By this of time of year, many gardeners have confronted disappointing losses in their zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin patches due to the squash bug.
If you suspect the bug may be the cause of your wilted vines and lost production, look through your patch for the gray bug or its bright, tiny eggs.
The best way to fight them is with good sanitation in the garden, said Kathleen Cue, horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Pictured above are the bug, its eggs and damaged vines, all from my plot in our community garden in the Gifford Park Neighborhood.
Although the bugs are causing the greatest damage now, gardeners can do little but attempt to methodically kill them and remove the eggs from the garden. Overall prevention depends on year-round, good garden sanitation, Cue said.
Here are suggestions for dealing with the bugs, some from Cue, some from other states' extension offices and gardeners:
• Clean up your patch. The bugs like to hide under things at night, so debris, including mulch, encourages them.
• Discard dead leaves and vines in trash or city yard waste. The city's compost piles get hot enough to destroy problems related to this bug, but backyard mulch piles probably don't get that hot.
• Set out “traps.” Because the bugs like to spend their nights under things, set a board or piece of cardboard in your garden. Turn it over in the early morning and kill any bugs you see.
• Individually kill each bug. This is tedious, but it's an important part of control. Squished, the bugs emit a sharp, spicy odor, so be prepared to experience that. If you're squeamish, wear rubber gloves.
Besides squishing them, you can drop individual bugs in a bucket of soapy water. Each bug you kill prevents future hatchings of a couple hundred young ones, so your efforts are worthwhile.
• Scrape away and discard eggs. Typically, the eggs are laid underneath leaves, but some are on the top.
To find most eggs, turn over leaves. Scrape away with your fingernail. This is hard to do without damaging the leaf, so do your best. Eggs can hatch in soil, so try not to let them drop to the ground.
• Try using duct tape to lift bugs and eggs from leaves and stems.
• Spray bugs with diluted soapy water. Spray directly on bugs, not the entire plant. Your goal is to suffocate existing bugs as opposed to cleansing the plant.
Adult bugs can develop a tolerance of the soap, so focus on baby bugs. Find a reliable recipe and test to make sure you don't harm the plant. Rough proportions: one tablespoon dish soap to a full spritzer bottle of water.
• The adult bug winters in debris in your garden, so clean your plot thoroughly after harvest. To lure them from their nests, set out more traps (boards) so that you can collect and destroy them.
• In the spring, after planting your next crop, cover the row with a “row cover” so that new squash bugs don't fly in. Remove cover when flowers appear so that the flowers can get pollinated, keeping in mind that bugs are likely to move in once the covers are removed.
For more information: http://tendingmygarden.com/squash-bugs-tactics-for-winning-the-war/
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln