Win the War on Squash Bugs

For the last four years we've had diminishing returns on our squash. I've tried successive planting, planting later than usual, and earlier than usual. In the best years I might get one or two squash before the squash bugs decimated my crop.

They are the bane of my gardening existence. I've picked them off by hand and sucked them up with a shop vac. The shop vac actually worked pretty well, but once you start seeing adults, the damage is done. Just pull up the plants, burn them, and close up shop. You won't be getting any squash.

Believe me, I've tried to keep up with the horde, but there are too many of those plant-sucking bastards. (I'm sure their parents were not married.) Despite my efforts, in the end I always lose.

This year something unusual happened. My spaghetti squash seed had cross pollinated with zucchini. I am getting gigantic, fat zucchini (which are surprisingly delicious), alongside my spaghetti squash.

That was a side bonus. The real eye opener is when I was examining the zucchini/spaghetti squash cross. I had moved a couple of leaves to get a better picture of it and that's when I saw the mass of eggs pictured above.

Squash bug eggs! I almost hurt myself trying to scrape them off. Now that I knew the squash bugs were laying their spawn I got to work, turning over every leaf and looking for more egg masses.

The first day I found twelve. One of them had just hatched and the babies were crawling on the leaf. They had a very short life. Better luck next time suckers!

The second day I found four--but one egg mass had also hatched. This means I must've missed it the day before. It's easy to do. There are so many leaves and the eggs are tiny, hiding in the crooks of the veins of the leaves.

The third day I found only one new mass of eggs.

I have checked every day since June 1. My goal is to beat them at their own game. They arrived later this year. My squash plants are very well grown. Usually, they're quite small when they get decimated which is why I never get squash.

This year my zucchini has performed admirably and only now am I battling the bugs.

I had planned on buying squash bug-resistant varieties this year, but the pandemic made my suppliers sell out before I could order.

I'm not calling it a success yet, but I am winning, so I want to share what I've learned.

PS  Don't forget your gloves. Squash vines and leaves are quite spikey.

Here's what's helped me.
  • Check: Get into the habit of checking the undersides of your squash plant leaves.

  • Don't Wait: If you see any damage, investigate immediately. You may only have a few hours before the infestation gets out of hand.

  • Scrape: If you find eggs, scrape them off. I take no chances and scrape them into a bucket.

  • Destroy the spawn: If you find babies, squish them.

  • Search the mulch: Adult squash bugs will hide in mulch. I mulched my garden this year, so I'm being very diligent about disturbing the mulch and seeing if there's any movement.

  • Decoy: Place a small piece of wood near the plant. Squash bugs (and slugs) like to hide there.

  • Location, location, location: Try a different location. This year I planted squash in several different spots in my garden, including a small patch outside the garden proper. The one outside the garden is performing the best with no sign of eggs, but the zucchini/spaghetti squash cross is also doing great despite the recent egg deposits.

  • Mess with their home: Disturb the soil before you plant. I did this right after a cold snap in December. I thought perhaps if the squash bugs are overwintering, I can expose them to freezing temps. It didn't seem to work, but there are far less of them than last year so maybe it worked a little.

  • BT: Bacillus Thuringiensis  is more for squash borers, but it does kill the babies of squash bugs. I spray the base of the squash plants every few days.

  • Try other varieties: Buy bug-resistant squash. I haven't tried these varieties yet, but I plan to try them next year. Squash shown in order: Tromboncino, Zucchini Eight Ball, Tatume.
Click to buy
Click to buy
Click to buy

If I miss even one set of eggs, I will doom my harvest so I'm doing my best to keep on top of it. I even left myself a digital reminder for next year on when to start checking my squash.

It might seem like a lot of work for squash you can buy at the store, but it's become a matter of principle. I refuse to be defeated by these plant suckers.  Besides, fresh squash tastes so much better than store bought. I found a fantastic recipe, currently in testing. (I'm trying different variations.) I'll post the recipe soon. If you're getting a lot of squash, you're going to love this recipe.

Squash Bug Sufferers, I feel your pain. What's your story? Have you tried a different location or planting them in containers? Have you given up?

It was a happy accident that I got a cross pollinated squash. If it hadn't caught my attention I never would've checked the leaves in time.

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Jackie said…
I will never say never as we have not planted squash out here in a few years now Maria because that would jinx Karl.

Hope you win as indeed there is nothing like fresh homegrown squash, or any other veggie to my taste.

On other hand our lemon cukes are trying but due to their gardener/caretaker being sick for last 3 weeks the need for water has been pretty much neglected for the most part. Where is the rain when we need it right?

However the plants are very lush and still full of blooms waiting for the bees to pollinate them so the cucumbers still have time to produce me something good to eat.
Marianne Arkins said…
I stopped planting squash because of the squash borers... no matter how many times I would go out, flip (I thought) every leaf every day to check for eggs, I would miss some and the plant would die right around the time it began producing squash. I buy squash at the local farm now. However, I've also read that you can wrap the base of the stem in foil or nylons to keep the babies out after they hatch, but you have to bury the covering down in the dirt. Good luck. You'll need it (little buggers).
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: Sorry to hear Karl's been sick. I hope he's better now.

It might be worth to put in a temporary sprinkler system for those times he can't get out there.

It's been very dry here too. I used up the last 1200 gallons cistern. Now I have to use city water until the rains comes back and refill my totes. I've done pretty good though. I think all I've used this year were the cisterns.
Maria Zannini said…
Marianne: I get squash borers occasionally, but not as bad as the squash bugs. I collar all my plants every year. Cut worms are especially bad by me.

Try spraying a mix of Bt and dish washing soap in water every couple of days. It should work.

Mike Keyton said…
Ah, the Texan Herod : ‘ If you find babies, squish them.‘ that and the wood decoy makes
You both devious and dangerous
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: I give no quarter to squash bugs. I've never seen an insect destroy a garden so fast.