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Dealing with Melon Pests

Ripe melons damaged by pests and animals

Ripe melons damaged by pests and animals

Pests on your melons plants, left unchecked, can damage and destroy your crop. Regular daily inspections will help you spot any pests before they can do irreparable harm. Healthy melon plants can bounce back from some pest damage if you catch the pests early.

Spot the symptoms of melon pests

Check leaves, vines, and fruit for these symptoms that come from pests on the prowl. This is just a sampling. It’s a good idea to do a daily check in the garden to see if your plants have unwanted company.

On Melon Leaves and Vines

Symptom Pest
Whitish coating on underside of leaves or on vines; sometimes looks like blisters Armored scale, spider mites, ants (harvesting honeydew from scale)
Winding trail scars on the leaves Leaf miners
Yellowing leaves; clusters of small “bumps” on underside of leaves Aphids
Tiny waxy-looking clusters Mealybugs, whitefly eggs and larvae
Webbing on the plant Spider mites
Yellowing leaves Spider mites, squash bugs
White dots on leaves Spider mites, squash bugs
Holes in leaves, flowers, and base of stem Cucumber Beetle, cutworm
Wilting leaves, holes in vines Squash vine borer, cutworm, stalk borer

On Melon Fruit

Symptom Pest
Holes in fruit Squash vine borer
Damaged fruit Squash bugs

How to treat pests on melon plants

Here are some proven ways to get rid of pests on your melon plants. Choose the best treatment for the type of pests invading your plants. If you’re using a home chemical treatment, always read the instructions carefully before applying the product. If you’re looking for organic solutions, consult the site of the Organic Materials Review Institute for a list of certified insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, and other materials. You’ll find the OMRI product list here: https://www.omri.org/omri-lists/download.

Now, we know that chemical treatments aren’t always the way to go, organic or not. Use a combination of strategies that work for you.

  • Pick off the pests. Use your garden gloves to remove the pests by hand. After removal, destroy pests by drowning them in a bucket of soapy water or crushing them with your foot. Handpicking isn’t efficient or practical for very small pests, but works well with larger pests.
  • Remove overripe or deformed fruit. For the most part, melons stay fresh on the plant until you pick them. But if you notice any deformed fruit or fruit that look like it’s rotting on the plant, remove it as soon as possible. Rotting fruit can attract pests that further damage your plant or cause disease.
  • Diatomaceous earth. Some gardeners swear by the use of DE, as it’s commonly known. Diatomaceous earth is the pulverized fossils of ancient diatoms—tiny prehistoric sea creatures. Even when ground into a powder, these microscopic skeletal pieces have sharp edges that irritate the respiratory systems of insects and dry out the mucous membranes of breathing holes and lungs in insects. And all those sharp edges spell danger for any soft-bodied creatures, such as snails or larvae. It must be applied when conditions are dry, and you need to reapply it after a heavy rain or even a heavy dew. And be sure to get food grade DE; it’s safe around pets and people.
  • Apply insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soap is organic. The potassium salts in insecticidal soap help remove an insect’s protective waxes, causing destruction of insect membranes and killing them. Mix the soap with water to create your solution, and apply directly to insects on any plants. While insecticidal soap is less apt to affect other organisms, certain plants might be sensitive to the soap and can suffer leaf burn.
  • Apply horticultural oils. Combine plant- or petroleum-based oils with water to produce horticultural sprays. Neem oil, for instance, is derived from seed extracts of the neem plant. There are also oils derived from clove, cottonseed, garlic, and more. Oil-based sprays block an insect’s air holes, interfere with an insect’s metabolism, disrupt insect feeding, and inhibit insect growth. Like insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils can cause plant injury if not properly diluted.
  • Make your own pest spray. You can make your own pest spray with benign materials. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of a mild dish detergent, and 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a gallon of water to make a solution that will repel all kinds of bugs, as well as a fungicide for blight and mildew on melon plant leaves. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.
  • Row covers. Row covers can protect your melon crop from cucumber beetles; they also help with moisture retention and can provide some protection against frost if you get a cold snap. The best strategic defense against pests like cucumber beetles is to be sure you wait to plant until the soil has fully warmed up. This will give your plants a better fighting chance at fending off beetle attacks.
  • If your plant is infested, act quickly. If you discover that your melon plant is infested with anything, you need to wash it down immediately—with soap and water. Dawn dishwashing liquid—long heralded as the miracle treatment for waterfowl caught in oil spills—can help you eradicate an infestation on your melon plant. Scrub your plant with a washcloth, with warm soap water, from top to bottom. Make sure you wash both sides of the leaves and scrub off anything that doesn’t belong there; mold can form in the wake of insect infestations. Use a toothbrush to reach any spot that’s too narrow for your washcloth to reach, especially at the Y sections of vines. Make sure you get every single insect off your plant, then treat it thoroughly with a horticultural oil or neem oil.

Do pests attack your melon plants every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your melon plants to avoid pests.

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