Dealing with squash bugs
Many years ago, I didn’t know what squash bugs were. Gasp! That’s hard for me to believe now.
And unless you have encountered them in your garden, you many not know what they are either. Consider yourself fortunate.
Can I just say that innocence is bliss!
They look like this. And they are intense.
My first encounter with squash bugs
The first time I remember them in my garden was a year that I grew a whole bunch of pumpkins at the back of my garden. I didn’t pay much attention to the plants as they were growing – mostly because I couldn’t easily get to them. The way things were planted that year meant that it took a lot of acrobatics to climb over other plants to get back to the pumpkins. Needless to say, I didn’t go back there very often.
Until I noticed some big green pumpkins growing and then I wanted to keep an eye on them so I could pick them when they were ripe.
But as they got closer to ripening, I noticed quite a few bugs on them but didn’t think much of it.
Then I noticed more and more bugs. At the worst point, I could have taken a drinking cup and scooped through them and filled the entire cup with one swipe.
There were that many squash bugs.
Luckily, I was able to salvage a couple of pumpkins. It was a variety that had a very thick skin so even though the plants suffered heavily, the fruits themselves were pretty much unscathed. Whew!
But ever since then, I have had a battle with the squash bugs each summer.
Dealing with a squash bug infestation
I’ve never been able to completely eradicate them from my garden but I have been able to keep them under control. Here are some things that have worked for me so far.
- Choose a resistant variety – the butternut type squashes are not their favorite food. Last year I planted bush acorn squash, rampicante vining squash and Seminole pumpkins. The only one that was not in the butternut family was the acorn squash. The squash bugs stayed on the acorn squash plants and never even went to the other two. Nice!
- Catch any adults you find – as soon as I see any adults on the plants, I grab a used water bottle and put a little bit of soapy water in the bottom. I scoop the squash bug into the bottle with the lid where it falls to the bottom of the bottle and the soapy water kills it within a few minutes.
- Check for eggs – the female squash bug will lay her eggs on the underside of the leaves or occasionally on the stems. Once I see adults on the plants, I start to check for eggs. When I find a cluster, I use DUCT TAPE to collect them. The tape gathers all of the eggs in one fell swoop but does not damage the leaves at all. Sometimes I even use the duct tape to catch adults and juveniles that I see. Bwwa, ha, ha.
- Use essential oils – Some of the best essential oils to use as an insect deterrent are peppermint oil, citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, Terrashield oil blend, clove oil, and rosemary oil. To use, fill a glass spray bottle with water and add 20-40 drops of your chosen essential oil or a combination of oils. Shake well and spray on and around your plants. Repeat every few days. To learn more about how you can get the highest quality essential oils into your home (because, trust me, QUALITY MATTERS!), click here.
Or if you would like a copy of my FREE Guide to Gardening with Essential Oils, click here.
These methods have done a good job of keeping the population at bay so I can at least get a harvest. I have yet to find a solution that totally and completely works.
And so, I am still on the lookout for a GREAT solution for getting rid of squash bugs. Here is an article from one of my favorite gardening bloggers about dealing with squash bugs. Some of her suggestions I’m not comfortable with but you might be okay with them.
Here are a few ideas that I might try in the future:
- Using a shop vac, handheld vacuum, or bug vacuum to remove them.
- Planting early (to beat the squash bug season) or planting late (to miss the earliest population explosion)
- Trap cropping (planting a plant that they LOVE so they will flock to it and leave my other plants alone)
- Companion planting with either flowers or herbs – some good choices that I have heard of are nasturtiums, marigolds, onions, dill, lemon balm, peppermint, catnip or cilantro. Although lemon balm and peppermint are both perennial plants so I don’t know that I would plant them in the squash patch but putting the leaves in there might work.
Some things I am not willing to try:
- Diotemacious Earth
- Soap spray
- Neem oil
- Insecticidal soap or other chemical sprays (organic or not)
- planting every other year
I’m sure these things would work but I’m not willing to take the risk. If I’m not willing to put something in my mouth, I’m certainly not willing to put it on my garden. No thanks. I’ll take the bugs instead.
So these have been my adventures with squash bugs so far.
What about you? Do you have anything that works on these guys? Please share below.
And if you want information on how to grow squash and pumpkins in your own garden, check out my post about it here.
Even with the risk of squash bugs, it’s worth planting some nonetheless!
Happy squash planting!
April 3, 2018 @ 10:10 pm
We companion plant radishes next to our squash plants. We hardly ever see a squash bug now! It works great
April 9, 2018 @ 7:00 pm
Wow, that is awesome! I’m totally going to try this. Thank you for sharing!
June 9, 2020 @ 1:43 am
I live in the texas panhandle where it is generally dry during the growing season. Squash bugs are not an issue anymore- plant basil and marigolds allaround the squash plants & use a cedar-blend mulch. There has been no sign of them again this year. You can use the basil and enjoy the pollinators brought in by the marigolds.
June 9, 2020 @ 4:20 am
Thank you so much for sharing. I’m sure this information will help a lot of readers! What a great idea to plant basil and marigolds around the squash.
April 4, 2018 @ 1:42 am
Really?? That’s awesome! I think I may just need to try this. Thanks for sharing the tip, Diane!
April 7, 2018 @ 9:09 pm
I am an environmental educator that uses the garden at my middle school for many lessons. The first year I taught we were attacked by all kinds of pest in the garden, squash bugs included.
I did a few things including neem oil, Diotemacious Earth, and soapy water (natural Castille soap). All 3 strategies were successful.
However the strategies that have kept these bugs at bay the last 6 growing seasons since has been lots of work on our soil. Healthy soil creates healthy plants that can withstand pest infestation. We also do extensive companion planting which has proven extremely successful in bringing in benefici bugs and birds who feed on the past.
Lastly, we spend time physically removing bugs as well as soon as we see them. It’s all an experiment when you garden but I stand by healthy soil as your main goal for deterring pest. Good luck!
April 9, 2018 @ 6:25 pm
Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge with us! I’m glad to hear that the things you have tried were successful…that’s always encouraging. Yes, I believe the best things for plants is building healthy soil. Another commenter mentioned that companion planting worked well for her too. (And yes, gardening is always an experiment). Thanks again for sharing your successes!
April 8, 2018 @ 1:53 pm
I am a diehard supporter of food grade Diatamocious (DE). I mix in soil mixture for square foot garden.
Also coat dog, cat, bird, chicken & goat food with it. No parasites/worms in any of them. Also add 1 TBS to my coffee and my arthritis has improved.
Moles have moved on because DE has killed all the grub worms. Ants are gone, including Fire ants ! Only caution is not get it eyes when applying. Can be spread with spreader if mixed 50/50 with sand or anything you are spreading.
April 9, 2018 @ 6:33 pm
Thank you for sharing your experiences. Wow, it sounds like it has really helped you with so many problems and pests. Good for you!
April 9, 2018 @ 10:04 pm
Me too! Horses are worm free! I love diatomaceous earth! The only problem with veggies is to leave the flowers alone for pollinators
April 9, 2018 @ 3:44 am
Diamataceous Earth is very safe and get rid of lots of critters. Use human grade if you want.
April 9, 2018 @ 6:35 pm
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on DE. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. 🙂
April 9, 2018 @ 10:05 pm
Always use human or food grade as it is called.
Peggy bug Williams
April 9, 2018 @ 1:54 pm
Don’t worry about using diatomaceous earth in the garden–it is not harmful for humans to digest (just try not to inhale it, it can irritate throat and lungs)
Diatomaceous earth is often mixed in with grains such as wheat, rice, barley to prevent weivil and other pests from ruining food storage. Use “food grade”
which is FDA approved, NOT “filter grade” also referred to as non-food grade, as filter grade is mixed with pesticides, which one would NOT want to ingest.
I have “health-food-nut” friends who take diatomaceous earth daily to keep GI tract healthy!
Note: Diatomaceous earth is a type of sand that consists of microscopic skeletons of algae called diatoms that have of fossilized over millions of years. It is rich in silica, which is promoted to help cleanse the digestive tract, support healthy digestion, kill parasites, and promote bone growth. So here’s to better gardens and health!
April 9, 2018 @ 6:39 pm
Yes, the “don’t inhale it” part is what I don’t like. My family already struggles with lung issues so I’m not willing to take the chance. But I’m really glad to hear that you enjoy using it. I too have health nut friends who use it religiously and swear by it’s benefits. Thank you so much for sharing!
April 9, 2018 @ 10:01 pm
Place a flat piece of card board next to your squash plant and very early in the morning turn over the card board and voila they will be all there. That’s when the shop vac is handy. They are fast.
April 10, 2018 @ 10:41 pm
What a great idea to put out a piece of cardboard. Yes, a shop vac would be very handy in this case…I totally agree, they are very fast! Thanks for sharing this great tip.
May 17, 2018 @ 1:57 am
I never had them like I did last year and it was in late July/August. I would see one or two around, sometimes in the house, but last year they just swarmed my windows in the back of the house. My son told me to mix Dawn with equal parts water and spray them. I had to do it from in the house so even though they were on the screen I have crank out windows and the windows got covered with soapy water, but it worked. I sure hope I don’t see a repeat this year. It was terrible! Thanks for the remedies you have used. I hope I don’t have to use them. BTW, I saw your post on Pinterest. I will be saving it.
May 17, 2018 @ 3:41 am
Oh my goodness, that sounds terrible, MaryJean! I’m so sorry you had to deal with such an infestation. I too hope you don’t have a repeat experience this year (I’ll keep my toes crossed for you). We had a similar situation last year but with earwigs…they were everywhere and coming inside our doors and vents and such. Nasty. I’m hoping they don’t show up again this year. Thanks for the Pinterest save! 🙂
May 17, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
We had them all over or zucchini until we let the chickens in the garden. Viola! No more bugs! We did lose a few zucchini to the chickens (they like their veggies with their protein), but zucchini are prolific so we didn’t mind sharing with the girls.
May 18, 2018 @ 1:50 am
I have heard that if you let chickens into a garden for a short time, they will eat the bugs first and then go for the plants. My chickens have always turned their beaks up at squash bugs but maybe I should try it again. Sounds like you found yourself a great solution! Glad it worked out for you (and yes, sacrificing a few zucchini sounds like a good trade to me). Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!
May 18, 2019 @ 10:27 pm
I echo what Peggy “Bug” says about DE. It is good for you provides silica. Yes, since it is microscopic fossils it can irritate. DE is also used as a natural flea killer mixed with Neem powder and another herb.
July 29, 2019 @ 4:07 pm
Thank you for sharing this information, F Reeve. Very helpful!
C D Greier
June 28, 2019 @ 1:03 am
Re: ‘ If I’m not willing to put something in my mouth, I’m certainly not willing to put it on my garden. No thanks. I’ll take the bugs instead.’
A friend was commenting on blemish-free supermarket produce told us, ‘If it’s not good enough for bugs, why would I want to eat it?’ Good point .
July 20, 2019 @ 11:55 pm
My first year I planted squash I covered it with row covering to prevent the frost from killing the plants and spur on the growing – I didn’t have any problem with squash bugs and couldn’t pick my zucchini fast enough! The subsequent years I planted later in the year and didn’t cover the seeds/seedlings – and my plants were ravaged by squash bugs. I didn’t put two and two together until I was trying to find a solution to get rid of them and I found a bunch of blogs that said if you cover your seeds and seedlings you won’t get squash bugs since there is only one generation of squash bug a year and they “find” their garden in early spring. From now on, I’m covering my seeds and seedlings until early summer – works like a green house and you get great growth but also keep a lot of bug types away INCLUDING squash bugs. Maybe everyone knew this already, but it was new to me, and a great alternative to using sprays on my veggies.
July 29, 2019 @ 4:11 pm
Oh. My. Goodness, Marjana! THANK YOU for sharing this. I’m pretty sure you just saved my future gardens from squash bugs forever after. I’m totally going to try this next year. I’ve never thought about how they get on the plants to begin with and had not considered that they fly in. If you can prevent them from finding the plants, they will not be able to survive and reproduce. Brilliant!!! Thanks again for sharing your experience. Much appreciated!
May 12, 2020 @ 11:26 am
What is row covering? I had a terrible infestation of squash bugs last year so would like to try this. Thank you!
May 21, 2020 @ 3:03 am
Great question. Row covering is a very light landscape fabric that you place over your young plants while they are getting their growth started. It lets in sunlight and water but keeps the squash bugs from finding the plant. Because the fabric is so light, it “floats” on top of the growing leaves. Once the plants get larger, you can remove the row covering and it should eliminate or greatly reduce your squash bug problems! Let us know how it goes if you try it!!!
February 2, 2021 @ 4:02 pm
Does DE kill earth worms? I’m interested in using it for earwigs and squash bugs, (which destroyed 20 beautiful tomato plants last year…growl), but I thought it was harmful to earth worms?
February 2, 2021 @ 7:55 pm
Hi Sarah, great question. I’m so sorry about your tomato plants. Sigh. I don’t personally use Diatomaceous Earth but from what I understand, it is basically crushed up fossils that create microscopic shards that cut soft-bodied bugs and insects. My guess would be that, yes, it damages earthworms. I would recommend using a paper collar around the bottom of your tomato plants and possibly using a floating row cover in the early spring (this tip was shared by a reader on this page…check up above!). Here are some articles I wrote on growing tomatoes that might help you.
Gardening is definitely tricky and things don’t always work out. Having said that, I believe it is always worth trying again! I wish your garden all the best this coming year!!