs are typically resistant to insecticides, which makes chemical removal particularly difficult. Many insecticides can also damage or contaminate the plants in your garden, creating a health risk for you and your family.If you do opt for chemical treatment, you must apply the insecticide soon after the squash bug eggs hatch to target the juveniles. Squash bugs typically lay their eggs during midsummer, and hatching usually begins after about 10 days. To maximize their efficacy, insecticides should be thoroughly applied to the tops and undersides of all the plant’s leaves, fruit, and vines.
How To Get Rid of Squash Bugs Naturally
Because of the health risks and limited efficacy of insecticides, natural methods are generally preferred for getting rid of squash bugs. Not only are these methods safer and more environmentally friendly than chemicals, but they also don’t usually require any specialized equipment or training. Here are some proven natural methods that you can use to get rid of squash bugs in your garden:
Hand-pick Them off the Plants
Hand-picking is one of the most effective natural ways to get rid of squash bugs in your farm or garden. The process is as simple as it sounds — just pick them off the leaves. You can also use a butter knife to scrape their eggs off the leaves of the infected plants.Keep a bucket of soapy water with you, so you can drop them in there once you remove them from your plant. Once they’re dead, you can simply pour the water out.
Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
While it may seem counterintuitive to introduce more bugs to your garden, some insects help control squash bug populations by killing and feeding on them. One such insect is the tachinid fly. These helpful little insects lay their eggs on the back of adult squash bugs. Once the eggs hatch, the little tachinid fly babies will burrow their way into the squash bug and feed on it, thus killing it. The best way to attract tachinid flies to your garden is to plant dill or calendula alongside your squash plants.Although they’re not technically insects, hunting spiders are also considered beneficial for controlling squash bugs. These spiders feed on squash bugs and other similar insects and will crawl onto plants at night to catch their prey. It’s important to target hunting spiders specifically, as not all types of spiders will prey on squash bugs. You can attract hunting spiders to your property by adding flowering plants and low-growing herbs like clover, oregano, and thyme to your garden.
Use Diatomaceous Earth
This is by far one of the most effective natural insecticides used by farmers and gardeners. Diatomaceous earth makes microscopic cuts in squash bugs’ exoskeletons that cause them to die of dehydration over time. All you have to do is spread a layer of it at the base of the infected plants. Make sure to use food-grade diatomaceous earth in your garden, as industrial-grade versions can be toxic to humans in large amounts. Additionally, diatomaceous earth doesn’t work when wet, so you may need to reapply periodically, especially if you get rain frequently.
Trap Them Using a Board or Shingle
You can easily trap squash bugs by placing a board or shingle in your garden at night. During those dark hours, the adult and nymph squash bugs will congregate on that board. Come morning, all you have to do is squash them between the board and a hard surface to kill them. Then, you can simply dispose of the dead bugs.After squashing them, keep checking your plants at least once every two days or so. If there aren’t more than just a few leaves or vines infested, then you can use the above methods to get rid of them.If, however, the infestation is too widespread, then you might need to call in a pest management professional. We’re well equipped to help you get rid of any squash bug infestation no matter how large or small in scale. Give us a call today and let us help you save your crop from these vile little critters.
How To Prevent Squash Bugs
As is the case with most types of infestations, prevention is always the better option for controlling squash bugs. There are several proactive strategies and best practices that you can use to keep these pests away. Here are some tips to prevent squash bugs from infesting your garden or farm:
Burn or Compost Old Squash Vines
When fall arrives, the best thing you can do to old squash vines is to burn or compost them. This helps ensure you don’t reintroduce previous squash bug infestations that were overwintering under the dead leaves into next year’s garden. These vines can also provide shelter for breeding in which case you will be introducing new generations of squash bugs into your farm or garden.
Practice Crop Rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of changing the crops being grown in a field, usually from season to season. This helps minimize the spread of squash bug infestations by depriving the insects of a consistent host plant, which will prevent their populations from growing over time. When rotating crops, it’s important to avoid planting two cucurbit plants (such as squash, melon, or pumpkin) in the same soil consecutively, as these types of plants are the primary food sources for squash bugs.
Avoid Deep, Cool Mulches
Using straw mulches or hay on your property can provide a favorable environment for squash bugs to breed and thrive. Using other alternatives eliminates these environments which in turn helps to minimize the probability of a squash bug infestation. Bark mulch, plastic mulch, and woodchips are some popular alternatives that can help you keep your plants healthy without attracting squash bugs.
Cover Vines Until They Blossom
You should also consider keeping the vines of your plants covered until they begin to blossom, as this can help stop squash bugs from laying eggs. Because squash bugs only have one generation per year, you can easily avoid them by waiting until the early months of summer to start planting. You can also accomplish this by keeping your vines covered through the first month of spring. Common household materials like nylon and aluminum foil can often be used to make effective barriers for squash bugs. However, it’s important to remember to remove these covers in time to facilitate pollination.
Try Companion Planting
Companion planting is a popular gardening technique that can keep pests away and increase the size of your yields. Certain plants — such as basil, catnip, nasturtium, and tansy — can prevent squash bugs from laying eggs in your soil. Some types of flowers — such as petunias, dahlias, and sunflowers — also work to naturally repel squash bugs. Plant these around the plants in your garden that are typically infested with squash bugs and they might just deter these little critters from taking hold.
Choose Squash Bug-Resistant Varieties of Squash
There are certain varieties of squash plants that are more resistant to squash bugs than others. Sweet Cheese, Butternut, and Royal Acorn squash are among the most resistant to squash bugs and similar types of bests. Choosing one of these varieties for your garden can help reduce the chances of a squash bug infestation.
Over-plant Your Squash
This is simply a matter of playing the numbers. If you plant more squash plants than you need, then the loss you may experience from a squash bug infestation won’t be as devastating. This method may not be effective for all budgets and schedules, as larger gardens will require more time and resources to sustain.