Squash bugs in a no spray garden

Someone asked me for help with squash bugs, so I wrote up my notes and posted on Facebook. I received a few really good comments and found my hand written notes which I’ve also included. 

I fought against squash bugs hard until my neighbor and I worked on some processes, with input from a local old timer.

If you have tips you would like to add, please email me at missouriherbs@gmail.com and I'll give you credit for it here if used.

1. Plant a sacrificial plant early, let it get full of bugs, rake up all the surrounding mulch and then burn it. Plant your next sacrificial plant and when it's full of bugs burn it. Plant your "real" plant around July 4th, by then many of the squash bugs have been killed.

2. Plant a variety of native wildflowers all around your garden so that there is 25% garden, 75% wildflowers. I don't know what specifically helped (other than thistle mentioned below), but some natural process (either a bug trap or a predator bug) helped reduce the numbers. We have 7 general garden areas. The area with the most wildflowers had the fewest squash bugs (or any of the bad bugs for that matter).

3. Though we are no-till gardeners and rely heavily on straw and thick mulch. We DO NOT mulch our squash plants. It's the only plant I don't mulch. The leaves are big enough and shade the ground just fine. Squash bugs hide in the mulch so reduce their hiding places.

4. Every day water the base of the plant and wait for the bugs to come up out of the ground. Pick them off, putting them in a cup with water with a little dish soap. I then feed these to the chickens who come running when they see my red bug bucket.

5. Every day as the sun is coming up, lay on the ground near the squash plant and look under the leaves. When the sun is hitting the leaves just right, the eggs will pop out in your vision and are easy to find. If you have to turn over every leaf one at a time, it'll take forever. Lying on the ground and looking up you can cover a lot more territory with your vision quickly. You'll have to play with the time of day when the eggs are the most visible. For me, it's just as the sun is hitting the leaves for the first time in the morn. I like to water my gardens before the sun comes up, so I water everything else first and once the sun starts peeking over the tree line, I start working on squash leaves.  Make sure you know what lady bug eggs and squash bugs eggs look like before you start.  A Google search will help. 

6. When you see eggs, remove every one. I use my thumb nail to scrape them off and squish the eggs on my work pants. You might accidently put a few little holes in the leaves sometimes, but they recover.  Some people use duct tape, which I’ve tried, but my nail is easier.

7. When you start removing the eggs with regularity, the squash bugs get smart and start laying on the plants next to them (jalapeno, tomato - they don't care), they’ll start laying on top of the squash leaves and down the stems. They'll also start laying them spaced out instead of all together. My neighbor even found eggs under the wire of the fence next to the squash plant. So look all around when you start noticing the laying pattern change.

8. After the plant sets 4 – 5 squash, you can keep the plant cut back to a reasonable size for easier monitoring.  Leave just a few leaves past the last squash on the vine.  If you do it early, the vines will be tender enough to pinch off.  I made a mistake in allowing my last squash plant take over the entire garden and towards the end of the season the squash bugs got it because I couldn't even remotely check under all the leaves.

The black beauty zucchini was fantastic because it’s a bush type plant and doesn't trail out.  I got no squash bug damage and almost zero squash bugs on that plant because there weren't excessive leaves and it was easy to check. It is a prolific producer and produced monster sized zucchini when I didn’t check it for a few days.  Most of my squash plants I check every day but with these black beauties after a time I realized I didn’t have to check them every day.  So that is now my primary squash plant. I only have trailing squash plants now so that I can have winter storage squash.

9. Plant squash plants near a bull thistle or plant a bull thistle very close to the squash. The squash bugs LOVE the bloom as do the butterflies and bees.  Keep in mind this plant can get HUGE and is prickly.  Just make sure to carefully cut the bloom off when it's spent and before it goes to seed fluff or you'll have it everywhere. Keep one seed head to go to fluff and carefully cut it before the fluff flies. Keep the seeds in a paper bag for next year's planting. You can make cheese rennet (similar to cheddar) for a fresh cottage cheese with some of the purple flower heads if you want to use some that way. But you can't use one flower for both bugs and rennet. For the rennet, the flower needs to be cut immediately when it's purple and just peeking open. For bugs, the flower needs time to open and to attract squash bugs and other pollinators. When checking for bugs every day, check your thistle also.

I also have in my notes to reduce squash bugs to plant the squash near radish, china rose, French breakfast (?) and Daikon radish.  Haven’t tried that yet, but may this year. 

10. Learn what every phase of life of the squash bugs look like. The babies are quite different than the mature adults and they tend to congregate together and easy to squish right on the plant.

11. I'm going to try this this year... put a toilet paper roll or foil around the base of the plant as soon as you plant it to make it harder for the bugs to bore into the stem.

12. Put a board near the plants and pick it up every day to see who is hiding underneath it, sometimes slugs, sometimes squash bugs.

13.  I have tried garlic and cayenne spray with mixed results.  My friends have reported the same thing.  One year it will work an another year it won’t.  So I’ve stopped using it for this purpose. 

My friend Karyn Zaremba suspects that the passion flower vine is a squash bug deterrent and my friend Jennifer Smith uses a little one gallon shop vac that she puts a bit of soapy water in and then suck them up. 

I do work the hardest for my squash plants every year, but I sure do love eating winter squash when there is no garden! Hope some of this helps!!