Squash bugs are destructive feeders that attack members of the cucurbit (gourd or squash) family, especially pumpkins and squash. The insects suck on the underside of the foliage, causing leaves to wilt and eventually appear black or dried out.
Adult squash bugs are 5/8-inch long and about ¼-inch wide, gray to black with brown and orange stripes on the abdomen. Young nymphs are about half as long with a green abdomen and red legs and head that turn black with age. The football-shaped eggs are brownish-red in color and 1/16-inch long.
Both adults and nymphs suck nutrients from leaves, causing wilting. Seedlings, newly transplanting plants, and flowering plants are the most vulnerable. Unless severely damaged, plants usually recover once the squash bug population declines.
Controlling Squash Bugs
Gardeners should watch for squash bug eggs and for wilting. Since wilting can be caused by a number of problems, it’s important to make sure squash bugs are the cause before taking action. Pictures on the websites listed below can help you identify the bugs.
For just a few plants the best control is to handpick and destroy the squash bugs and the eggs. You can also place boards on the ground next to the plants and destroy the bugs that accumulate on the boards during the night.
To reduce overwintering sites for the adult squash bugs, remove garden debris in the fall and till the garden. Vigorous plants are less likely to attract squash bugs, so give your plants plenty of water and nutrients. Try growing resistant varieties such as butternut or royal acorn squash.
Rotate crop plants so they don’t occupy the same spot in the garden every year, using a three-year rotation cycle. If you plant crops at different times at least one crop is likely to avoid the squash bugs.
You can also use floating row covers to form a physical barrier between the plants and the bugs; just be sure to remove or open up the covers when the plants bloom so they can get pollinated.
Some gardeners have found that planting dill, catnip, lemon balm, or nasturtiums near squash plants deters the squash bugs. Companion plants that may help squash grow stronger, making them less vulnerable to squash bugs and other pests, include beans, corn, mint, and icicle radishes.
Photo found on Flickr, courtesy of ILoveButter.
Want to Learn More About Keeping Squash Bugs Out of the Garden? For More Information:
The more you know about any plant pest the better able you will be to control it. To learn more about the life cycle and control of squash bugs, check out these websites.
Squash Bug – a great resource from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
University of Kentucky can educate you over the Squash Vine Borer and Squash Bug.