May 8, 2018

If You're Growing Zucchini, Watch Out for These Bugs

 If you're a beginner gardener, zucchini is a great plant to start with.  The plants are large, so I don't recommend growing them in containers, but each plant produces so many zucchinis that you don't need to grow many plants.  

Dr. Earth Organic fertilizer

Planting and Growing

Start with a sunny spot and good quality soil in your garden (more posts about that coming soon), enriched with compost and a handful of organic fertilizer, and just push a seed or two into the soil, add water and sunshine, and voila!  Pro tip: Plant some flower seeds too because the flowers will bring in pollinators that will help pollinate your zucchini flowers.  More pollination = more zucchini!
Water everything well and within a few days you'll see a sprout, and with a few weeks of regular watering you'll have more zucchini than you can eat.
(Speaking of extra zucchini, I tried this amazing chocolate zucchini cake.  So moist, so chocolatey, you have to try it!  You can find that recipe and other ideas for using your extra zucchini here.)

Seeds of Change has a good selection of organic veggie seeds.


Keep an eye on your plants because unlike many veggie plants, zucchini's most common pests -- squash vine borers and squash bugs/beetles -- can quickly become fatal.  This info also applies to other types of squash.
With that said, I always recommend identifying bugs before killing them.  In fact, this is a rule in my garden because the "bad bugs" are usually outnumbered by the "good guys", which you can learn more about in my article about Beneficial Bugs and Critters

Squash Vine Borers

The squash vine borer is the larvae of a moth, therefore it can be killed with Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that specifically targets caterpillars, but the challenge is that the moth lays its eggs inside the base of the plant's main stem, so often the damage is already done -- the caterpillar is already eating the inside of the plant's main artery -- by the time you notice a problem.  Be vigilant and keep an eye out for the moths around your garden.

Adult squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae (Harris).
Squash vine borer moth: photo from this University of Florida article about SVB

Larva of the squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae (Harris).
Damage by squash vine borer larvae: photo from this University of Florida article about SVB

Squash Bugs

Squash bugs are another pest that require vigilance.  Early detection and treatment is key to minimizing the damage caused by these jerks.  Yep, they're jerks.  I said it.
The adult bugs look similar to stink bugs, with flat, beetle-like bodies.
Usually these can be spotted as clusters of tiny dark eggs on the underside of the squash leaves.  If you catch them in this stage, simply pick off the eggs into a cup of soapy water and that will take care of much of the problem.  If you catch them in the nymph stage, they'll look like gray or black miniatures, usually in large groupings on the underside of the leaves.  These can also be picked off or sprayed with Insecticidal Soap (not to be confused with regular soap) or plant-based oil spray, like diluted orange or neem oil, if temperatures aren't yet reaching 90 degrees.  Diatomaceous earth can also be used, sprinkled around the base of the plant to catch any bug on its way to or from the ground.  
You can read more about all of these treatments in my article about the Safest Natural Pesticides for Gardens

For squash bugs the Farmer's Almanac recommended laying a flat piece of wood near the base of squash plants for squash bugs to congregate beneath so you can flip the board and squish/spray the bugs.  I'd love to know if anyone's had success with this method, as I haven't yet tried it.  I've also read that companion planting with nasturtiums can help, although I haven't personally tried this because where I live nasturtiums usually die from heat stroke by the time the squash plants are grown.  

Squash beetle adult on zucchini

Adult squash bug with eggs

Good luck and happy gardening!

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask on Facebook or Instagram and I'll pick my faves to feature on this page.  Follow for more helpful gardening tips, tricks, and how-to's.


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