Squash bugs and their nymphs feed on the plant sap of most members of the Cucurbitaceae family, especially the vines of winter squashes, pumpkins, melons, gourds and cucumbers too causing great damage, often wilting of the vines and premature plant death! Among squashes, the winter varieties; hubbards and marrows have been found to be most commonly affected.
Identify Squash Bugs
Squash bugs spend winters under debris and then get active in spring when it’s warm.
Like most bugs they lay their eggs in masses on the underside of leaves. Their eggs are quite distinctive actually; shiny, slightly oval and copper colored! Eggs hatch in 7-14 days.
Young nymphs are pale green with crimson heads. Older nymphs have a grainy grayish color with black legs. Adult squash bugs are under an inch long, winged, oval shaped with brownish black or dark gray bodies, sometimes mottled with gray or light-brown on their flat backs!
Squash Bug Control and Prevention
Find and kill eggs before they hatch: Reduce squash bug numbers and the damage they will cause, by killing their eggs before they can hatch. Look underneath the leaves of your plants where squash bugs generally lay their eggs. Eggs are laid in abundance at the start of spring; hence make rounds as often as possible then.
Handpick bugs: This can be a tedious task considering that squash bugs move away quickly at the slightest disturbance. What you do with them after catching them is your choice but most people just drop them into a bucket full of soapy water!
Dish Soap Method: Yes, just add some dish soap to plenty of water; shake it up and spray it on squash bug nymphs and adults. This is possibly the easiest way to rid of large numbers of bugs easily without damaging your plants. And please don’t worry about the minimal amount of ‘toxins’ from the soap that would get into your harvest! The soap suffocates the insects by covering the valve-like openings in their exo-skeleton that they breathe through! Want proof that this method works? Watch this 2 min video: Squash Bug Control using dish soap.
Maintain healthy plants: Through proper irrigation, soil preparation, fertilization and planting area selection you can maintain healthy plants that are generally lesser attractive to bugs. Also, healthy plants will be able to tolerate more squash bug feeding without significant loss of yield!
Lay a trap: Laying boards or newspapers under squash bug infected plants will act as a trap for the bugs as they tend to congregate underneath plants overnight. Be sure to be up early before the bugs though!
Plant resistant varieties: ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’, ‘Butternut’, ‘Early Summer Crookneck’, ‘Improved Green Hubbard’, ‘Royal Acorn’, ‘Table Queen’.
Clean up your garden: An important aspect in the control of squash bugs is the interruption of their life cycle as they have only one generation per year. During winter, adult females hibernate in plant debris then emerge in early spring to lay clusters of eggs on the undersides of the aforementioned plants. Each female can lay up to a staggering 250 eggs! By removing vines, leaves and all sorts of other plant debris from your garden before the onset of spring, you can definitely bring down their numbers plentiful. Burn this debris if you have to!
Spray with Neem: Neem oil is a natural pesticide that has been used effectively in the control of squash bugs. You can buy neem oil at any garden center. Follow the instructions on the label but in general people spray it on all parts of the plant including underneath leaves and stem surfaces.
Provide covers over plants: Floating covers over the plants can be effective when used properly. There are several types of covers that can act as barriers while letting in the most sunlight. Find a suitable cover at your local store.