7 Ways to Get Rid of Squash Bugs- Naturally!

by Becky
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Squash bugs can be controlled and even eliminated naturally! It is all in prevention. Already have lots of squash bugs on your plant? Skip to my notes at the end. Here are some things you can do to stop squash bugs from taking over and killing your squash/ pumpkin plant.

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#1 Plant squash bug resistant varieties. 

This is a huge factor in success. Here are several varieties that grow all summer long without succumbing to squash bugs or even borers: 

  • Lemon squash- This is a yellow summer squash that looks like a lemon when ready. It’s delicious and I’ve never had a whole plant die to squash bugs or borers- they produce all summer long for me. The only place I’ve seen sell the seeds is rareseeds.com. 
  • Butternut squash- This winter squash grows large and will threaten to take over your garden but it is very productive. Butternut squash is a very good keeper and will last for up to 9 months in a cool dark place.
  • Zucchino Rampicante Squash- This is a good one for zucchini and if you leave it one the stalk too long it actually matures into a winter squash! 

Another thing to look for when buying seeds is any squash with the species name C. moschata. This type has many vines that branch out in different directions and will continue to do that. The benefit of this is that if you have squash bugs attack, oftentimes it will only kill part of your plant and a portion will stay alive.

The vining trait of C. moschata also is beneficial when dealing with squash borers who bore into a vine and kill entire vines. 

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#2 The second thing you can do to eliminate squash bugs is to prevent the eggs from hatching. 

Even on my very resistant varieties, I still get squash bug eggs under the leaves. Once I see an adult squash bug near my plants I know it is time to start checking for eggs.

You need to look under all the leaves every two days and check for eggs and then remove them. My method of choice is duct tape. You make a little roll sticky side out and then stick all the eggs to it. (pictures of what this looks like below)  If you happen to see an adult squash bug nearby stick that to the tape too. It can be kind of gross looking but the good part is you don’t need to smash them just throw the tape away. 

Squash bugs are masterful at hiding so look closely. The best time to go out and check for the adults or even the nymphs is dawn and dusk. By the way, if you miss some eggs and start seeing nymphs (baby squash bugs) you can use the same method of duct tape removal. They are harder to catch at this stage though. 

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#3 Cover Your Plants with Row Cover or Insect Netting from Seed Planting to Flowering. 

When the squash plant is young you can keep it covered with a row cover or insect netting. Both of these products are difficult to find locally but easy to find online. A great alternative to buying expensive insect netting is to use tulle fabric which can be found at any fabric store. 

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Squash bugs will easily find any weakness in your cover or insect netting so be sure it is free of holes and secured to the ground well or buried with soil on the edges. You can keep the netting on up until the plant flowers and needs to be pollinated.Then you would need to remove the netting so that pollinating bugs can get to the flowers. You could also keep it covered and hand pollinate but this can be a bit tricky for a beginner. 

#4 Use Diatomaceous Earth

I’ll be honest, I have a friend who swears by this method but never actually tried it on my own squash plants. I usually catch the majority of my eggs before they become nymphs and haven’t had much of a need to use it!  I do have experience using it on other plants like cabbage for slugs and it works well. It is effective with soft bodied bugs. I am trying pumpkins this year and that is a hard plant to keep up with so if I need to try it I will report back on here!

It would work on baby nymphs only. Once the nymphs are large enough it would lose its effectiveness and it definitely won’t work on adults because they develop a hard shell.

Diatomaceous Earth is crushed up fossilized plankton that have accumulated in freshwater lakes. It is actually edible and many people use it to control internal parasites. The important thing is to use food grade diatomaceous earth on your plants. You can find it HERE.

#5 Practice Crop Rotation and Remove Debris at the End of the Season

This is very important in any organic or natural garden. Even though the squash bugs will probably still find your plant wherever it is located, you don’t want to make it easy for them. Rotate your cucurbitae family crops (squash, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins) to a new location each year. You can find information on how I rotate my crops HERE

Removing the debris after the plant is spent for the year is always a good idea. It will keep the squash bugs from continually being attracted to your garden. It also lessens the chance that squash bugs will overwinter in your garden. I know some people will bag up the remains of the plant and put them in the trash but if it is allowed where you live, the preferred method would be to burn it- Especially if it’s loaded with squash bugs.

#6 Plant a Trap Crop

This is a concept that is practiced mostly among large scale farmers who do not want to use insecticides but wouldn’t be able to keep up with the duct tape method (#2) mentioned above. Of course the concept could also be applied in the home garden which is why I am sharing it here! 

How it works is you plant a Blue Hubbard squash at least two weeks prior to planting the squash crop you actually want to keep. The idea is that the Blue Hubbard squash is a preferred variety of squash bugs and borers and therefore it will attract all the squash bugs to it.

When the leaves are loaded with eggs and perhaps a few have hatched then you would destroy the Blue Hubbard plant. You could bag or burn the plant as one option. Another option is some farmers will spray an organic insecticide throughout the season as an alternative to keep the trap crop active and yet the cash crop remains insecticide free.  You can read more about this idea HERE and HERE

#7 Plant Early in the Season or Late in the Season

It’s important not to plant squash prior to your last frost date but you can start it indoors to get a jump on the season. Squash bugs usually don’t come out until the heat hits and by then you will be harvesting plenty of squash. The squash bugs will eventually come but at least you’ve had a good harvest already by the time the squash bugs destroy the plant. 

Over at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, they will plant their squash late in the season. Just allow enough time for the squash to mature before the first frost hits. As you go into fall you need to allow additional time for decreasing daylight hours.

For those who have a plant already overrun with squash bugs:

If your plant is already overrun with thousands of squash bugs, don’t be tempted to spray with pesticide. It will make your problem worse. Even though I am a very natural gardener now, my first year I was gardening I sprayed the squash bugs with Seven spray because I freaked out. My plant still died and I had literally thousands of squash bugs roaming all over my garden. They did not die or if they did they came back with a vengeance! 

The problem with using a pesticide is it kills all the good bugs and bad bugs. Usually the bad bugs (in this case squash bugs) are the first thing to come back and with no bug predators in sight so they will literally take over. I learned my lesson and after that first year I never touched a pesticide again.

So long story short, if you already have lots of squash bugs and nymphs on your plant you have a couple options. 

  • Option 1: You can take out the entire plant and burn it. Then take a torch and kill the rest of the bugs remaining on the soil. Plant again in a different location and use my prevention tips! It sounds kind of extreme but it’s effective. And to be quite honest this is the preferred method because your plant may be too far gone to save anyway. 
  • Option 2: If you want to attempt to save your plant, you can use my tip #2 and #4 (see above). It will take an extreme effort but you can use duct tape to catch as many squash bugs and nymphs as possible and douse with diatomaceous earth. 

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