Anasa tristis, better known as squash bugs, are a common pest resembling stink bugs that belong to a family of sap-sucking insects. When thinking about squash bugs vs stink bugs, squash bugs feed on seedlings and young plants in the Cucurbitaceae family, causing damage like Anasa wilt. Knowing how to control squash bugs means the difference between saving your plants and letting them die in an infestation.
While other species may be called squash bugs, they were given their name in North America due to their common appearance on squash plants. Most commonly, squash bugs feed on squash or pumpkins or on crops like cucumbers and various melons.
When left unchecked, squash bugs damage the tissue and leaves of plants, affecting their ability to grow, which causes them to die. Additionally, if you don’t control the squash bugs in your garden, a squash bug infestation may be on the horizon. Continue reading for various methods to manage a squash bug population.
- Important Squash Bug Control Tips
- How to Control Squash Bugs with Neem Oil
- Natural Squash Bug Control through Selective Planting
- Avoid Squash Bugs by Rotating Crops
- Protecting Crops with Row Covers
- Growing Squash Plants on a Trellis
- Reduce Squash Bug Numbers on Plants with Kaolin
- Controlling the Squash Bug Population with Insecticidal Soap
- Regular Garden Maintenance
- Control Squash Bugs with Diatomaceous Earth
- Transplants or Direct Seeding
- The Easiest Way to Control Squash Bug Populations
- Dealing with Squash Bugs through Companion Planting
- Organic Squash Beetle Control Tip
Important Squash Bug Control Tips
One of the most effective ways to deal with any infestation is to break the pest’s life cycle. This article addresses squash bug control at different stages of the squash bug life cycle to manage your garden no matter what type of pest you’re finding.
How to Control Squash Bugs with Neem Oil
Neem oil is one option for natural squash bug control. A homemade insecticide of neem oil is a great way to keep insect pests away from your plants. When making your spray, we suggest creating it in an open-air space as neem oil has an unpleasant smell.
Find pre-mixed neem oil at your local garden center, or create your own by combining neem oil with water.
To make this neem oil mixture for plants, combine neem oil and water in a spray bottle and shake to mix.
Follow the label instructions for the way to use neem oil for squash bugs or for cucumber beetle control with neem oil and spray on all leaf and stem surfaces and any bugs you find. Neem oil also proves effective for dealing with other pests that threaten your yields and is helpful as a form of organic squash beetle control.
Natural Squash Bug Control through Selective Planting
Because squash bugs are active in the summer, summer squash is more at risk for damage than any winter squash would be. An easy way to protect any squash plants you add to your garden is by planting varieties that are resistant to insects.
Although squash bugs prefer feeding on summer squash over other plants like zucchini, these insect-resistant varieties offer protection from other common pests like cutworms.
Butternut squash is resistant to squash bugs, while specific varieties resist other common pests like the cucumber beetle and the squash vine borer.
Planting any of these options gives you an advantage over squash bugs in your garden. If squash bugs are unable to feed on squash, there is a trickle-down effect where they may try to feed on other crops like pumpkins, gourds, or melons.
Avoid Squash Bugs by Rotating Crops
If you did not kill squash bugs and their eggs during the summer and fall, it might be a relief to know that many squash bug nymphs die off in the winter. However, squash bug adults overwinter in the soil where crops grow.
One way to avoid providing these pests access to seedlings next spring is by rotating your crop placement. Avoid planting new cucurbits where you grew them in the previous season. Another tip is to promptly remove any plant debris in the garden after harvest to eliminate places for bugs to hide and overwinter.
Protecting Crops with Row Covers
Row covers are essential tools for gardeners to extend the growing season and protect crops from pests, which may reduce the need for other pesticides. There is no uniform row cover as crops grow differently, so research which cover works best for the type of squash you’re growing and how you intend to grow them.
Farmers recommend placing covers on your plants for the first four weeks of growth to repel squash beetles and help prevent squash bug damage. Remove the covers after this to allow pollination to occur as flowers start to bloom.
The downside to using covers is that it blocks access to the plants for weeding, but adding mulch is a solution. Layer an organic material like straw mulch in the area to reduce the presence of weeds and retain soil moisture.
Growing Squash Plants on a Trellis
Using a trellis or support system to grow your squash plants is beneficial for many reasons. If your garden is short on space and does not have room for the growth of squash plants, training your plants to grow vertically is ideal. Reduce the number of squash bugs feeding on your crops during this process.
Squash bugs prefer to hide under leaves when they’re not feeding. Hiding between leaves and the soil’s surface provides them shelter and protection from the heat in the summer.
Growing squash vertically reduces the area where squash bugs live; this makes it harder for bugs to hide and allows natural predators to find them. Trellising your plants also promotes good air circulation, making it harder for fungal diseases like powdery mildew to form on your plants.
Reduce Squash Bug Numbers on Plants with Kaolin
An article posted on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources site explains the process of using kaolin, a type of clay, as a form of natural squash bug control(..). Purchase kaolin clay from anywhere that sells pottery clay or the EPA-registered product named Surround WP made from 95% kaolin clay.
The test performed in the article involved spraying half of a section of squash crops with kaolin and leaving the other half unsprayed. After inspecting the plants daily and removing any bugs found, the test found that sprayed plants had ⅔ fewer squash bugs.
Mix your ingredients and pour in a bottle to use or attach into a garden sprayer for a broader range. Spray your plants thoroughly to form a white film that insects do not like. Kaolin is safe to spray on plants up until the day of harvest. Rub the kaolin off the fruit or wash it off the produce when ready to eat.
Controlling the Squash Bug Population with Insecticidal Soap
Sometimes the most straightforward solutions are created at home using ingredients commonly found around the house. An insecticidal soap made from rubbing alcohol, soap, and water effectively kills pests on contact and prevents more from gathering on your plants.
Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle to create this homemade insect spray for plants to tackle squash bugs and other pests. This is good for kissing bug prevention, too. Apply the soap spray onto the leaves of your plants, top, and bottom, as well as on the growing squash.
Regular Garden Maintenance
In addition to keeping your garden space clear of debris, when spring comes, check under various objects in your yard that may have remained stationary since the winter. Wheelbarrows, boards, cardboard, and even perennial plants shelter squash bugs.
Check around your home for any pests that may have sought warmth and shelter during the colder months. After removing debris, till the soil to disturb any pests burrowing there.
Control Squash Bugs with Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is an excellent form of natural squash bug control made from ground-up rocks that contain small fossilized sea creatures. Diatomaceous earth comes in powder form that you sprinkle on the ground around your plants.
Using diatomaceous earth for bugs is safe around humans, pets, and other wildlife; however, it is dangerous to small insects with soft bodies. The fossilized creatures in diatomaceous earth cut into the bodies of the squash bug nymph or other types of insects and kills them.
Transplants or Direct Seeding
Because seedlings and small plants are what attracts squash bugs, a helpful tip for a successful harvest is avoiding planting seeds.
Buying transplants or growing your own and planting them in the garden reduces the time your squash plants are in the ground. Transplanting squash means you avoid your plants growing at stages when they are more susceptible to damage from squash bugs.
Select your preferred type of squash seed, preferably an insect-resistant variety, and a compostable pot to minimize stress on your plant during the transplanting process. Fill the pot with potting soil and mix in a tablespoon of slow release fertilizer before adding your squash seeds.
Plant five seeds two to three inches deep in the center of the pot. Water your plants well and place the pot near a sunny window and on a heating pad or propagation mat to aid in germination.
Squash seeds germinate best at warm temperatures around 95°F. Remove all but the strongest seedling once it reaches three inches tall and has a set of true leaves.
Harden off your plant by allowing it to sit outside during the day for an hour at a time until it remains out for a total of seven hours to prepare it for transplanting after the last frost in spring.
The Easiest Way to Control Squash Bug Populations
Breaking the life cycle of pests means killing adults to stop them from laying eggs or destroying eggs to prevent the next generation of pests from taking over.
Home growers may find that dealing with adult bugs and squash bug nymphs is difficult, so removing eggs from your garden becomes the simplest way to control squash bug populations.
Using Soapy Water to Kill Eggs
Female squash bugs lay eggs in clusters of up to 40 eggs from late spring through late summer. A squash bug egg may be yellow, brown, or red and around 1/16 inch in size. Female squash bugs lay their eggs on the underside of plant leaves. For many insects, soapy water is effective for killing them.
To prepare for removing eggs from your plants and get rid of squash bugs, fill a bucket with water and enough liquid soap to make the water soapy. Protect your hands with gloves and brush squash bug eggs off your plants and into the bucket of soapy water.
The soapy water kills the eggs and can easily be disposed of after you’ve checked all of your cucurbit plants for eggs. Use this technique as a natural spider mite control method, as well.
Removing Squash Bug Eggs by Hand
If you prefer to work in your garden, performing pest control as you go, crushing eggs by hand is an option to control squash bugs in your garden. Squash bug eggs are very fragile and gently crushing them is a quick surefire way to eliminate part of the problem.
Because squash bug eggs emit a foul odor when crushed, wear gloves to avoid getting this smell on your skin. We recommend bringing a change of gloves or dedicating time out of your day to this task to avoid touching other plants or tools with the remains of the squash bug eggs.
Collecting and Disposing of Squash Bug Eggs
Another convenient way to remove squash bug eggs from your plants is by depositing them into a disposable plastic bag. With gloves, scrape any eggs you find under leaves into a plastic bag.
Tie or seal the bag once your plants are clear and toss it in the trash. Without a means to escape, hatching bugs will suffocate, leaving your garden egg-free.
After being laid, eggs hatch in roughly ten days. Put yourself on a schedule throughout the summer to check your plants regularly. If done correctly, you’ll enter fall with significantly fewer squash bugs in your garden.
Dealing with Squash Bugs through Companion Planting
Companion planting is a gardening system that involves growing select plants near each other to promote growth and health.
When dealing with plants in your garden, companion planting creates a system that draws in beneficial insects to feed on harmful pests or planting trap crops. It’s one of the best natural ways to keep squash bugs away from your tasty squash plants.
Trap Cropping with Blue Hubbard
The idea behind trap cropping is to plant a crop that your target pests will visit over another crop. If your goal is to protect your squash plants, you’ll need to grow something an adult squash bug would want to feed on more.
Blue Hubbard squash is attractive to squash bugs and other pests like the vine borer cucumber beetles known to carry diseases like bacterial wilt.
Suggested methods involve planting Blue Hubbard squash at the end of your squash rows to draw in squash bugs. Because pests are attracted to this plant, killing them is easier using ideas in this article once they gather on one specific crop.
Keep Squash Bugs Away with Strong Smelling Plants
Other than sacrificing plants to squash bug damage, the benefit of companion planting is to create crop barriers that deter squash bugs from visiting your garden.
Insect pests dislike many plants and crops that humans enjoy for their appearance or taste. Plants that keep flies away outside will probably also work for squash bugs and other pests.
The root system of radishes breaks up the soil, allowing other plant roots to burrow deeper, and squash bugs do not like them. Keep a healthy distance of three to four feet between radishes and your squash to avoid competition for nutrients. The smell of plants like catnip and mint is also effective at keeping squash bugs away.
Organic Squash Beetle Control Tip
Another pest for squash plants is the squash beetle. These pests are harmful insects that feed on the leaves of plants in the squash family and resemble off-colored ladybugs. Squash beetles are yellow with black spots and resemble cucumber beetles, but they are round instead of oval-shaped.
The eggs laid by squash beetles resemble the eggs of helpful insects, so be mindful when checking plants for eggs. Mistaking these eggs for another insect and leaving them to hatch may cause an infestation later, resulting in another bug feeding on your plants.
While these beetles do not usually harm the fruit of plants, adults and larva feed on the underside of leaves, making them hard to spot when walking through the garden.
Despite their differences from squash bugs, these beetles are susceptible to the same kind of pest removal methods. Creating a spray from neem oil or soap is a quick option for organic squash beetle control to use in the garden. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil-dwelling bacterium, is often used as a safe pesticide.
We hope that our tips on natural squash bug control were helpful and that you’ll consider sharing how to control squash bugs on Facebook and Pinterest with your fellow gardeners.