Controlling squash bugs | Living the Country Life

Controlling squash bugs

Break the cycle with good sanitation, crop rotation, and catching them early

You love to grow squash, melons, and pumpkins in your gardens. Squash bugs really appreciate your effort.

Kelly Allsup is an extension horticulture educator at the University of Illinois. She says squash bug nymphs and adults suck the sap from the plants and feed on the fruit. An infestation can hurt the crop, but a large population will kill it.

Squash bugs overwinter in plant debris and leaf litter left in the yard. In the spring, they lay orange eggs on the undersides of the squash leaves. Allsup says this stage is a good time to control them. She recommends checking for eggs three-to-four-weeks after planting.

"It's really important to catch them at this stage because once they become adults, it's very difficult to control them," says Allsup. "You can either destroy the eggs or spray an insecticidal soap on them. Just wiping them off and letting them fall onto the ground is not enough."

Right after the eggs hatch, the young nymphs will aggregate in one area and not move around a lot. This is another opportunity to hit them with insecticidal soap.  Once you start seeing adults, you'll have to use pesticides to get rid of them.

Allsup says the cycle repeats itself unless you take even further action with good sanitation.

"Definitely they can clean their gardens up really well. Another thing that they can do is wood piles, piles of brush and weeds," says Allsup. "If you were to have a really bad bout of squash bugs last year, what would be the best thing to do? Maybe not even grow squash this year. Grow something else this year, and then go back to the squash the next year."

It's not possible to get rid of every single squash bug. But if you do what you can to reduce their numbers, it will save your crop.

The University of California-Davis offers pictures of squash bugs in each stage of their life cycle, and how to control the damage they inflict.

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