Pests on your pumpkins, left unchecked, can damage and destroy your developing plants. Keeping a close watch on your plants during regular daily inspections will help you spot any pests before they can do irreparable harm. Healthy pumpkin vines can bounce back from pest damage if you catch the pests early.
A few notes about prevention:
- Don’t overwater.
- Use floating row covers when plants are young.
- Place sticky traps to catch pests early.
- Plant your pumpkins away from peach and wild cherry trees.
- Reduce patches of bare soil around and between your pumpkin plants. Aphids find plants by detecting the contrast between soil and stem.
- Reflective and black mulch plastic can deter aphids, too.
- To deter beetles, plant a decoy/trap crop of Blue Hubbard squash around the perimeter of your pumpkin patch.
- Rotate your crop out of the area for at least two years; if you’re growing in containers or raised beds, do a complete replacement of the soil after you sterilize the growing area.
- Practice good garden hygiene: Completely clear out all plant matter after harvest. Till the ground to kill any remaining pests.
- Treat your plants before they flower to prevent pests from laying eggs. If you do find even a single egg mass, a product called Azera can be useful—but only late in the day when pumpkin flowers are closed and there are no bees active.
- Keep grassy weeds away from your pumpkin patch. They often harbor pests that will attack your pumpkin plants.
Spot the Symptoms of Pumpkin Plant Pests
|Damage to leaves and base of stem; damage to flowers and fruit||Spotted or striped cucumber beetle|
|Leaf damage; seedlings cut off at the soil line||Black or variegated cutworm|
|Leaves curl, turn yellow; often die||Green peach aphid, melon aphid|
|Holes in leaves||Solanaceous flea beetle|
|Blotchy pale or reddish-brown spots on leaves; leaf drop; webbing on leaves||Two-spotted spider mite|
|Damage to leaves, vines, and fruit; yellow/bronze eggs on the underside of leaves||Cutworms|
|Round holes chewed into stems||Squash bug, stink bug|
|Holes in stems||Common stalk borer|
How to Treat Pests on Pumpkins
Here are some proven ways to get rid of pests on your pumpkins. Choose the best treatment for the type of pests invading your plants.
- 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.
- Trap them. Use sticky traps and pheromone traps to snag insects attacking your plants.
- 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 example, is derived from seed extracts of the neem plant. 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 pumpkin plant leaves. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.
- Don’t skip the underside of the leaves. Always check and spray the underside of leaves to get at aphids.
- Be mindful of the bees. Avoid using products that are toxic to bees while the pumpkin flowers are in bloom, or treat your plants in the evening after the bees have gone home for the day.
- Employ lady beetles. If you can release them in a controlled area (greenhouse, tunnel, row cover), lady beetles may be effective at controlling aphids. But they’ll take off in search of more food if the aphid infestation doesn’t satisfy their appetite.
- Purchase predatory midges. If you have a lot of trouble with aphids, predatory midges are an option, but only in the summer months when there’s at least 15 hours of daylight; after that, they become inactive.
- Lace your pumpkin patch with green lacewing larvae. At the larval stage, these insects will chow down on aphids. Just be sure to place the larvae far apart from each other; they’re cannibalistic.
- Invite ground beetles, parasitic flies, and wasps. These insects help reduce the population of cutworm larvae.
- Use Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Sprinkle DE at base of plants and between plants. Many pests cannot cross over this barrier without dying.
Do pests attack your pumpkins every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your pumpkins to avoid pests by commenting below.