I hate them. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Squash bugs are my nemesis in the vegetable garden. Hate is a very strong word that I reserve for only the most vile of creatures. Squash bugs fit that description. In past years in the veggie garden, they have decimated the squash and zucchini. Once they finished up there, they moved onto the cucumbers, then the muskmelons and then the watermelons. I hate them.
Squash bugs resemble stink bugs and they smell like them too. Side note: if they release their smell on you, the smell is pretty yucky. But if you get them first and smush them, they smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. There’s your useless trivia for today. Squash bugs are particularly fond of the cucurbit family which explains why they traveled throughout the garden destroying our veggies as they did. They usually start with squash and zucchini and kill them first. They don’t seem to prefer the cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons but once the population has exploded, the critters need something to eat. I have to tell you this story about just how bad they were a few years back. The kids had helped get the garden established and took a lot of pride in it. They noticed that the zucchini leaves were wilting and turning yellow so they ventured in to see what was the matter. Once they got close to the zucchini, they discovered that the leaves were covered in squash bugs of all ages…old, new, and in between. They blazed a trail out of the garden screaming the whole way. Hilarious! I didn’t take the picture below but I could have…they were that bad.
If your garden is infected with squash bugs there are several approaches that you can take.
- Conventional pesticides – sadly, I’ve taken this route. The ubiquitous Sevin dust was used one year and a chemical containing bifenthrin was used the next year. Neither had very good results. And I felt horrible afterwards…what if a honeybee walked through the insecticide and took it back to the hive…what if the ladybugs pranced through it…what if a praying mantis was looking for dinner at the time…what if, what if, what if?
- Trap crops – I’ve read of this technique but never practiced it. I understand the principle but not the logistics. From what I read, you plant a susceptible crop (Zucchini Black Beauty comes to mind) and let the squash bugs take over. Then you treat the trap crop or dispose of it. Sounds good right? BUT if you treat the trap crop, whose to say the beneficials aren’t there trying to feast on the squash bugs? If you dispose of the trap crop, how do you do that so that the majority of the squash bugs are killed? I don’t have the answers…please fill me in if you do.
- Hand picking – this works if you have a few squash bugs here and there. If your plants look like the picture above, you better enlist some extra hands and pray for more hours in the day.
- Wooden boards – I’ve read that you can lay down boards and the squash bugs will congregate underneath overnight. Then you can take care of them. My problem with this treatment method is two-fold: first, my garden is not at my home…too much shade. Secondly, I have a full time job that requires me to leave the house at 6:15 AM…not much time there to go hunting for squash bugs.
- Planning – I had the perfect plan this year to beat the squash bugs. We would plant squash and zucchinis everywhere in the garden and harvest, harvest, harvest. When the squash bugs became overwhelming, we’d pitch the plants and move on. What happened in reality? Pretty much, nothing. Life happened and we have a few squash and zucchini plants. Perhaps this technique will work for someone else…
- Diatomaceous earth – I did a post about this wondrous compound yesterday but I haven’t tried it…yet. My only concern with using DE is killing the beneficials too. I’m sure that I’m overthinking this, as is my nature, but it really bothers me to think that I could be killing all of those beautiful creatures.
- Chickens – this is the best option…ever…when it comes to getting a handle on squash bugs. Luckily, my garden buddies, Sean and Anna, are raising hens this year. They have six young girls that would love to get in the garden and peck the squash bugs. If you have chickens, let them out to free range in the garden. If you usually keep them in a tractor, you’ll have to let them out so that they can access the base of the plants. The key here is to monitor the hens and only allow them in long enough to get their fill; otherwise they’ll peck all of the veggies that are meant for your plate.
So…after all of that, what have you done to control squash bugs in your garden? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let me know so that I can share it with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!