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Dealing with Winter Squash Pests

Squash plant damage from a vine borer

Squash plant damage from a vine borer

Pests on your winter squash, 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 winter squash can bounce back from pest damage if you catch the pests quickly.

A couple notes about prevention:

  • Don’t overwater
  • Use floating row covers when plants are young
  • Place sticky traps to catch pests early
  • Use companion plants, such as radishes, to repel pests

Spot the symptoms of squash plant pests

Check leaves, fruits, and flowers for these symptoms that come from pests on the prowl.

On Squash Leaves

Symptoms Pest
Yellowing leaves; clusters of small “bumps” on leaves Aphids
Discolored trails on leaves Leafminers
Holes in leaves Armyworms, Cabbage looper, Flea beetles, Slugs
Speckled leaves that turn yellow and brown; wilting plants Squash bug
Eggs on leaves Stinkbugs, Squash bug
Leaves that are silvery or speckled with black Thrips
Leaves cut off at soil level Cutworms
Tiny holes in leaves Flea beetles
Wilting plants; holes in vines Squash vine borer

On Squash Fruits

Symptoms Pest
Dark pinprick points with a lighter border that turns yellow Stinkbugs
Dry wounds on fruit Armyworms
Blemished fruit; fruit death Squash bug

How to treat pests on winter squash

Here are some proven ways to get rid of pests on your winter squash. 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.
  • Blast them. If you spot invaders like aphids, give them a good blast with the garden hose. Chances are good the neighborhood birds will notice and come eat your pests.
  • 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. 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 squash plant leaves. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.
  • Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Sprinkle DE at base of plants and between plants. Many pests cannot cross over this barrier without dying.
  • Sticky traps. Leave out yellow sticky traps to nab some of the invaders.
  • Floating row covers. Floating row covers and block some pest from getting closer to your crops to do damage.
  • Do pests attack your winter squash every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your winter squash to avoid pests.

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