Controlling Squash Bugs Organically

By Downtowngal - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49873322Jill HendersonShow 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.

By Pollinator at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7069088

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.

Diseases and damaged squash leaf.

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.

Waltham Butternut 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

Saving Seeds: Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid

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!

Controlling Squash Bugs Organically–A Simple Solution

© 2016 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


The Garden Seed Saving Guide by Jill HendersonThe Garden Seed Saving Guide
Seed Saving for Everyone!

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.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


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.


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12 responses to “Controlling Squash Bugs Organically

  1. Always the best advice. Thanks, Jill.

  2. We have spent an unbelievable amount of time and energy to daily hand inspection of every leaf on wvery plant and it is being successful. We are now down to checking every two or three days and just occasionally find one or two squash bugs and or a few eggs. This the first year in many years I have had a chemical free squash harvest at all. Growing a couple varieties of straightneck and Cushaw. This info you’ve added about varieties will be helpful for next summer! Thanks Jill.

    Sarah and Gene

    • Thank you, Sarah. And thanks for the tip. I’m sure many of our readers will appreciate that. And congratulations on the chem free squash year you guys have had. Hand-picking is excellent advice and it really works if you stick with it. Stay tuned for next week’s installment…I think you’ll appreciate it!

      Oh, and thank Gene for correcting my spelling of arse! lol

  3. A farmer/gardener in Pueblo, CO swears by watering the squash with second run coffee. I don’t have these concerns where I live, but I have seen her squash plants!

  4. My solution is Ethanol. Works well, biodegradable and evaporates immediately thus leaves no residue. Here is the article: http://bit.ly/29tIjTe

    • Wow. Thank you for sending that interesting article our way, George. And thank you for doing such fantastic research on new IPM tools for a healthier world! I am definitely going to give that a try and I’ll let you know how it works for me (I’m envisioning it right this very moment and smiling!). Happy gardening!

  5. This is quite timely, Jill- I have a friend who is struggling with squash bugs and I’m going to pass your article along to her. Thankfully, I personally haven’t dealt with them here in my garden- but I know what a nightmare they can be. Organically managing pests can sometimes be time consuming and painstaking- but so worth it. As I was picking fall army worms off of my precious sweet corn last year, I reminded myself that if it was covered in chemicals, I wouldn’t eat it anyway- so it was worth the effort. Thanks for being such a great voice for organic management!

    I’m off to catch up on some other articles of yours that I’ve missed- how is summer getting away so quickly? Ugh…

    All the best 🙂

    Erin

    • Thank you, for the kind words, Erin and thanks for following the blog! I hope your friend finds it helpful because I know how frustrating SB’s can be. Later this week, I’ll talk about my new ‘trick’ making it a little easier to get rid of them. (PS We never had them in N. MN, either. They don’t like the cold, I guess!) 🙂

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