It’s that time of year. Summertime and the glory of gardening season. Everything is growing quickly, producing fruit, and you’re happy that you will soon reap the benefits of your hard work.
But wait, what’s eating your squash? And your cucumbers? And your melons? What’s happening?!
The Squash Bug (Anasa tristis) can be one of the most destructive insect pests to your winter squash and pumpkins especially.
Squash bugs emerge from hiding in mulch and other cover in the winter and move to squash plants to begin eating and mating, and egg laying usually begins in June.
Around that time you should be checking the underside of leaves, where they lay their eggs, looking for the shiny orange eggs arranged in a neatly spaced pattern. Eggs can also be laid on stems as well, so don’t neglect to search them as well.
If you neglect to look for eggs and they hatch, you will usually first notice wilting leaves as the first sign of their activity, which is caused by them sucking the sap out of the plant – both the adults and nymphs do this – there are just a lot more nymphs, so they can cause a lot of damage quickly.
While I’ve used the finger-squishing method, when you’ve got a chance to use duct tape, why wouldn’t you?! 🙂
To use duct tape, unroll a length of tape and roll it around your fingers inside out, so the sticky part is facing out and it sticks to itself.
Start your search for eggs on leaves and stems, and carefully roll the tape across any group of eggs you find. It may take a couple of passes, but you should be able to remove them fairly quickly.
While you would ideally be checking daily in June and July for eggs, you can probably be safe with a search every second or third day.
If you don’t, you may turn over a squash leaf one day to find something like this:
In addition to egg hunting, it’s also important that you find and kill any adults and nymphs that you find, to eliminate the egg-laying threat. You can kill both by squishing them between your fingers. The nymphs are fairly soft, but the adults’ shell is tougher, so it may take some pressure before they pop.
If you want to reduce the amount of hand picking and squishing you have to do, you can combine this manual method with an organic spray for bugs with exoskeletons. I’ve found good results in terms of deterrence and reduction of squash bug population using the organic bug spray I detailed in an earlier blog post.
Early detection and elimination of eggs is the key to controlling squash bugs and to reducing the chance that you’ll lose much of your crop to these common pests.