Home & Garden

Got squash bugs? Here’s how to know and what to do about them

Squash bugs
Squash bugs Photo by Debbie Courson Smith

Squash bugs. Those are two of the most depressing words for vegetable gardeners in the Treasure Valley. The pests are widespread this year, sucking the sap out of pumpkins and other winter squash plants, as well as zucchini and its sister summer squashes.

They’re depressing because they are difficult to battle and can quickly decimate vegetables.

What can you do? Get good at identifying the adults, nymphs and eggs so you can remove them.

Adults are large and grayish-brown, and generally cause a gut reaction of revulsion.

Really! When you see them, pick them off and seal in a bag, or drown them in soapy water.

The nymphs have pear-shaped bodies and go through several changes before they become adults, all the while feeding on your squash plants — and sometimes cucumbers. Pick them off, shake them into bags for disposal, or use a gentle shop vacuum setting to take them away. Empty the vacuum canister contents in a way to ensure the nymphs never escape.

Eggs are an orange-copper color and found in clusters usually on the underside of leaves, but sometimes they’re on top of the leaves. “Squash” the squash bug eggs, scrape them off with a fingernail, or use the sticky side of a piece of duct tape and remove them from the leaves.

Warning: Squash bugs will hide if they see you coming. Generally, they can be found around the crown of plants, or they sneak under debris and mulch. Keep the base of plants clear to minimize hiding spaces.

Tip: You can put a board on the ground near plants to provide cover for the squash bugs. Pick up the board and scoop up the offenders.

Good news: Wait, there’s good news? Yes! There is only one generation of squash bugs per year. They do lay eggs for a long time, so you can see all stages of their life cycle on a plant at once, but the newly-grown adults do not mate. They overwinter under dead leaves, plants and even buildings, ready to fly in search of new plants to destroy in the spring.

Pesticide options: There are products available that work at different stages of the insect’s lifecycle. They require multiple applications and harm insects other than squash bugs. Talk to a local nursery representative and read the product label to assess risks and benefits.