Squash bugs can be a huge pest, and wreak havoc in the vegetable garden! In this post, you’ll learn all about them, including what they look like, their lifecycle, where they come from, what they eat, and the damage they cause to plants. Then I’ll show you a bunch of organic methods for how to get rid of squash bugs, and prevent them from coming back.
If you’ve ever found bugs crawling all over your squash plants, then you know how frustrating squash bugs can be. They are great hiders, so they can cause major damage before you even notice there’s a problem.
Getting rid of squash bugs can be difficult, but it IS possible! In order to be as effective as possible with your treatments, it’s important to understand their life cycle, feeding habits, and the signs to watch out for, so you can get them under control quickly.
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide for how to get rid of squash bugs organically…
- What Are Squash Bugs?
- What Do They Look Like?
- Squash Bugs Life Cycle
- Where Do They Come From?
- What Do They Eat?
- Damage To Plants
- How To Get Rid Of Them Naturally
- Organic Control Methods
- How To Prevent Squash Bugs
What Are Squash Bugs?
Squash bugs (also known as the horned squash bug) are a common pest. They can plague all types of plants in the cucurbitaceae family, which is how they got their name.
But they aren’t the only bugs that eat squash plants. New gardeners commonly confuse them for the squash vine borer, because they both have the same host plants.
These are not the same squash plant pests, and they require different control methods. It’s easy to tell them apart though.
If you have bugs crawling all over your plants, those are squash bugs. Squash borers are white worms that are only found inside of the stems, vines, or fruits of the plants, and here’s how to get rid of them.
Squash Bugs -vs- Stink Bugs
Stink bugs are another common pest insect that many people mistake for squash bugs. They look similar, and both can emit a stinky odor when crushed. But they are not the same bug. Here are a few ways to tell them apart…
- Body shape – Squash bugs are long and narrow, where stink bugs are wide and rounded
- Feeding habits – Squash bugs feed on cucurbits, while stink bugs will eat a variety of different types of plants
- Hibernation -Squash bugs typically overwinter in the soil or under plant debris, and do not try to get into your house. Stink bugs are the ones that try to get into the house in the fall to hibernate.
What Do Squash Bugs Look Like?
Adult squash bugs are brown or gray colored with flat, oval shaped bodies. Some of them have an inverted V or diamond shape in the center of their back, and white dots along the perimeter.
Others species have a dark U shaped band across the top, or dots covering their backs. Full-grown adults are just over a 1/2 inch long. They are able to fly, but most of the time you’ll just see them walking around on the plants.
Squash bug babies, called nymphs, are much smaller. They can be anywhere from 1/10 to 1/2 an inch as they mature into adults.
Right after hatching, the nymphs have green bodies, but they turn gray a few weeks later. They have long black legs, and look like weird little spiders. They tend to cluster on the undersides of leaves, and they move very, very fast.
The Squash Bug Life Cycle
Before learning how to get rid of squash bugs, it’s important to understand their life cycle. There are three main stages of the squash bug life cycle: eggs, nymphs, and adults.
The adults hibernate under debris in the garden and surrounding areas through the winter. Squash bug adults emerge when the weather warms in early summer to start feeding and mating.
The females will begin laying eggs on nearby cucurbit plants soon after. They lay their eggs in clusters on the undersides of the leaves, usually in a corner where the thickest veins form a V shape.
The eggs will hatch in about ten days, and baby squash bugs (called nymphs) will emerge. The nymphs will mature into adults in about six weeks. The good news is that there’s usually only one generation of squash bugs per year, though they can overlap.
Where Do Squash Bugs Come From?
Though you don’t usually see it, adult squash bugs can fly. That means they can travel a long way to find your cucurbit plants. So they could come from anywhere! This is why it can be so challenging to get rid of squash bugs.
Since cucurbitaceous vegetables are their main host plant, they’re naturally attracted to them. So, if you’re growing cucurbits, and there are squash bugs present in your area of the world, then there’s a good chance they will find your garden.
What Do Squash Bugs Eat?
Squash bugs love to feed on all types cucurbit plants. This includes all winter and summer squash varieties, like zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds, as well as melons and cucumbers.
Both the adults and the nymphs will feed on all parts of the plant. They usually start with the leaves, and then work their way to the vines, and finally the fruit as the plant starts to die.
Squash Bug Damage To Plants
Squash bugs damage plants by sucking the sap out of the leaves. The damaged parts of the leaves will start to turn yellow, wilt, and then eventually dry up and die. Severe damage can cause the vine to turn black.
Healthy, mature plants can handle small squash bug infestations without major problems. But a large population can kill a weak or immature plant pretty quickly.
How To Get Rid Of Squash Bugs
The good news is that you can indeed get rid of squash bugs for good! I haven’t had them in my home garden for over ten years (knock on wood!). It’s a different story in our community garden plot, where managing their population is a more realistic goal.
The first step is to always keep a close eye on your squash plants. Check them regularly for leaves that are turning yellow or brown, which is the first sign of a squash bug infestation.
If you find a yellow or brown leaf on your squash plant, inspect it closely, being sure to check the underside too. If you see any squash bugs crawling around, then take immediate action!
Since there are several organic methods for controlling squash bugs, you don’t have to worry about using any toxic chemical pesticides on your veggies.
Organic Squash Bug Control Methods
Since they are so sneaky, it can be difficult to control squash bugs. They’re excellent hiders, and move very fast. But like I said earlier, it is possible to eliminate them from your garden for good!
This section is all about how to kill squash bugs organically. I have listed several methods for you to try. Be sure to experiment, and also try combining a few of them to find what works best for you.
The key to successful squash bug control is persistence. If you stay on top of the problem, then they won’t cause much damage (trust me, it sounds harder than it is). Here’s how to get rid of squash bugs naturally…
Hand Pick The Adults & Nymphs
The best organic treatment for squash bugs is to hand pick them off your plants. Sounds hard, but it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
Like I’ve already mentioned a few times, squash bugs move fast. Like really fast! And they are elusive little buggers too, so you have to be quick.
They don’t sting or bite, so you can just pick them off with your bare hand. If the thought of touching them freaks you out, then wear gardening gloves.
Once you catch them, simply drop them into a bucket of water that contains a few squirts of liquid soap. Of course you can just squish them if you’re not too squeamish.
Since they tend to cluster under a leaf, sometimes it’s easier to cut the infested leaf from the plant, and drop the whole thing into the bucket of soapy water (or step on it to crush the bugs) rather than trying to chase after them.
Once you’re done, you can dispose of the dead squash bugs by dumping them into the compost bin, or somewhere in the weeds.
Capture Them With Duct Tape
If you’re having a hard time catching the little buggers, you can try capturing them with duct tape, or any other type of thick tape you have on hand. Simply roll the tape around your hand so the sticky side is facing out.
Then brush your hand over the bugs and nymphs, and the undersides of the leaves. Take care not to press too hard, or the tape could stick to the leaves. When you’re done, just toss the bug-covered tape into the trash.
Try Diatomaceous Earth For Squash Bugs
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a wonderful pest control product that can be used to kill squash bugs naturally. DE is made out of hard-shelled organisms that have been ground up into a fine powder.
Sprinkle it directly onto the bugs, rather than doing a broad application. Spreading DE everywhere is much less effective, and you’ll just be wasting it.
Use Insecticidal Soap For Squash Bugs
Organic insecticidal soap works great for killing squash bugs and nymphs. You can also mix your own homemade spray using 1 tsp mild liquid soap to 1 liter of water (be sure to always spot-test sprays before using them on any plant).
The these organic sprays will kill most of the squash bugs on contact. But at minimum it will slow them down so they’re easier to catch and hand pick. There is no residual effect, so you’ll need to spray it directly on the bugs in order for insecticidal soap to be effective.
How To Prevent Squash Bugs
One of the easiest ways to control squash bugs is to prevent them from infesting your plants in the first place. As I mentioned above, you should check your squash plants regularly for signs of infestation.
But there are other things you can do to keep squash bugs off plants. Here are a few prevention methods to try…
Remove Squash Bug Eggs
Killing squash bug eggs is a great way to prevent an infestation. It’s easy to spot the egg clusters when you know what you’re looking for. They’re are small, but easy to see.
Squash bug egg clusters are commonly found on the undersides of leaves, in a nook where the larger veins form a V shape. They’re brown in color and oval shaped.
Gently scrap the eggs off the leaf with your fingernail or a butter knife, and destroy them. Or you can use the rolled up duct tape trick I described above to remove the eggs Check the leaves weekly for new egg clusters so you can get rid of them before they hatch.
Protect Squash Plants With Row Covers
The downfall of using row covers for squash bug prevention is that it will also keep pollinators out. So, you can either hand-pollinate, or remove the covers once the plants start to bloom.
Grow Squash Bug Repellent Plants
Nasturtium is a natural companion plant that can work to repel squash bugs. I tried it out in my community garden one year, and it worked great!
I inter-planted nasturtium flowers in one half of my squash bed to test it out. Sure enough the cucurbits on that side of the bed never had one squash bug, while the ones in other half did.
Keep Your Garden Clean
Squash bugs overwinter under plant debris and other materials left in the garden. So, to prevent them next year, be sure to clean out your garden in the fall.
Tilling in the fall can also help to kill or expose hibernating squash bugs. You should burn or otherwise destroy dead squash plants in the fall, rather than composting them.
FAQs About Controlling Squash Bugs
In this section, I will answer some of them most frequently asked questions about getting rid of squash bugs. If you still have a question after reading through this post, and these FAQs, then ask in the comments below. I’ll answer it as soon as I can.
Can you use neem oil for squash bugs?
While it is true that neem oil does kill squash bugs, I don’t recommend using it on flowering plants. Neem oil is an organic pesticide, but can be harmful to bees and other pollinators too.
How do squash bugs find plants?
They are attracted to plants in the cucurbit family, and the adults can fly. So, they will naturally seek out nearby squash plants.
What eats squash bugs?
There a lots of different types of beneficial beetles and other predatory insects (like ladybugs and spiders) that feed on insects and their eggs. That’s why it’s so important to only use organic methods to get rid of squash bugs. You don’t want to kill their natural predators in the process.
Do squash bugs bite?
No. Squash bugs do not bite or sting. They are completely harmless to humans.
Will squash bugs kill my plants?
Yes. If left untreated, they will eventually kill the plant. It takes much longer for them to kill a large, mature squash plant. But they can kill small, immature plants pretty quickly.
There’s no doubt that dealing with squash bugs is frustrating, and it can be difficult to eliminate them from your garden. But, if you’re diligent in fighting them, and take preventative measures to keep them from coming back, then you absolutely can get rid of squash bugs for good.
More Posts About Garden Pest Control
- How To Control Japanese Beetles Organically
- How To Control Flea Beetles In The Organic Garden
- How To Get Rid Of Slugs In The Garden Naturally
- How To Get Rid Of Cabbage Worms Organically
Share you tips for how to get rid of squash bugs, or your favorite organic control methods in the comments below.