Squash Planting Mistakes, and Killing Squash Bugs Naturally

Squash bed new watermarked

My Cucurbits are out of control! Who would have thought nine weeks ago that the bed would go from this…

squash bed
…to this wild jungle!ย  I can’t even get in there to see what’s growing! It’s nuts. I definitely planted them too closely together. Usually planting in a block instead of long rows is best, but obviously not so much with anything in the Cucurbit family. These guys need to be several feet apart, really.

As you can see, my plants are suffering from a lack of rain. Squash, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins LOVE water, and need lots of it. That was something else I didn’t consider when I planted this bed. Too many water lovers all competing for a drink. I turned the sprinkler on them last night, but we’ll have to figure out a rain barrel drip irrigation system for next year’s plants.

Squash Bug adults
Another problem with planting them too closely is that I now can’t get in there to check the leaves of the plants for signs of Squash Bugs. I found this pair of late-stage nymphs on one of the plants along the outside edge of my patch, so I’m sure there are more pests hiding in the middle rows. When you start seeing these ugly grey critters (or Squash Bugs in any of their various stages), you’ve got trouble. Squash bugs can quickly kill your plants if they aren’t taken care of right away. I’ve done my best to wade through the leaves without crushing vines underfoot, but it’s impossible to check them thoroughly in such dense growth.

Squash Bug babies
Most often you’ll find them on the undersides of the leaves. Here’s a cluster ofย  Squash Bug nymphs. They totally creep me out.

Squash Bug eggs
And this is what Squash Bug eggs look like. They’re small, oval, and copper colored. You’ll find them on the undersides of squash and pumpkin leaves. I usually just scrape them off with my fingernail or a stick when I find them.

squash bug tape
The best method I’ve found for effectively removing nymphs and eggs quickly is by using the sticky side of a piece of packaging or duct tape. I make a loop of tape to slip my fingers into, so I can just slap the sticky surface onto the cluster of critters as I uncover them. They scatter quickly, so if you can catch them all in one stroke you’ll have better luck.

I also need to sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth around the base of each plant, as this is where adult Squash Bugs like to hide- especially if you’ve mulched the plants (which I’ve read isn’t best to do around the base of squash and pumpkin plants for this very reason).

Amish farmers use row covers to keep Squash Bugs from laying eggs on the plants in early Summer. I may need to try that next year.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t plant too many cucurbits together (cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins); they’ll fight for water.
  • Allow several feet of space between plants to give yourself walking room so you can check for insect problems, etc.
  • Don’t mulch too closely to the base of your plants. Unmulched mounds are a good place to plant squash and pumpkin seeds.
  • Sprinkle D.E. (Diatomaceous Earth) around the base of the plants in late Spring.
  • Row covers can be helpful in keeping Squash Bugs at bay.
  • Another helpful tip: Allowing chickens to clean up the squash bed at the end of the season will help clear out any pests that may be hiding until next year.

As I navigated my way around the plants, I did spot a few winter squashes growing in our patch. Let’s hope they do well!






What squash planting tips can you add? What organic methods have you found for killing squash bugs naturally?

30 thoughts on “Squash Planting Mistakes, and Killing Squash Bugs Naturally”

  1. Hi !
    Every year I have been bombarded wit squash bugs! This year I have been using more of my essential oils, rosemary and peppermint. I have basil an cilantro growing nearby. I also have marigold all over my garden. I have found some bugs because I don’t spray with my oils enough ๐Ÿ™ but when I go to water everyday ( I live in the desert) I find the bugs and step on them. When I do spray I won’t see them for a couple days. I have way less then in the past years and my plant looks beautiful.

    • Definitely keep an eye out on your squash plants for eggs. Being diligent with this dramatically reduces an infestation. I love that the essential oils are working for you. Very cool!

      • This is the first year I had squash bugs. We have had beautiful plants in years past. We got 2 zucchini and 1 yellow squash this year. ๐Ÿ™ Could they have been in the soil we bought? We bought really expensive soil from a local organic gardening shop.

  2. Might want to try to plant them later in the season there were years the they just crushed my garden. Then one year it was too wet and had to plant late. Sometimes these things have a window and if you can miss that window for the bugs it can make all the difference.

  3. I have marigolds all over my garden and the squash bugs completely ignore them (I plant them largely because I love them. I’ve not found that they do much for aphids either). Diatomaceous earth works well enough early in the season, but once the plants get very big (vining) it requires so much of it that you’d wind up killing good bugs too. I do spray with liquid sevin (at dusk an average of 3 times a season and that’s worked well for me until this year. Frankly, this is the worst I’ve ever seen them and this year I planted exclusively resistant crops (trombocino and lemon squash). I’ve smashed eggs and bugs religiously every time I’ve watered (every two days), but they continue to appear and wreak havoc.

    At the end of this season I’m going to clear the garden completely and burn everything–even the mulch–and put down a cover crop. My suspicion is that whatever I didn’t catch at the end of the season last year overwintered and when my husband tilled for me in the spring he spread them all over the garden.

  4. I have to wonder why you are not employing guinea fowl to surf your turf for all the bugs you want rid of? They are wonderful scavengers for unwanted insects. They are easy on the foliage yet hard on bugs. They are not scratchers as chickens, in fact most guinea fowl do not scratch at all. I hope to never have to be without them.

  5. Plant catnip around your garden. When it gets big enough to trim back take the trimmings and put them in the squash bed. There they will put off the scent that those bugs hate and decompose into the ground beneath the plants. I have not had squash bugs at all since I started companion planting. I also have chocolate mint planted at the opposite end of my garden as the catnip. I did see lady bugs in my garden the other day. ๐Ÿ™‚ I avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers at any cost.

  6. Thanks for the advice! I’m a second year gardener with tons to learn but the rewards are so worth all the work! I plan to try marigolds next year too. I’m going to search your site for help on a tomato problem I’m having, but I think my problem is from stink bigs due to a few google search forums.

  7. Hi Kendra – thanks for sharing such good advice!

    Our backyard garden is too small for a lot of squash, etc. (we have planted a few cucumbers, though), but every time I read a post like this, I file it away under “excellent gardening advice for my future garden.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    The tape is a brilliant idea! I never would have thought of that. Thank you!

  8. The last two years we had trouble with powdery mildew. I called the extension service to make sure this does not overwinter and this year I “uncrowded” the garden by planting the squash in tires away from the rest of the garden. The cucumber are still there, but not nearly as prolific and aggressive. The zucchini and the summer squash which do not wander are also planted in the garden still. It looks a whole lot less crowded and the air circulation is much better which is what was causing the powdery mildew. I was able to powder against the squash beetles early and also the cucumber beetles and bean beetles which love the squash plants. I am praying for a good harvest of all this year. We had a good harvest last year, but lost about 1/4 of the whole to mildew.

  9. I love that tape trick! Awesome! We haven’t had any squash bugs in the last few years and I am hoping it is due to my new discovery. Squash bugs hate Marigolds. I plant Marigolds throughout my entire garden. Right in with the plants and also in pots next to the garden areas. They have to be planted and flowering before the squash plants get too big. It works and looks beautiful.

  10. My first gardens were nothing but a breeding ground for every possible bug, fungus, and parasite. Every day was frustrating. The amount of pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals used was crazy. Even tried the hot chili pepper sprays. Complete failures of entire crops. What have I learned since then? Spread out your plants. This year I had 20 Heritage Plum Tomato plants grown from seed produce almost 20 gallons of quartered frozen tomatoes. (learned from this site how to freeze tomatoes until your ready to make sauce and can) I used eggshells in the soil before planting, spread some diatomaceous earth on the planting mound and that has been it. The plants are struggling now in our 90 degree heat, but I have more tomatoes than ever before, with 10 less plants in the same growing area. Along with tomatoes I have red potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans and green peppers. I give all the plants extra room and have had hardly any pest problems and the yield has been more bountiful than in previous years. I think I dusted with Sevin twice this year and that has been it. So if your garden is crowded, I think that welcomes critters and problems. Spread out your planting and enjoy a better return with less frustration. It worked for me and hope this helps.

  11. Your garden looks pretty good compared to mine. Between our EXTREME drought, the trees casting too much shade, and the deer that hopped our deer fence to eat my blueberry bushes, it’s been a rough season.

  12. I hate squash bugs!! Every year they get the best of my squash before I get the amount of squash I need for my family. EVERY YEAR! We’ve tried a few organic sprays that didn’t help, DE, chickens (they acted as creeped out by the bugs as I am) smashing them, scratching off the eggs, burning the dead plants with the bugs still on them, and finally got some results with a simple soap spray. I filled a spray bottle with hot water and then added a few spoonfuls of dish detergent and went to work spraying the bugs directly. The adults die pretty quickly with a good amount of soap spray on them but the smaller ones are harder to kill. I put a dent in the population by going out twice a day to spray for 4 days then it rained and the garden got muddy and I missed 2 days and the darn bugs were back in record numbers!! They are HARD to tackle. I also found planting a lot of plants early gives the vines a chance to kick into high gear producing squash before the bugs arrive to feast. My chickens wouldn’t touch them though and that was a major disappointment, they won’t ear potato beetles either.

  13. Squash bugs are really impossible to control if you have more than 1 plant or if you want a life outside of checking your squash. ๐Ÿ™‚ I usually plant my squash, let it grow and harvest as much as I can before the bugs take the plants. If they get big enough, they can withstand a little damage. I have heard a shop vac can take care of the bugs or sticky traps under the plants. I have not tried either one because by the time the bugs are bad, I am tired of harvesting and storing squash! So I pull them up and plant fall crops in their place.


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