Have you heard of squash bugs before? I hadn’t until recently and even if I had seen them I probably would have thought they stink bugs. Which in hindsight is exactly what happened last year and explains some unfortunate losses to my cucumbers! This is due to the fact that squash bugs look very similar to stink bugs. To add to the confusion they even stink if you happen to squish one! But squash bugs are going to do a lot more harm to your garden, especially if you love growing squash as I do! If squash bugs come into your garden and you are growing squash or cucumbers they can crush your hopes and dreams of a bountiful harvest.
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I love growing squash, they have those beautiful yellow leaves that just make you smile (I mean yellow is a happy colour) and they attract bees. This year I am branching out with some new heirloom varieties. I will be growing all of these (lord knows where I am going to put them all), luckily I am adding in two new HUGE raised beds this year.
- Honey Boat Delicata
- White scallop
These common garden pests, known scientifically as Anasa tristis can usually be found on your winter squash, zucchinis and pumpkins. Though you will also want to keep an eye on your melons and cucumbers too. But you aren’t going to know you have them unless you know how to identify them! They are quite big (as far as bugs go) tending to measure just over half an inch long (5/8 of an inch long and 1/3 inch wide to be more exact) and they have brownish-grey bodies with a flat back. On their underside, if you were so inclined to turn them over you would see some orange stripes.
In their juvenile form, they tend to hang out in groups (so typical) and they have black legs and grey bodies. Instead of hanging out at the mall, these teenagers can usually be found on the underside of the leaves and they are fast little buggers. These are pests that tend to reappear year over year as they can overwinter on dead leaves, vines and other garden debris. This is why it is so important to clean out your garden properly at the end of the season.
When the temperature begins to rise (late May to early June) once your new squash, cucumber or melon seedlings make an appearance in your garden they will run on over, get busy and leave a bunch egg masses on the underside of the leaves. The eggs are about 1/16 inch long, oval-shaped and yellow-bronze in colour. The egg masses tend to have about 20 eggs in each cluster and tend to be located in the “v” formed where two veins meet. The females tend to lay their eggs starting in early June and will continue to lay them until mid-summer.
Squash bugs damage your plants by literally sucking the life (a.k.a. sap) out of your vines. First, they inject a toxin in (yuck) and then they use their nasty little sucking mouth to remove the sap. You will know they have come calling if you start to see yellow spots that eventually turn brown. You may also notice that the leaves start to wilt as the flow of nutrients and water becomes compromised and you end up with crispy, black leaves. Which is definitely not a good thing.
So as with any infestation, the best way to deal with it is not to let it happen in the first place! You are going to want to lift your leaves and check for those egg masses as soon as your seedlings are set out (after you harden them off of course). You will have to be on top of this weekly and make sure to do it in the morning and again at night. The eggs of the squash beetle tend to hatch within 10 days, so a weekly check should keep you on top of the situation. Tedious? Yes. Necessary if you want to grow luscious squash, melons and cucumbers? Definitely! It is a good idea to put a weekly reminder (morning and night) on your phone so you don’t forget.
You will also want to remove any adult squash bugs that you see. While the egg check can be a weekly task, the check for adults should be done on a daily basis. If you spot any then you can just flick or shake them off into a jar filled with soapy water. I tend to do this with the Japanese Beetles as well, man I hate those damn things. Another tactic is to put some cardboard near the base of your squash at night. The adults will tend to hide under it and then you can deal with them in the morning.
One plus is that squash bugs only have one generation per season, so if you can prevent them you should be ok (assuming your neighbours don’t have them). Here are some ways to prevent an infestation of squash bugs from taking hold in your garden.
- Keep your seedlings covered for the first month.
- Use companion planting and have some nasturtiums and tansy planted nearby.
- Practice crop rotation
- Have some neem oil handy as it is a great organic insecticide.
- Clean up and remove any old vines and leaves at the end of the season.
- Choose varieties that tend to resist squash bugs such as Royal Acorn, Butternut and Swiss Cheese. I get all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Having your squash and cucumbers survive is important. It means you can make delicious roasted acorn squash or homemade dill pickles. Plus many other delicious meals. So let’s keep those squash bugs out of the garden so that we can ensure we have a bountiful harvest in the fall.