Thursday, July 1, 2010

Squash Bugs From Hell Can Be Killed










Some people might be deceived into believing from reading this site that all is always rosy at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. However that is not true. We only have four rose bushes. Moreover, we suffer from some of the same travails and challenges as other community gardens. Some of them perplex me beyond distraction. One of them has become an obsession: squash bugs.


Your faithful Garden Manager only began gardening in earnest in 2008 when I joined the Redeemer Moravian Church Community Garden in Dublin (which is a far piece from the Bexley area). That was only the first or second year I had grown zucchini. I started with four plants and they kicked butt until mid to late July when they wilted and died in the course of only 7-14 days. I was shocked. They had been so healthy, large and prolific. As they shriveled away, I noticed that they were overrun with a gazillion grey creepy bugs. I dutifully covered them with sevin powder, but they could not be revived. I planted new plants to replace them, but they died as well. I was disappointed and assumed that they had just run their course. I had lots of other food to harvest, so I moved on.


Then, last year I had the same experience even though I had eight prolific and gigantic zucchini plants. I noticed that everyone at the SACG had the same problem: their zucchini wilted and died to reveal a gazillion creepy grey bugs. (Some of the plants also had issues with powdery mildew). Then the bugs moved on to attack our pumpkin patch and it disappeared within two weeks. Mitch asked me about it and I told him it happened about the same time every year and it was probably just nature's way. I was surprised to learn elsewhere that it is possible to maintain a zucchini plant until Fall. However, I also began conducting research into the creepy grey bugs.


These bugs have a name. They are squash bugs. They resemble stink bugs and will stink if you squash them (which I am too squeamish to do). They multiply quickly and you will literally have thousands and thousands of them in a short period of time if they find food in your garden. They prefer zucchini, but they will eat yellow squash, pumpkins and other squashes and curbits (like cucumbers and melons) in a pinch. They travel large distances quickly and can overwinter in your garden under almost anything (which is why it is vitally important to clean out your garden every fall to remove any place where bugs can hibernate).


Sadly, there seemed to be no reliable way to kill them. Few books or websites address the problem because they cannot recommend a reliable solution. My Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver (i.e., the organic bible that I got for Xmas) had no practical solution. It described them as the "worst pest of squash-family crops" and recommended checking the undersides of leave for the copper-colored eggs and small yellow flecks on leaves (as an early sign of squash bug feeding). The bugs suck out the sap, wilt the vines, pit the leaves and fruit and prevent fruit from setting. To prevent them, Rodales suggested planting as late as possible to allow time for the bugs to emerge and move on to another neighborhood or starve before your squash plants emerge. I do not find this a satisfactory solution. It also recommended handpicking off the nymphs (i.e., baby bugs) and adults (YUCK!!), cutting off severely infected leaves and destroying leaves where eggs have been laid. Finally, it suggested spraying insecticidal soap or pyrethrins to kill bugs and nymphs and suggested that Neem may also be effective.


I did not find the OSU information pamphlet to be useful either. However, Kansas State's website contained some very useful information and pictures. Finally, I found a message board on the ivillage Garden website which had some useful and gross tips. I've tried a few of the ideas and will share what little wisdom I've gathered in the last 10 days.


  1. No solution is easy. They are all relatively time consuming and some of them are gross.
  2. Carbaryl is the generic name for Sevin. The powdered form is useless, so don't even bother. It is an ingested poison, which means the bugs have to eat it before it will kill them and they aren't particularly interested in eating powder when there is so much squash sap everywhere they go. I applied it on newly emerged plants as a preventative (since there was no risk of killing beneficial insects at that stage). However, Sevin also makes a spray. I sprayed it on eggs and a few adult bugs (which did not die instantly, if at all. They ran and hid, so I have no personal testimonial).
  3. The eggs are very noticeable, so you won't have to look hard for them. They are a copper color (both dark or bright depending on their age). They are almost always on the underside of the leaves in nice neat rows of about 25 or so eggs along a vein (often near the stem). Sometimes, they are laid on the top side of the leaf and occasionally along a stem. You will not enjoy looking under each leaf because the stems are prickly and they all look alike after a while. I've read that eggs are impervious to pesticides, so you spray them only to make yourself feel better. I read somewhere that you could remove them with masking or duct tape, but that did not work well when I tried it on Saturday. You could also squish the eggs, but I'm a girl and that's gross. Instead, I recommend ripping off that leaf (or portion of the leaf) and destroying it far away from your garden. Most sites recommend dropping the eggs into a bucket of soapy water, but I don't carry around such items in the back of my car. I stomp on the leaf and then dump it far away. This is the time to be looking for eggs because the adults became active in June. A plant can have several leaves with eggs, so don't stop looking after finding your first batch on a plant. I've read the eggs will hatch within two weeks, so check your leaves twice each week.
  4. The easiest time to kill squash bugs is shortly after they hatch and are in the nymph stage. They will look like small spiders with grey bodies and black legs. They hang together in a group on the back of the leaf where they were hatched. They are too stupid to run when you pick up the leaf, squeal at the sight and then drop the leaf in disgust. They will still be there when you pick up the leaf again and spray them with whatever is in your other hand. However, some of them may have dropped off the leaf when you dropped it in disgust, so it's a good idea to spray the ground underneath the leaf to get any strays. You could also pick them off by hand and squish them, but that's gross and even more time consuming.
  5. Adults are hard to kill, run and hide quickly upon discovery and stink when you squash them. However, I read on the iVillage site that someone somewhere had great success spraying them with soapy water. She claimed that it suffocated them. Whatever. I took a spray bottle that I purchased at a hardware store, filled it an inch deep with generic dish soap, put in another inch of concentrated Neem Oil and then filled it with water. Those squash bugs died very quickly after a few well aimed shots of that concoction. I could not be more delighted. I tried the soapy water without the Neem Oil on Saturday and the bugs did not die instantly. There is also the risk of the next day's hot sun scorching the leaf, but I think that's a small price to pay to save the entire plant.
  6. I've read that Neem is relatively organic. It is an ingestible insecticide that seems to work in a variety of mysterious ways. I have no special insight. Maybe it makes the leaves stink so that bugs don't eat them. Maybe it fools the bugs into thinking they aren't hungry (and then they starve to death). It supposedly will not affect ladybugs or bees because they do not ingest it and are not fooled by it. I have not used it as a preventative. I use it to kill squash bugs and nymphs on contact with soapy water.

Feel free to share whatever tips or wisdom you have. The more the merrier. I also purchased some permethrin/ pyrethrins powder on Saturday, but haven't tried it yet.

33 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your article. I have been squishing the eggs and knocking off the bugs several times a day. Seems to help. I hesitate to use Neem because it is dangerous to bees.

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  2. I have been researching how to kill Squash bugs for several days now an have come to the conclusion that Diatomaceous Earth is the best way to go. I am going to give this a try next week. I used soapy water in a spray bottle last year and had no luck. Those damn squash bugs devoured all of my squash and melon plants.

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    1. Soapy water by itself won't kill them; you need to add neem oil. I have had no luck with diatomaceous earth either. But good luck. I've heard that cat nip might deter them, too.

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  3. Bayer Advanced Garden and Vegetable spray is what I have found to kill them. All of them. With in 20 minutes of applying it. http://www.bayeradvanced.com/insects-pests/products/vegetable-garden-insect-spray I have NONE left! I am so excited I can't see straight! I've been dealing with these unruly pests for the past 3 years now. Nothing I've tried has phased them. Not even sevin. But this stuff killed them almost on contact. I recommend it highly!

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    1. That's not available in Canada unfortunately.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. This product contains Cyfluthrin. Cyfluthrin is severely toxic according to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Department of Integrated Pest Management:

      Acute Toxicity to People and Other Mammals4
      Toxicity rating: Slightly Toxic
      Long-Term Toxicity to People and Other Mammals5
      On US EPA list: Not listed;
      On CA Proposition 65 list: Not listed
      Water Quality Rating2
      Overall runoff risk rating: High
      Source: Pesticide Choice: Best Management Practice for Protecting Surface Water Quality in Agriculture. UC ANR Publication 8161.
      Impact on Natural Enemies
      Overall toxicity rating: High
      Specific impacts: predatory mites (High), parasitoids (High), general predators (High)
      Impact on Honey Bees3
      Toxicity category: I - Do not apply to blooming plants
      Pests for which it is mentioned in Pest Notes

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    4. It's not available for sale in many areas because it is ILLEGAL to use.

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    5. This BAYER product if I am not mistaken is illegal in a lot of Europe and has been responsible for honey bee kills, it is a modified form of nicotine and in their rose and plant food make the entire plant poisonous, flowers, leaves, all of it. IT SHOULD BE BANNED, STAY AWAY FROM IT.

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  4. Great article.
    Excellent pictures.
    Thank for the tip re. Neem oil, I'm on my way out the door to buy some right now.
    They are truly disgusting bugs. I hate the way the adults run and hide....shiver............
    Creepy.
    I have noticed when the farmer (backing onto my garden) plants soy bean, as he has this year, I am inundated with a huge variety of bugs. Doesn't happen with corn or wheat. Odd.

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    1. There is no easy non-toxic solution. Everyday, like you, I am out there lifting up the plant, shaking it gently, inspecting underneath every leaf for eggs and underneath the plant and between the stalks for adults. When watering, if you hold the hose over the center of the squash plant, you will almost always see an adult come up for air. That's when I squash them. I know it's gross, but it works and it makes me feel better. This is the first year in four years that I have been able to get any squash at all. I started looking for the bugs earlier than usual (even before the first yellow leaf), about June 20 and have made it a point to look at least every other day. It's very frustrating that they keep coming back. I thought I could kill them all before they laid eggs, but that didn't happen. Let me know if you find a better way. Thanks.

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    2. Thanks for the tip on adding neem oil to the soap solution. Hopefully that will work better than the salad oil I have been using. As a note, Dawn contains detergents and is harmful to the plants. Use Murphy's Oil Soap instead.

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  5. Gee I was hoping I would find a easier solution. I had about a dozen yellow squash plants I was able to keep most of them alive and well until the first frost. Every night after work I would head down to the garden armed with my self lighting propane torch, the kind with the button for lighting. I used the torch and moving quickly along the stem of the plant I would drive the bugs out of hiding and then when scene burn them. It worked great to find the adult bugs, and every night I killed several. When I found the eggs on the leaves I burnt them as well and yes it would leave a burnt spot on the leaf but not any worse than tearing part of the leaf off. The little guys were no match for the torch and I was able to smoke most of them with out hurting the plant; usually a quick poof from the torch and they would drop off. I just waved the torch on the ground and no more bugs. The thing I found really hard to understand was how they kept coming back day after day. I had fresh squash until the first frost but it did take time every night. I guess I took it as a challenge just to see if it could be done. I had the plants mulched with shredded leaves that didn't burn easily; I wouldn't try this if you used straw as a mulch or your plants might go up in flames. I hope this helps someone out, it does work if you are willing to spend the time.

    PS I have been gardening for quite along time and live near St Louis Mo. If you grow a garden of any size make sure you check out information about wheel hoes. There was a company called Planet Jr that use to sell wheel hoes and you can find these on ebay if you don't mind fixing them up. There is a company that makes a copy of the Planet Jr wheel hoe called Hosstools.com. They sell a plate planter that bolts to the planet jr wheel hoe, I have one and like it better than anything else out there. If you do a search for "planet wizbang wheel hoe" the guy will sell you the plans to make a wheel hoe yourself or sell you a kit.
    What you will want to wind up with is a wheel hoe with pistol grip handles and not the curved plow handles.
    The stirrup blade is the best blade for weeds. Some people use their tillers to control weeds but what they are doing is bringing up new seeds every time they till a pass and the weeds will keep coming back; not with a wheel hoe and it is much easier to use that you would believe; 1 take a step, 2 push the hoe, 1 take a step 2 push the hoe.
    The weed seeds that are on top will all germinate after a couple of times and then you will have very few weeds. After it rains and the wheel hoe is used it will break up the top layer of soil and the loose layer of soil will act as a mulch. If you think about it; this is the same way a farmer would cultivate his crops before the liquid death chemicals came along.
    Happy gardening, John Fink

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  6. I have been battling those squash 'spawn of Satan' bugs for years. This site has given me hope!!!!
    My usual plan of attack is water the base of the plants and come back about 10-15 minutes later and catch them trying to dry themselves on the leaves...apparently they don't take to water. Then I either gently cut the leaf, drop it on the ground and stomp on them, OR (and this one gives me great satisfaction) use my scissors to cut them in half! This only works if they are near the edge of the leaf. Of course, I'm always on the look out for egg clusters and remove/stomp them. I've tried diatomaceous earth...problem there is it doesn't work after getting wet and here in Texas we HAVE to water regularly or the whole garden is toast! I will be using the suggestions given here ASAP!

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  7. Just tried it and as you said it was instant... At least for the younger gray ones. The darker ones that have developed the orange'ish spots are fighting with ninja strength! I sprayed a whole gallon on them. I used dawn dish detergent with mine. Do you think I did it right? I love killing bugs! Sorry but I find satisfaction in killing them as it makes me feel safer and I sleep better at night. Should I spray more tomorrow?

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    1. I've never needed to spray a whole gallon. Just be sure to aim for their head. If nothing else, they will drown after a few well-aimed squirts. It's the combination of dish soap (dawn should be fine unless it counteracts the oil), neem oil and water. Remember, that going too wild with the spray will kill the plant when the sun returns and scorches the residue. I've come to believe that these bugs find their plant with their sense of smell. I planted my squash in my plot this year among lots of mint plants and I've only found one set of eggs and one bug on them so far this summer. I've found the bugs and eggs in other parts of the community garden where the squash were not planted with mint. Just a suggestion for next year . . .

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  8. I just cut down one of my infested plants and am hoping to save the other before they get to it. I also have pumpkins and melons in the same area and will be furious if they get infested. I tried Neem oil today, but I'll add soap net time and hope for more success. I didn't realize that spraying the eggs is useless, so I'll have to go back and drown them I guess. I really hate these bugs. I also read that you shouldn't plant squash plants in the same place every year, which may have been my mistake this year.

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    1. I feel your pain. This is the first year I've still been harvesting zucchini in August and it looks like I might even have zucchini in September. I planted my seeds in hills between peppermint plants. (Next year, I'll wait until June in order to avoid cucumber beetles). I rip off the part of the leaves where squash bug seeds have been laid (or the entire leaf if that is not practical). Torching the eggs may be more practical for the eggs. OSU held a webinar on squash bugs, cucumber beetles and squash borers on August 2, 2013. You can watch the webinar for free (for a limited time, after which OSU may charge a nominal fee) at: https://learn.extension.org/events/1126. I didn't find the webinar particularly helpful for squash bugs, but it was interesting about cucumber beetles (which love zucchini even more than cucumbers and cause the powdery mildew both plants get every year) and squash borers. Good luck

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    2. I use dawn soap and a little bath salt. it helps. I have a very large garden so picking bugs off is out of the question. I read in a very old (1930) planting book to put in radishes with your squash. i have done this, and will post at the end of season whether it works

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    3. Very interesting tips here, am definitely interested in the radishes, Have not planted any squash in several years due to the horrid creatures, I ended up with a really bad sciatic nerve thanks to all the bending a few years back trying to get the horrid adults using a piece of duct tape rolled into a small donut shape worked excellent, and also use it to remove the eggs, the tape never hurt the leaves at all, I did end up saving my plants and getting squash but my Ortho Dr. told me I sure goofed up my sciatic nerve, sadly it still gives me a bad way to go and I avoid bending over as much as possible or even kneeling!

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  9. I didn't even know what squash beetles were. I planted a total of 120 plants across the back side of my garden. squash, cucumber, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and watermelon plants. The zucchini, yellow squash, and pumpkin plants are dying off bad. Watermelon (Congo, & sugar baby) cantaloupe, and cucumber plants are doing pretty well. Although the cucumbers and cantaloupes are barely producing. I have a huge group of peppers, green beans, tomatoes, and many other veggies, no problem with any of these. everything is planted in sandy loam, it is great soil. So I thought I would go the extra mile, and get some organic compost, and I bought 5 yards of compost from a local nursery, I suspect that is where the invaders came in. I have never seen them in this area before. I am going to try some insecticide, I found a product that biodegrades in about 3 weeks. I work with chemistry a lot, and I understand it well. Most modern insecticides do biodegrade pretty rapidly, that is the main thing you need to check into if you decide to use some. I know there is no perfect solution, but I am infested with these things over a large area. I will post the results, I am hoping to save some of my plants.

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  10. Now this is in actual fact cooperative. It’s very openhanded of you to share this with us.
    Pest Control Fairfax Va

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  11. I have not tried it, but have had others tell me that planting marigolds around and among the plants attacked by squash bugs minimizes them and obviously is an organic deterrent.

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  12. I brought water to a boil and steeped garlic and a crap ton of Cayenne pepper, then mixed that with dish soap.... kills the squash bugs in about 30 seconds

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  13. After reading your comment I boiled garlic and chili powder in water. I left out the soap because of someone mentioning Dawn may be bad for the plant. It worked great. I then went back and cut the eggs off of the leaves. Hope those things are gone for good.

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  15. My original comment disappeared when I signed in to post :(

    Basically, I used my wet/dry vac and filled the bottom with a good soapy solution from Dawn and water. It took about three 45 min sessions hunting through the garden for their hiding spots, but it went out tonight and didn't see a single bug. We also cut off all the leaves or parts of leaves with the eggs and sealed it in a trash bag waiting for Friday's pickup.

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  16. ive been gardening for several years now & never even seen these nasty killers until last year they appeared after installing an old wooden fence around my whole garden. I noticed they really liked the wood fencing were all over it! Just my experience. But I had no clue what i was even dealing with until it was to late they destroyed 80% of my garden (large garden) It was so upsetting. my plants were huge & beautiful and within a couple weeks destroyed. Also first time Ive ever dealst with Powdery Mildew, just a weird upsetting year. (all after a entire summer of work) End of season:( I will try all these ideas if need be thank you. Although Im just assuming because im not reading anyone saying these bugs lay their eggs ONLY on leaves?? so thats when you need to be on the look out for them?? Wondering exactly when I need to start looking for the signs of them in the garden

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    1. They generally only lay their eggs on squash leaves and in a straight line along squash stems, but will sometimes hang out on the leaves of other plants. I discovered that once when I covered them with white diatomaceous earth and they jumped onto other plants. They were very conspicuous when covered with white powder. Good luck. Another tip is to delay planting squash plants until June to avoid a mating cycle.

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  17. Got this tip on YouTube. Use blue painters tape to remove squash bug eggs. It works very well. Also works on catching a cluster of nymphs.

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