Controlling Squash Bugs Organically–A Simple Solution

Squash Bug image by Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Squash Bug) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsJill HendersonShow Me Oz
If you are like me, you love squash.  I particularly enjoy rich, meaty winter squash and every year I endeavor to have lots of them stored up for the winter larder. The only problem I have with growing squash are the dreaded squash bugs – SB’s for short.  And in last week’s article, I covered most of the traditional and non-traditional ways to control squash bugs organically, including growing the one species most resistant to the effects of squash bugs. And this week, I’m going to share with you a nifty trick that I came up with to very nearly (I don’t want to say entirely, as I am a humble gardener, after all) obliterate SB’s from my squash patch! And you can, too!

Years ago I found out that squash in the moschata species are much more resistant to the diseases spread by SB’s, so I began growing only moschatas, with the exception of one or two summer squash plants which, of course, were always decimated by SB’s after the first few squash were ready to eat.  But just because moschatas are SB and disease resistant, does not mean they are completely immune.

If SB populations get too big, the damage to leaves, stems and even fruits can greatly reduce yield, fruit quality, and even cause the plants to wither and die. So, while we have always had squash bugs on our squash, our efforts have been solely aimed at reducing their overall numbers. And this year, I finally found a way to very nearly eliminate the little buggers.

At this point, you may be hoping I’ll give you The Magic Bullet – perhaps a spray, a dust, or some “one shot” deal that will destroy the little buggers once and for all.  But the truth is, there is no such thing as a magic bullet for SB’s – not even in non-organic agriculture.  It just doesn’t exist. A nuclear bomb probably wouldn’t even do it.

What I can tell you is that if you dedicate yourself to search the squash patch for 20 minutes every 2 days from the day your squash babies open their first set of true leaves, you can almost or entirely eliminate this destructive pest from your garden.

Now, I know lots of people hand-pick SB’s along with their eggs and nymphs – and believe me, I’ve done it, too – but yikes!  There are SO many leaves to search.  And it’s not just the leaves but the stems, flower buds, and even in the mulch and leaf litter! Oh, and wading into that itchy morass on a hot sticky summer day to turn over every single leaf in the patch and craning your neck to get down low enough to look underneath! Sheesh! No wonder we give up after a while and just let the bugs have it.

2016 6-30 Winter Butternut Squash (3) vines

But if you’re willing to get out there every two days – here’s a trick that will make your life SO much easier.

Start by getting yourself a hand mirror that is at least 8” in diameter – mine is round and about 10”.  Anything smaller is a waste of time.  Next have a small bucket at hand with a bit of soapy water in it for drowning the adult SB’s.  Then, ready one or two duct tape tubes (with the sticky side out) that fit firmly around your index finger from just above the first knuckle to the tip of your finger.

Searching for squash bugs, eggs and nymphs. Image copyright Jill Henderson Show Me Oz.wordpress.com

Now, head on out to the patch and use the mirror to look under the leaves. The upside-down world is a little disorienting at first, but you’ll get the hang of it real quick.  Move the mirror in and around the leaves, turning it in all directions. Immediately you will notice that the sunlight shining through the leaves makes any dark object – like egg clusters and nymphs – stand out in stark contrast.  Not only can you view lots of leaves all at once, but that you can see them from all sides and angles just by moving the mirror around.  And the best part is that you can see a very long way through the patch without having to wade into it.

I like to start at one edge of the patch and search using an imagined grid. By doing so, I can cover my 15’ x 15’ patch in about 20 minutes. If I spot a cluster of eggs some distance away, I simply look into the mirror while moving my free hand over the leaves. The shadow made by my hand shows me which leaf to target.

I then lay down my mirror use that hand to turn the leaf over and with my duct taped finger lift the eggs from the leaf.  I take my time when removing egg clusters in order to get every last egg from the creases and crannies.  And I try to do it in such a way as to not injure the leaf too very much.  However, in the bigger picture of things, the damage I sometimes inflict is minor compared to what the nymphs will do to it if they hatch.

By Bdm25 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I really wanted to show you all a picture of all the eggs and nymphs I was able to snag in my first few 20 minute sessions, but I didn’t take the picture then thinking I’d do it later.  But after those first few times there wasn’t much to show! By eradicating the eggs, I also eradicated the nymphs.  And without the proliferation of nymphs, there were not enough adults to continue the cycle.

My advice to anyone trying this method – start early and be vigilant. Once you stop the cycle, the game is over.  Gardener 1 – Squash Bugs 0

Let me know how this method works for you and don’t be shy about sharing other SB control methods with us! We love to learn here at Show Me Oz!

See you next week!

© 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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19 responses to “Controlling Squash Bugs Organically–A Simple Solution

  1. My goodness, to think that I’ve had duct tape and mirrors available all of my gardening years, and never thought to use them in this manner. You’ve made me feel rather dumb, but I learned a good lesson. Thanks for the post, Jill. Brum

    • Hi, Brum. Boy, do I know the feeling! Sometimes we just do things the way we’ve always done them. I got the idea this spring after seeing a story on the news where security people were using a mirror to look under cars (for bombs or drugs, of all things!) It was one of those’aha’ moments and to my delight, it worked! I hope it works as well for you!

      • Thanks, I tried it and it works just as you say. Only problem, I saw myself in the mirror in direct sunshine. Hadn’t had a mirror outside in many years… something happened to me since then, Old age is not funny when it sneaks up on you like that. LOL

  2. Marvelous! We will add the mirror to our routine. Gene is already using the duct tape and we have been doing a near daily squash bug check. It IS working. I have never had so much chemical free summer squash to eat as we have this year – lovin.’ it.

    • I knew you’d like the mirror bit, S, and I see that Gene has already found some mirrors with handles! I was thinking of making my own handle, but now I think I’ll just buy myself one, too! Happy chem-free gardening (and I hope y’all got some that rain this morning!)

  3. I love it! I just ordered 2 mirrors on telescoping handles so that both Sarah and I have one. I’ve got a hand mirror that I will use tomorrow morning, but am hoping the telescoping aspect will help even more.
    – Gene

    • I knew you’d like this one! 🙂 And good one on the handle thing. I didn’t know you could buy those! I was actually going to rig up a handle for my mirror, but maybe I’ll just have to buy one instead. Where’d you get yours?

  4. We plant squash late July for a fall harvest. After 3 years we counted a handful of squash bugs. We live in Little Rock Ar. Chemically clean FALL squash and cakes.

  5. I didn’t get my acorn squash seeds in the ground until mid August last year and still had a bountiful crop – enough to give some away, and last us through the winter. Did the same thing with green beans – treated as a second crop, skipping the first. Lots of beans and very few bugs.

    • Hi, Connie! So nice to hear from you! Late plantings seem to be a good way to go around here! Glad to hear it works for beans, too. I’ve got a big problem with stink bugs again this year!

  6. Went and searched my zucchiniship this morning and found the buggers on one plant. Not too many, but far enough along to be working on the third generation. Ended the problem with whole plant going into the compost pile and covered with a tarp. I planted too close to allow for a decent inspection and the other plant was clean and now I know how to keep it that way. Notes, I didn’t have duct tape so I tried masking tape. Works, but not sticky like duct tape, so it couldn’t get into some places very well. Noticed that the bugs were doing their business only on the big older leaves.

  7. Ok, went back and found small squash bugs on the second and now only zucchini plant. This time went to the bottle of Everclear ethyl alcohol and put a couple of shots in the spray bottle. Two sprayings seemed to do the trick. Will follow your advice and check back frequently. Did not find any eggs on this one.

    • Hey, Bob! So glad to hear that the Everclear trick worked, but sorry about your first z-chinni biting the dust. 😦 (I thought I had replied to your first comment, but I guess it didn’t stick! ) Anyway, I’m definiteyly putting Everclear (or it’s cheaper counterpart) on my list for next year. And if it works that good on squash bugs, surely it’ll zap those nasty stink bugs that get on my beans and tomatoes, too! Woohoo!

  8. Such great tips, Jill! Unfortunately, my squash plants have completely died off this year due to something else. I’ll have to try your mirror and duct tape tip next year!
    Naomi

  9. Sorry about your squash, Naomi. Boy, do I know the feeling. Last year we didn’t get a single squash. But we’ve had a bumper year, at last. The yellow crookneck has actually taken over a whole bed (and we’ve NEVER had one live this long, EVER!) and not a SB in sight! This method works great!

  10. Pingback: Shiny Beetles, Square Tomatoes and Crafty Coons | Show Me Oz

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