Are squash bugs destroying your garden? Here’s how to get rid of squash bugs naturally in your organic garden!
Squash bugs are one of the hardest pests to get rid of once they find your garden. It can be devastating to walk out to your garden and find your beautiful squash plants wilted on the ground. And all those dreams of a big squash crop this year are gone.
Crop rotation is helpful, but only if you have a lot of room to rotate about. Chickens and guineas, at least mine, don’t really care for squash bugs either.
So how do you get rid of squash bugs naturally in your garden?
What is a Squash Bug?
First let’s talk about what a squash bug is. Basically, it’s a stink bug. They look almost identical to those things you’ve been calling stink bugs your entire life just a little more narrow in size (ie. stink bugs are more round). They are shield bugs that are about 1 inch long with a hard shell and soft body underneath.
Squash bugs will attack almost all varieties of summer and winter squash, though they do prefer some types of squash and pumpkins over others.
The adult bugs will overwinter in the soil, hatching in the spring. They will mate and lay their eggs on the underside of the host plants leaves. When the nymphs hatch they can take down your squash vine in a matter of hours.
But fortunately all isn’t lost. If you combine the following 6 tips, you can effectively get rid of squash bugs and prevent them from taking over your garden this summer!
How to Find Squash Bugs on Your Plants
In the morning or evening, take a look at the base of your squash plants and on the underside of the leaves.
If it’s early in the growing season you will see adult squash bugs on the stems, leaves, and on the soil around the plants. It’s not uncommon to find 2 mating bugs since they will soon be laying eggs.
As the season progresses you will see more adults and neat rows of golden-brown eggs on the leaves of your plants. These are usually located on the underside of the leaves, though sometimes are laid on the tops or stems.
Finally, once the squash bug eggs have hatched you will see lots and lots of tiny, soft-bodied, gray squash bug nymphs. These nymphs are usually responsible for doing the most damage to your plants.
Get Rid of Squash Bugs in Your Garden- For Good!
1. Hand pick off the bugs and eggs
This is, and always will be, the best method of defense when it comes to getting rid of squash bugs. The most reliable way to get kill squash bugs is to do it yourself. I keep a jug of soapy water in the garden specifically for this purpose.
Bug picking is best done in the morning or evening- simply go through your plants and pick off any adult bugs to find and drop them into the soapy water.
Adult squash bugs are usually found on the underside of the leaves, especially the lower leaves that are touching the ground.They will also be found around the base of the plant.
You will find rows of gold-colored eggs on the undersides of the leaves. You will also want to scratch off and destroy these eggs.
Try to do this with the least amount of damage to the leaves. You can simply squish them, brush them off into your soapy water or use very sticky tape to pick them off. This is a daily job and if you get lazy about picking- chances are your squash plants will fall!
Alternatives to hand picking that can also work are spraying your plants with a water hose- some people have said using the hot water from the hose in the late afternoon can hurt the squash beetles. Or try using your shopvac to vacuum them off the plant!
You can use row covers in the early spring too, but since a lot of the beetles will overwinter in the soil, it may not catch too many. And in order to have squash you must open your rows to allow for pollination.
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2. Companion plant
You can also help control squash bugs by planting repellent plants with your squashes. Two of the most common plants that repel squash bugs are nasturtiums and white icicle radishes.
You can read more about companion planting with squash on my article The Best Squash Companion Plants.
Plant them throughout your squash beds for the best results. Other plants such as oregano, marigold, calendula and dill can also provide some protection and deter squash bugs in your garden.
3. Attract beneficial insects
The problem with most insecticides- even those labeled “organic”- is that they don’t differentiate between the good and the bad. Certain insects are very beneficial to have on your side when you are fighting pests. One such insect is the Tachinid Fly, or Trichopoda pennipes.
This little fly is very effective in helping to control squash bug populations. The female fly lays her eggs on the adult squash bugs and they will hatch and burrow into the host to feed, killing it.
If you companion planted dill or calendula with your squash plants their pollen and nectar rich flowers will help to attract the Tachinid Fly.
Learn more about Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them.
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4. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous Earth is a powder made from ground up diatoms. It works my making microscopic cuts in the exoskeleton of insects- drying them out. There are 2 types- food grade and industrial grade. You want the food grade for all of your gardening and pest needs. Simply spread a layer of diatomaceous earth at the base of the plant. It doesn’t work once it gets wet, so you will have to reapply as necessary.
DE does not work as well on adult squash bugs due to their hard shell, but it does help get rid of squash bug nymphs. These nymphs are usually the most destructive and they don’t have such a hard shell.
Take care not to get DE on the blossoms, because it will not differentiate between a squash bug and a bee, lady bug or Tachinid fly. So be careful when using it.
Related Reading: The Best Essential Oils for Gardening
5. Watch your mulch
Squash bugs love to hide under the mulch around your plants and it provides the insects with a protective cover.
If you must mulch, do not put it right up against the base of the plant, or try something like plastic sheet mulching instead.
Related Reading: How to Get Rid of These Garden Pests Naturally!
6. Over-plant your squash
The more plants you have the more there is to go around! The first year I planted yellow scalloped squash, I planted 3 along with my usual zucchini. What I discovered is that the squash bugs preferred the yellow scalloped squash over the green zucchini.
From that year on, I have planted a few sacrificial scalloped squash. I still use the above mentioned control measures, but the sacrificial squash plants are usually the first to be swarmed and fall.
This also works if you just plant more plants than you really need- that way it isn’t quite so devastating if the squash bugs win the battle. You can also try planting varieties, such as butternut squash, that are not favorites of the squash bugs.
This is another form of companion planting that includes using trap crops. Trap crops are sacrificial plants that are favored by a particular pest and are drawn to them instead. Then you can remove the infested plants or destroy the pests.
One particularly helpful trap crop for squash bugs is the blue Hubbard squash. Plant it around the perimeter of your garden- at least 4-5 feet away from your squash plants. Be sure to check these trap crops often for eggs and bugs and destroy them before they can move on to your cash crop.
7. Soap Spray
I don’t like to spray much of anything in the garden- organic or not- because of the affects it can have on good bugs and pollinators. But sometimes it’s a must.
But one option is to spray the bugs with soapy water. Usually about 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. You can use detergent like Dawn dish soap or castille soap.
Gently mix the soap and water and spray on the bugs you can find. You may want to water your plants afterwards to wash soap off the leaves.
Another thing to keep in mind when trying to get rid of squash bugs is to know your climate and insect life cycles. I know a lot of gardeners who can successfully plant squash later in the growing season and skip the squash bugs all together.
In my gardens, I have always found that it is better to plant early than late. That way I get a good month or 2 of squash harvests before the bugs get really bad. Experiment with planting times and see if a spring, early summer or late summer planting works better for you.
Good luck and Happy Gardening!
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