Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz
Squash bugs. What a pain in the arse! Absolutely nothing in the natural world preys on them, their hard outer coverings resist even the most intense organic insecticides, the little buggers are masters at hiding their eggs, and they multiply faster than fleas. On top of that, they spread devastating squash plant diseases, have the uncanny ability to know when they are being stalked, and are eerily good at evasion. If you do manage to get a hold of one, they emit a nasty, long-lasting stink that’s incredibly hard to entirely wash off. But after a lifetime’s worth of battling this raunchy bug, I’ve learned how to live with them. And this year, I came up with a new way to get the upper hand.
Let’s be clear, here. When I say ‘squash bugs’, I’m talking about Anasa tristis, those brownish-grey, hard-shelled, triangular insects that suck the life right out of squash vines – not squash vine borers, which are destructive moth larva that burrow into the stems of squash family members and kill them. Second, I’m painfully aware that there are a plethora of chemical pesticides that can help. But that’s just it – pesticides (even organic ones) only help control infestations, not stop them. Besides, I am strictly an organic girl. Absolutely none of that toxic chemical rubbish in my garden, thank you.
But let’s be clear – there is no magic bullet for controlling squash bugs.
But there are numerous methods that can help control the devastation. And the first and foremost is to plant the right kind of squash.
Yes, you have your favorite squash, I know. But the fact is that not all squash are created equal. You might grow a variety because of its flavor, sweetness, or texture. And sometimes just because it’s beautiful. But the truth of the matter is that some squash are not only more vulnerable to disease spread by squash bugs, but they are also much, much more attractive to them, as well – squash bug magnets, if you will.
To start with, there are two main ways that squash bugs injure plants. The first is the injury caused by the insects sucking the sap out of the leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Those millions of tiny puncture wounds eventually kill leaves and weaken the entire plant. The second is caused by a disease that specialists call Yellow Vine Decline. Most older gardeners just refer to it as “wilt”.
Wilt or Yellow Vine Decline and is spread to plants when squash bugs feed on leaves, stems and roots. Infection results in the yellowing, wilting, and death of otherwise vigorous squash vines. But there is only one species of squash that, while susceptible to Yellow Wilt Disease, is also very resistant to it. In other words, plants can be infected, but the infection usually isn’t fatal and most often, not even noticeable.
You probably know there are four main varieties of squash: pepo, moschata, maxima and mixta (which is now known as argyrosperma). But the varieties found within the species moschata are naturally resistant to Yellow Vine Decline. And while I’m not addressing squash vine borers specifically here, moschatas are virtually immune to them because their stems are solid, not hollow like most other squash species.
Among the many moschata varieties available to the average gardener are the traditional bell-shaped butternuts, such as Waltham and Seminole Pumpkin. Next up are the crooknecks or neck squash, including Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck and Tromboncino. Last, but not least, are the attractive pumpkin-like squashes such as Long Island Cheese and Musquee de Provence. All of these ‘winter squash’ can also be eaten in their immature stages as a replacement for more traditional summer squash.
However, if you really love zucchini and don’t mind growing hybrids (because you can’t save seed from them), you might want to try a newly developed moschata hybrid known variously as avocado-, ball-, Persian- or Korean summer squash. These small, oblong beauties have been bred to have the taste, texture and productivity of zucchini without the squash vine borer problems. Plus, they’re moschatas, which helps with the squash bug situation.
Learn more about the differences between
Open-Pollinated, Hybrid and GMO plants
While planting moschatas is the first and best defense, there are other things you can do to delay or reduce the severity of squash bug infestations:
- remove spent vines and all other garden debris and
- till the ground in the fall or early winter (to kill overwintering adults)
- avoid using deep mulch in and around squash vines (to reduce hiding places)
- plant later than normal (and hope the bugs go somewhere else)
- set out larger starts in spring (to avoid early damage to young plants)
- avoid squishing squash bugs – the smell just attracts more of them (drop them in a bucket of soapy water instead)
Next week, I’ll continue the Squash Bug Fest by giving you a few more options for thwarting the wily critters organically. In the meantime, please share your favorite organic method for squash bug control so we can all breathe a little easier this summer.
Until then, happy gardening!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds! This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.