Learning how to get rid of squash bugs naturally in the garden is an important task for anyone growing veggies from the squash family.
These pests are primarily found on these families of plants, but just about any garden can develop an outbreak of these frustrating bugs.
Often confused for stink bugs, squash bugs are unfortunately far more detrimental to plants. Both have a nasty odor when crushed and are quite similar in appearance.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take when it comes to getting rid of squash bugs in the garden. We'll cover these in depth and help you weigh your options.
But, we first need to explain what type of damage these bugs can do if left to do their bidding, along with how to identify them. We also want to share a few prevention tactics that might save your garden and plants from ever experiencing an infestation in the first place.
What Are Squash Bugs?
If there’s any good news to be had about squash bug infestations, it’s that these pests are relatively easy to identify.
They’re large, just about half an inch long, so you should be able to see them with the naked eye as they’re resting and feasting on your plants.
They have brown or gray bodies and flat backs, with orange-striped abdomens. Although these pests can fly, they usually don’t, preferring instead to amble around on their legs.
Squash bugs look similar at all stages of their life cycle, but young bugs are usually gray with black legs.
They move rapidly as they feast upon your plants. Just one squash bug egg cluster can yield 12 or more larvae. As they emerge, they’re starving, wanting nothing more than to munch upon your unsuspecting plants.
Squash bugs will overwinter in the garden, hiding in dead leaves, buildings, and under bits of wood.
They’ll fly to your plants to mate as soon as they start producing vines, with adults laying their eggs on the bellies of leaves. This is when the real trouble starts!
What Damage Can Squash Bugs Do In The Garden?
Squash bugs can inflict serious damage to your plants - but the good news is that the damage is usually treatable.
These pests inject toxins into your plant, sucking the sap of their favorite squash plants and leaving behind yellow spots.
These spots eventually turn brown and spread, causing your leaves to wilt as nutrients can’t flow to leaves as they should. After that, leaves tend to dry up and turn black and brittle. Some leaves may even look ragged and holey in appearance.
Unfortunately, small squash plants usually die. Larger, more established plants may be able to survive a squash bug infestation as long as you take steps to remedy it sooner rather than later.
The real challenge posed by squash bugs is that while the pests are easy to identify, the symptoms are not quite so easy to pinpoint.
Gardeners often confuse squash bug infestations for bacterial wilt, a disease that tends to be spread by cucumber beetles.
Therefore, it’s important that you act fast if you suspect a squash bug infestation - both to make sure that’s the pest plaguing your plants as well as to treat it expeditiously.
How To Prevent A Squash Bug Infestation In The First Place
Early detection and prevention are crucial when it comes to preventing squash bug infestations.
Proper Watering & Feeding Goes A Long Way
This will help your plants stay strong so they can fend off a squash bug infestation if it does occur.
Clean The Garden & Eliminate Overwintering Sites
In addition, it’s a good idea to burn or compost old plants in your garden at the end of each growing season.
This will eliminate potential sites where bugs might breed or overwinter. Rotate your crops each year and avoid growing any plants in the cucurbit family in the same spot two years in a row. You may want to avoid deep mulches like hay or straw.
Although mulch is a great idea when it comes to preventing weeds and moderating soil moisture, these cool mulches can serve as breeding grounds for these pests.
Plant Nasturtium As A Companion Plant
Companion planting is another technique that may help you prevent a squash bug infestation.
Consider growing plants like nasturtium around your squash, melon, or cucumber plants.
Keep your vines covered until they blossom, which can help you avoid the only generation of squash bugs that will appear early in the spring.
Consider Planting More Resistant Squash Varieties
Finally, try planting squash varieties that are resistant to infestation. Some good options include ‘Sweet Cheese,’ ‘Royal Acorn,’ and ‘Butternut.’
Most early summer crookneck squash varieties are also resistant to squash bugs.
Planting transplants rather than seeds is also a good idea, as this will help protect plants when they are at their most vulnerable.
How To Get Rid Of Squash Bugs In The Garden Naturally
When it comes to getting rid of squash bugs in the garden, you’ll want to remember that early detection is essential.
Eradicating squash bug larvae and eggs before they grow into adults can help you prevent a larger infestation later on.
There are a few other options, too, most of which have to do with checking your plants regularly for squash bugs.
Physically Remove & Destroy Squash Bugs & Larvae From Your Plants
Check your pants every day, collecting and destroying any bugs or egg clusters that you find. Some people simply crush these, while others drop them into buckets filled with water and liquid dish soap.
Another way you can search for squash bugs is to put a board in the garden at night. The bugs will gather beneath the board during the night - you can then dispose of large amounts of bugs all at once.
If you’re worried about squash bugs affecting your plants, consider laying row covers over them. You should remove the row covers when your plants start to blossom but it should do a good job of reducing the potential for a problem.
Spray Neem Oil To Kill Squash Bugs On Plants
These include Japanese beetles, stink bugs, and of course, squash bugs. A great thing about this product is that it won't harm beneficial insects, such as pollinators.
We have a complete guide on when and how to use neem oil on your plants, so check it out if this is an approach you're interested in learning more about!
Diatomaceous Earth Can Kill Squash Bugs
Diatomaceous earth is another option. This powder is made from ground-up diatoms, or fossilized sea creatures, and applied as a powder near plants.
It’s safe for pets, people, and wildlife, yet the microscopic shards cut into the soft bodies of insects like squash bug larvae.
And, as it turns out, we have another complete guide on how to use diatomaceous earth in the garden!
Bring Beneficial Insects To The Battle
You might even try some natural predators! Chickens and guinea hens both love munching on squash bugs, as do adult tachinid flies.
You can attract these by planting Queen Anne’s lace (which the flies love!) near the garden. Or, you can simply purchase these helpful critters at your local nursery or online.
Our complete guide on beneficial bugs will help you understand which insects to use for which plants.
What Pesticide Kills Squash Bugs In The Garden?
There are several pesticides you can turn to if the natural methods above don’t cut it. The most common pesticides used to kill squash bugs include pyrethrin as an active ingredient. Here are a few to consider:
- Bonide Pyrethrin Garden Insect Spray Concentrate - potent concentrate, dilute with water prior to spraying.
- Fox Farm "Don't Bug Me" Pyrethrin Spray - Pre-mixed, ready to use spray bottle.
Keep in mind, spraying your insecticides at the right time is just as important as choosing the right one. For best results, these need to be applied when eggs are hatching.
It’s a good idea to check in with your local cooperative extension to find out what is recommended in your area before you decide to apply anything.
Final Thoughts On How To Get Rid Of Squash Bugs In The Garden Naturally
If you were wondering, “how do you get rid of squash bugs?” then hopefully this article cleared up some confusion for you.
When you pride yourself on growing prize-winning pumpkins and mouth-watering zucchinis, you no doubt want to get rid of pest problems as quickly as possible.
By following these tips - and shopping for all your pest control needs at Hydrobuilder - you’ll be well on your way to a bountiful harvest (and a pest-free garden, to boot!).