Squash Family Pest Problem Tips

CucumberThe squash plant family (Cucurbitaceae) includes many garden favorites- cucumber, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, muskmelon, and watermelon. Unfortunately, it’s a family vulnerable to some of the most consequential insect pest and disease problems. The names squash bug, cucumber beetle, squash vine borer, downy mildew, and bacterial wilt strike fear in a gardener’s heart. And those just represent the starting team. The legion of potential pest problems is sufficient to bring the toughest gardener to his knees sobbing in anguish.

But there’s hope for the human animals competing against insects, mites, and pathogens for these valued food resources. There are many ways to prevent and manage these problems and these are covered in detail on the HGIC website. Here are a few strategies that I think are less widely used. Give them a try in your pursuit of higher yields with fewer tears!

  1. Select disease resistant cultivars. Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online website has a matrix for each vegetable crop that lists all major diseases and cultivars with resistance claims. They even include seed companies that sell the seeds! Special note: ‘County Fair’ cucumber is resistant to bacterial wilt; butternut and ‘Tromboncino’ squash are fairly resistant to squash vine borer.
  2. Apply floating row covers when seedlings emerge or transplants go in. The material excludes all critters. Remove the cover when plants start to bloom.
  3. Plant around insect pests by planting healthy transplants as soon as conditions allow or waiting until mid-June to plant seeds. Plant pumpkin and winter squash from late June to July 4th.
  4. Keep planting. Cucumber and summer squash can be sown several times, 2-3 weeks apart.
  5. Scout your plants for signs and symptoms of problems and take action early!

Duct tape
UME Master Gardeners in Dorchester Co. taught me this neat way to “attract” and control squash bug nymphs with duct tape wrapped around your hand sticky side out.
Trombocino squash
Tromboncino’ squash grown in the UME master Gardener demonstration garden in Montgomery Co. Prolific and less prone to diseases and insect pests. Fruits are tender at this stage.
North Georgia Candy Roaster
‘North Georgia Candy Roaster’, a Cherokee Nation heirloom squash.

Regardless of the pest issues, there’s a world of wildly diverse and interesting heirloom “cucurbits” waiting for the curious gardener.  Last fall I wrote about ‘North Georgia Candy Roaster’, a winter squash that I stored and ate from October through mid-April.

I have seeds to share if you’d like to grow it this year. Send your name and mailing address to jont@umd.edu and put “squash” in the subject line.

What’s your favorite heirloom squash, pumpkin, squash, melon, etc.?

By Jon Traunfeld, Director, Home and Garden Information Center 

3 thoughts on “Squash Family Pest Problem Tips

  1. tonytomeo April 21, 2018 / 5:04 pm

    We do not get any serious pests here. There are a few things that will do slight bits of damage, but nothing to worry about. Once they get going, there is not much that slow cucurbits down. Mildew can slow down cucumbers.

  2. Emanuel Harris June 22, 2018 / 11:13 am

    Never seen someone catch bugs with duct tape before. Very interesting!

  3. Jeff haas August 20, 2020 / 7:22 pm

    Planted 12 hills of yellow summer squash. Only got about 150 squash before they died out mid august due to mildew and squash bugs. Any way to keeo them going iinto september?

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