Squash bugs are one of the most common pests you’re likely to find on squash plants in your vegetable garden and one of the most difficult to get rid of organically. However, there are many effective solutions to help control the number of squash bugs in your garden even if you can’t completely eradicate them.
While there are many pesticides out there that claim to rid your garden of these pesky insects, chemical solutions almost always cost you in other ways. Many chemicals don’t only eradicate squash bugs, but also kill and repel essential pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Fortunately, for the pesticide-averse, there are many tried and true organic methods for controlling squash bugs in your vegetable garden:
- Make a Handmade Squash Bug Trap
- Handpick and Drown
- Disrupt the Life Cycle
- Introduce Natural Predators
- Rotate Crops
- Use Row Covers
- Trellis Melons and Squash Plants
- Companion Plants
- Plant Trap Crops or Pest-Resistant Varieties
- Natural Store-Bought Pest Control
- Clean Garden in Fall
- Delay Planting Squash until Early Summer
The rest of this article will tell you everything you need to know about naturally deterring squash bugs from your vegetable garden.
What are Squash Bugs?
As their common name suggests, squash bugs wreak havoc on plants in the squash and cucurbit families, such as:
- winter squash
Squash bugs are a common nuisance in vegetable gardens. While they are similar in appearance to other bugs found in gardens, such as stink bugs or dock bugs, an observant eye can notice the difference.
Squash bugs have oval bodies with a flattened back, and usually don’t measure longer than 5/8 of an inch. They range in color from dark brown to gray and are most easily identified by the orange stripes on the sides and undersides of their abdomens.
Squash bug females lay clutches of eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs, usually laid in clutches of 20, hatch about 10 days after they are laid, and it only takes 4 – 6 weeks for the squash bug nymphs to mature to an adult squash bug. Their short reproductive cycle means that it doesn’t take long for small pest problem to become a massive infestation.
Why are Squash Bugs so Harmful?
Squash bug damage occurs when as they feed on the leaves, vines, and fruit of your squash plants. They drain the sap from leaves as they feed, which in turn robs hydration and nutrients from the squash and causes yellow spots and wilting.
Not only do squash bugs cause damage through eating, but as they feed, they release a toxin in their saliva that prevents the squash from recovering.
Young plants are particularly susceptible to squash bug damage from squash bug infestations, as they will wither and die quicker than more mature plants.
Squash bugs are also unusually long-lived and will continue mating throughout the entire summer. This means that a single breeding pair can spawn hundreds and even thousands of offspring in one season.
12 Natural Ways to Deter Squash Bugs from your Garden
Read on to find the most effective ways to rid your vegetable patch of these destructive pests.
Make a Handmade Squash Bug Trap
Making a squash bug trap is much simpler than it sounds. Place a board, a shingle, or even a sheet of newspaper in your garden. During the night, both adult squash bugs and nymphs gather underneath it. Then, in the early morning, squash them between the hard surfaces.
This method helps you get rid of large populations at one time.
Handpick and Drown
One of the simplest methods of getting rid of squash bugs is to handpick them off the leaves. This method only works when you first notice the squash bugs in your garden and not with a full-blown infestation.
Fill a bucket with soapy water and toss the squash bugs you find into the water. This will quickly drown them. Once the squash bugs are dead, it’s okay to dump the soapy water out anywhere. Just don’t dump it out in your vegetable patch or else the soap might harm the roots.
You’ll have to inspect your garden every day for signs of squash bugs.
Disrupt the Life Cycle
Early detection is critical in preventing a squash bug infestation. Keep an eye on your young vegetable plants for signs of this pest.
Check on the undersides of leaves for clutches of eggs. If you find squash bug eggs, scrape them off with a butterknife or other flat tool. You could also cut off the leaf. Another method is wrap tape around your hand sticky side out and touch the eggs to remove them.
Either squash the eggs or let them fall to the ground. Other garden beetles and insects will eat them.
Destroying the eggs before they can hatch disrupts the squash bugs’ life cycle and will hinder their population growth.
Introduce Natural Predators
The tachinid fly is parasitic to squash bugs and has been successfully used in California to naturally control squash bug populations. Dill is one of the herbs that attracts this beneficial insect to your garden.
Crop rotation not only deters squash bugs, but other common garden pests, as well. Crop rotation is the practice of not planting the same crops in the same areas in back-to-back years.
For example, if you grew squash in one area of the garden last year, change it up by planting tomatoes in the squash’s old spot and the squash where the tomatoes or another vegetable grew the previous year.
Crop rotation is beneficial in guarding your garden against pests because it doesn’t give the insects and diseases time to settle into one spot. It is also beneficial by preserving soil health.
Use Row Covers
Row covers help to keep squash bugs and other pests off your plants. You can use either hooped row covers, or floating row covers. Covering a raised bed is also easy to do and another effective strategy in keeping bugs from your garden.
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Trellis Melons and Squash
Since squash bugs are attracted to sprawling vines and debris on the ground, trellising your vegetables – or at least the ones most vulnerable to squash bugs – keeps them off the ground and less attractive to these garden pests.
There are several plants – both herbs and florals – that help to naturally repel squash bugs.
- Since mint can be pretty invasive when planted in a bed, make sure to plant it in containers.
- These low-maintenance companion plants are easy to grow. Since they’re a perennial, there’s no need to replant them every year. Their leaves also re-grow after cutting them off for use.
- Garlic is easy to grow, as an entire head will grow from one clove. Regular garlic found at the grocery store won’t sprout if you plant it, as it’s treated with chemicals to prevent it growing, so opt for organic garlic if you plan on planting it.
- This flavorful herb attracts insects that are squash bugs’ natural predators.
- Bee balm
- These flowers add nutrients to the soil and attract aphid-eating hover flies. The colorful blooms are also edible and have a unique peppery flavor that goes well in salads with other greens. Nasturtium seeds, when soaked in vinegar, are a great substitute for capers in pasta dishes.
Plant Trap Crops or Pest-Resistant Varieties
If you’re not picky about the kind of squash you grow in your garden, consider planting pest-resistant squash varieties, such as:
- Butternut Squash – a popular large, beige squash often used in soups and stews
- Crook-neck Squash – a summer squash with bumpy, bright yellow skin
- Royal Acorn Squash – a flavorful squash with thick, dark green skin and orange flesh
- Green Hubbard Squash – a thick-skinned winter squash with sweet orange flesh, tastes similar to sweet potatoes and pumpkins
- Zuccheta Tromboncito – a large, uniquely shaped squash related to both yellow and green zucchini with a similar flavor
- Sweet Long Island Cheese Pumpkins
- Dickinson Pumpkins
Natural Store-Bought Pest Control
There are two particularly effective natural remedies you can pick up in the garden section of most stores.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is microscopically devastating to pests without posing harm to your vegetables. Place DE directly on squash bug eggs and around the stems of your plants to protect them from insect damage.
- Earthborn Elements Diatomaceous Earth in a resealable bucket
- Natural multipurpose household essential
- Diatomaceous Earth is a natural source of freshwater amorphous silica
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This natural pest control product is typically sold in a spray bottle so you can spray it liberally over your vegetables. While neem oil may not work for large infestations, as the insects need to come in contact with the oil to die, it will certainly cut squash bug populations and slow them down.
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When it comes to squash bug infestation, prevention is critical. Here are a couple common preventative measures that will make a huge difference in your garden.
Clean Garden in the Fall
As a permaculture advocate, I am particularly in favor of leaving a lot of organic material in the garden to help feed the soil. However, If you are dealing with a major infestation of squash bugs keeping the organic debris in the garden does give squash bugs a secure place to overwinter.
Delay Planting Squash Until Early Summer
Since squash bugs become active in early spring, delay planting your squash outside in your garden beds until the early summer instead of after your last frost date. This denies squash bugs their food source.
You could even begin your seedlings indoors around your last frost date and wait until early to mid-June to plant the seedlings in the soil.
Even though getting rid of squash bugs completely is difficult in some cases, by trying a few of these methods together you should be able to greatly reduce squash bug pressure in your garden in an organic way.