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Jun 01

What’s Bugging Your Garden?

Posted on June 1, 2018 at 1:37 PM by Wendy Jorgensen

Yellow squashIs something nibbling at your squash crop or picking at your future pickles? You are not alone. It’s prime time for uninvited garden guests better known as “pests.” According to Texas Pure Products Master Gardener and budding entomologist Sherrian Jones, you should be on high alert for squash bugs and squash vine borers.

Squash Bugs
If you notice leaves with yellow spots that turn Squash Bug closeupbrown and wilt. It’s due to the disruption of water and nutrients caused by squash bugs literally sucking the life out of your plant. Watch for these dark brown vixens with their flat body and prominent pair of antennae. The females will begin appearing this week (early June) and will lay eggs through the middle of summer. These eggs are laid on the underside of leaves in small reddish brown clusters. It takes only 10 days for eggs to hatch. Nymphs are gray with black legs and that prominent antennae and they mature to adults in four to six weeks. Be aware they do much more extensive damage to young plants but they can also take down a larger plant if the attack is severe enough. 

It’s important to gain control while your Squash bug nymphs and adultsplants are seedlings and they flower. Catching them at nymph stage is the best time to kill them. Your first offense is keeping your plants nourished and watered – weak plants are easier targets. You can always crush the eggs and drop the nymphs and adults into a pail of soapy water if only a few plants are affected. Then keep the dead plant debris out of the garden so they don’t have a place to hide and continue causing damage. Insecticide use is really dependent on how much damage is being caused. If cucumbers or other cucurbits are wilting early in the season, you may need to take a more aggressive approach. Focus on treating the underside of leaves where the Squash bug hide. Insecticides are a very personal choice in gardening. 

Consider an organic or more natural approach: 
  1. Pick the bugs off by hand. You can accomplish this easily by laying a board down in the garden. The squash bugs will overnight there. In the early morning, pick up the board and squash the squash bugs.
  2. Plant a companion plant that repels squash bugs such as nasturtiums, white icicle radishes, oregano, marigold, calendula or dill.
  3. Bring in some beneficial insects like the Tachinid Fly. Dill or calendula plants planted with your squash will attract these flies.
  4. Apply a layer of Diatomaceous Earth. This white powder can be spread in a layer at the base of the plant. It’s most effective for nymphs because their bodies have not developed the hard shell yet. This is a very affordable option but be sure to ask for food grade. Keep in mind, once it’s wet you’ll need to reapply.

Squash Vine BorersSquash vine borer
If you’ve noticed wilting plants with holes nearthe base of the plant, filled with moist greenish or orange sawdust-like residue, it’s likely an attack of the squash vine borer. These plants will eventually collapse and die due to the mushy base rotting if you don’t get the borers in check quickly. In many ways, these critters appear like a wasp with red and black coloring but they are actually moths. They also carry a prominent pair of antennae. This week (early June) the adult squash vine borers are emerging from the ground and taking flight. Note: Unlike other moths, these moths fly during the day. They are laying reddish-brown eggs singly at the base of susceptible plants. These eggs hatch in one week and the larvae bore into the plants stem to feed. They block the flow of water to the rest of the plant. In four to six weeks, the larvae leave the stem and burrow into the soil to pupate until the following summer. 

Like the squash bug, your best betSquash vine borer damaged plant is to control that hatching larvae before they take up residency in your plants. Once they get inside, they are difficult to treat. Start watching for adult borers in late June. Monitor their activity with a yellow trap (any pan, pail or bowl colored yellow filled with soapy water). They are attracted to the color yellow.

Take an organic or natural approach:Butternut squash
  1. Be proactive, plant varieties that are not usually attacked by squash vine borers such as butternut squash, cucumbers, melons and watermelons.
  2. Plant summer squash and zucchini in July from seed and they will mature after the borers have laid eggs.
  3. Remove any plants killed by the borers promptly.
  4. Apply Diatomaceous Earth in a layer at the base of the plant to prevent larvae from getting to the stems. You can even dust the whole plant to add a protective barrier. Dust upward from the ground, covering the stems and the underside of leaves. It’s best to do this late in the evening to not impact predator insects. Reapply after rain. 
  5. Cover the stems with aluminum foil, small cups or nylon stocking from the base to 10 inches up. 
  6. Use a row cover and remove it when the squash blooms for pollination.
We hope these tips help keep your bumper crop of squash on track this year. Happy gardening!


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