Rex’s Tips: Squash bugs and pesticides

Squash Bug | Photo by William Kruidenier with permission, http://williamkruidenier.blogspot.com/2010/06/squash-bug-life-cycle.html

Outside of the weather, harmful garden pests is the most challenging aspect of successful gardening. The weather you can’t do much about, but you can successfully battle most garden pests.

It’s important to understand that although pesticides are for the most part safe, they are still poisons, and it’s best to minimize their use as much as possible. Personally, I don’t have a problem using pesticides when necessary, but I don’t use them much.

I have already written about how I deal with the corn borer without using pesticides, I use vegetable oil on the silk instead. Here is a short list of useful tips on controlling garden pests:

1.        If weeds are kept out of the garden, and out of your surrounding yard, this is a good, first step to controlling pests.

2.        With good, rich soil, and plenty of humus, crops will grow quickly and the pest problem will be minimized.

Tomato hornworms can be expected on your tomatoes, and if not removed, they can strip your tomatoes of their foliage – and your tomatoes – so they must be dealt with.

Pesticides will kill the hornworm, but most of us only have a few tomato plants, and a few minutes a day examining your tomatoes will allow you to see the worms—and simply pull them off and step on them. If you’re squeamish, put a glove on one hand and pull them off with that hand. There are two signs of the hornworm: missing foliage, and the telltale signs of their small, dark droppings on the leaves, in the crotches of the branches, or on the ground.

Hornworms are difficult to see because they blend in to the exact color of the vines and leaves. Take your time, look closely, and look for the worms and their evidence, and you’ll see them.

Squash bugs are extremely prolific and very destructive. You must either deal with these obnoxious pests or surrender your garden to them. They will infest all cucurbits (melons, cucumbers, squash, etc). Certain cultural practices can help too, discussed in earlier articles of Rex’s Tips as hyperlinked  for tomatoes, melons and driplines.

Squash bugs prefer yellow crookneck summer squash, and they prefer this variety over zucchini and other squashes, although I don’t find them very discriminating.

If you use drip lines, and as the plants grow, move the lines further away from the plant base. Squash bugs like moist areas around the base of the plants, so removing the moisture from that area greatly reduces the attractiveness of the plant base.

Squash Bug eggs | Photo by William Kruidenier with permission, http://williamkruidenier.blogspot.com/2010/06/squash-bug-life-cycle.html

Each day, examine the vine leaves for the eggs of the squash bugs, and squish these with your fingers. Squash bugs will lay eggs both under the leaves, and on top of the leaves. Squash has small spines that are rough on the hands, so wear gloves for this task. As the garden gets bigger, examining all the leaves can be a bit of a chore, but still try to spend a few minutes each day looking for eggs, and eliminating them before they hatch. Plus, you must destroy the nymphs (baby bugs) and any adults you find. Lift up the ends of the squash plants and look for bugs, and squish them on the spot.

Pesticides are not effective against adult squash bugs, and sprays or powders must be sprayed on the underside of plants and leaves to get to where the bugs are, and this is difficult to do. I do not even attempt to spray for squash bugs, but it can be done. In warm weather, squash plants will grow rapidly and produce quickly, so if squash bugs get too bad, I will take out the old plants, destroy all the bugs, and plant again.

Pests on other garden crops

There is no need to spray peas, beets, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and most other garden crops. Some will get aphids and other chewing bugs on them, but they will not do enough damage to worry about.

Home remedies

Some home remedies are also effective and worth using against garden pests.

A mixture of Tabasco sauce and water is an effective pesticide against some pests, especially aphids. This could be used on broccoli, for example, if it gets aphids—and the broccoli is still edible. Cayenne pepper also works.

Vinegar is also effective against ants and other pests.

Remember also, that a mixture of powdered milk and water sprayed on tomato vines is an effective repellent to beet leafhoppers who carry the deadly curly top virus.

Healthy, fast growing garden crops are the best defense against unwanted insects. Good cultivation practices will also minimize the adverse affects of pests. Eliminate all weeds in your yard (and get your neighbors to do the same) and you will have fewer pests to deal with.

Also eliminate the places where bugs, squash bugs, and aphids winter over, hibernate, and launch forth in the spring and summers; places like wood piles, stacks of lumber, trash, junk and weeds.

Crop rotation is also important. If squash bugs are a serious problem in your garden, consider not growing any cucurbits (squash, melons, pumpkins) for one year. Squash bugs are not attracted to anything else in the garden.

For other problems that can occur by abuse of chemicals, click here.

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Posted in Columnists, Education, Home and Garden, LifeTagged

3 Comments

  • Richie April 27, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Great tips here on how to control pests. I really like your move against chemical pesticides and your tips about using home made repellents instead of them.

    I would recommend companion planting. Planting crops adjacent to crops that are being bugged by pests.

  • Bill Brikiatis July 31, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    One bug that causes a lot of trouble with squash and zucchini is squash borer. I was unable to grow any type of squash until I found that the combination of planting late and wrapping the stems has made it possible again.

  • Murat August 1, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I never have pest problems anymore thanks to an Israeli product I was turned onto last year: genetically engineered, souped-up ladybugs! They’re programmable–and completely harmless, to humans that is. If you’re a bug on the target list, you’re dead chitin. One LadyBug 2.0 is all you need. Set it loose in the garden and you’re set. It will zero in on pests, disassemble them in 1/3 of a second, and reconfigure them to function in any number of ways to benefit your garden, including precision nutrient delivery, root enhancement, and weed control. The days of back-breaking labor to maintain your garden are over! Oh, wait. Not yet. The general population will not see this as a consumer product for at least another 3 decades. Only privileged elite such as myself have access to such things right now. My life is just great.

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