It’s squash or be squashed with these bugs
“Isn’t it too early for squash bugs?” my husband asked the other day, mentioning that he smashed one he found in the garden.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. It seems like everything is earlier than normal this year. My squash plants are just getting ready to bloom and the enemy has arrived in full force.
Squash bugs suck the life out of your zucchini, summer squash and winter squash plants (such as pumpkins), causing the leaves to droop and die off. They also feed on the vegetables themselves, and the wounds they cause usually end up getting mold and causing the squash to rot.
Squash bugs are dime-sized, grayish-brown insects shaped like shields. Some are vaguely metallic. All are the DEVIL. I repeat, squash bugs are the DEVIL. I really can’t think of an insect I despise more, yet there are plenty of other insects out there that are probably more deserving, since they suck blood or transmit diseases.
I used to just plant an extra zucchini and figure it as a loss to squash bugs, but then I got smarter and started winning. I have three rules for dealing with squash bugs: Observe, seek and destroy.
My mother used to lure them onto a stick and then smash them with rocks. But I hate disposing of squash bugs that way, because they smell absolutely putrid when you crush them. I prefer to use jars of death. I know, it sounds like some dramatic medieval torture device. But it’s really very simple.
I keep a small, disposable container in the garden for squash-bug hunting. I partially fill an old cottage cheese container or something with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Then I keep the jar of death ready as I water the squash plants, carefully watching for any evacuees as I flush them out.
Usually they try to climb up the stems of the plant on their weird little alien legs to get away from the rising water. That’s a good time to snatch them up and put them in the death bath. Like I said, seek and destroy.
I don’t mind touching them, so bare fingers work for me. I’ve heard of people using pliers or other tools to pluck the squash bugs off the plants. Whatever works for you, do it.
So now you’ve got the live, adult insects under control, but there’s a problem even more horrible possibly lurking on the undersides of the leaves: eggs. The tiny, brownish eggs cling to the tender underside of the plant’s leaves. I think they look like plump sesame seeds. You must scrape the eggs off and destroy them to prevent more squash bugs from taking over.
Leave no leaf unturned in your daily search for squash bug eggs. Yes, I said DAILY. If you want to win, you’ve got to be vigilant. This is the “observe” part of your squash bug death mission. You may damage some leaves in destroying the eggs, but I assure you, it’s minimal compared to the damage the bugs will cause if you let them hatch.
I read a good idea on Mount Garfield Greenhouse’s Facebook page this week: Use duct tape to stick on the eggs and rip them off the leaves. I’m going to give that a try.
If you’re interested in using other controls to limit your squash bug infestation, there are a few options.
I like diatomaceous earth, a fine white powder that is made of the tiny fossilized remains of algae. It works on adult squash bugs, but only if it’s around when they are present on the plant, so you must apply it diligently. The squash bugs have to physically encounter the powder. If it gets wet, you must reapply.
You can also use carbaryl (Sevin) or pyrethroids to try to control squash bugs. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service advises spraying when you first see eggs and again within 10–14 days. But be careful in your timing, because you can’t harvest your squash immediately after applying these pesticides.
For information, check out CSU’s fact sheet No. 5.609, “Squash Bug Management in Home Gardens.”
Erin McIntyre is a writer, gardener and Grand Valley native with a gourmet pickle company, which you can check out at yumpickles.com. Email her at westlifegjgmail.com.