Take the offensive against squash-eating gray bugs

Hi, Sue. Last year gray squash-eating bugs appeared in my garden around the kubocha squash vines. I read that applications of a Neem oil-water mixture sprayed on both sides of the leaves and vines would get rid of them. It worked. This year, I attempted to be proactive and looked for eggs to remove them before they became nefarious insects. But I couldn’t keep up and the bugs are back. I’ve been applying the Neem oil-water mixture. Is there anything else I can do to combat the bugs? Is there something I can do next year to prevent the insect infestation from returning? I’d appreciate any advice that you have. Thank you.

— Bob Orenstein PS: Say hi to Fran, who would have taken much better photos of my pests.

Gray squash-eating bugs sound like squash bugs to me. The adult squash bugs (Anasa tristis) are large (about 5/8 inches long), with flattened bodies. They are usually dark gray to dark brown. Their abdomens have alternating orange and brown stripes. Nymphs start out smaller and green.Stink bugs look similar to squash bugs but are wider and rounder.

Sue Kittek


Sue Kittek

Damage from squash bugs include:

  •  Feeding by sucking sap out of the leaves. This causes yellow spots that change to brown with age.
  •  A severe infestation can cause wilting as the feeding can block water and nutrients. Fortunately, unlike cucumber beetles, squash bugs don’t carry disease.

There are a few things you can use to combat this pest:

  • Neem is an effective treatment. Unfortunately, as you found out, it requires diligent and frequent applications.
  • Clear the garden bed after the squash harvest. The adults left on the plants will just perpetuate the problem. Do not compost the affected plants — it just provides a nice cozy home for the winter. No treatment or action is necessary after the vines have produced the crop,
  • In spring, check for adults that survived the winter. They can be on perennials, under debris or near buildings, anywhere that offered winter protection. The bugs will quickly migrate to squash plants so check young plants often and remove pests.
  • Hand pick the adults and nymphs. Not a solution for a large garden but effective if you have only a few plants. Check both sides of the leaves and the stems. You can kill the bugs by dropping them in soapy water. Note that they can move quickly when disturbed.
  • Check for eggs on leaf undersides and stems. Remove these and destroy by crushing them.
  • Barriers, row cover, fine netting and such, are effective if installed before the bugs get into your garden. Be sure the bottom of any cover is securely taut against the ground to prevent bugs from crawling in. Note that any cover should be removed when plants are flowering to allow pollination.
  • Set out a board, cardboard or newspaper on the ground near the bed. The adults will gather under the covering during the night and can be collected and killed in the morning.
  • I found a few references to companion plants that are reputed to repel squash bugs: bee balm, catnip, marigold, mint, nasturtium, radishes and tansy.
  • Delaying planting until early summer since most infestations occur in the spring.
  • If you choose to use a pesticide, note that the most vulnerable stage is the nymph phase. No treatment or action is necessary after the vines have produced the crop. Most chemicals available to home gardeners are considerably less effective on the adults. Applying in early morning or late night to reduce the effects on bees. Target the underside of leaves as that’s where the bugs hang out. Always use a produce according to the label and check that it is effective for your pest as well as suitable for use in a vegetable garden. Products containing soaps and oils such as Neem oil, horticultural oil, and canola oil are less toxic than other chemicals.

Check University of Minnesota Extension article, Squash Bugs in Home Gardens, on the extension website: https://extension.umn.edu for pictures and additional information.

Garlic aerial bulbs

I read your article on growing garlic, and I would like to point out that you overlooked the most important thing about growing garlic, which is that, as the plant grows a stem will grow straight up in the middle and it has a seed pod on top of it. The pod has the shape of a Hersey Kiss chocolate candy and is very easily recognized. (If left unattended the stem, as it grows taller than the rest of the plant, will curl up like a corkscrew).The stems with their seed pods need to be cut off and discarded because, if not removed, all of the plants’ energy will go into the seed pod and not into the bulb. The bulb will therefore never grow and develop, and the gardener will be very disappointed at harvest time when his bulbs will only be about a 1/2 inch in diameter. Watch for the stems to start growing (I think about 4-5 weeks after the plant has begun to grow) and simply cut or break them off. The sooner you get rid of the bulb the better your harvest will be.

— Don Kmieczak.

I thought I covered this topic in my discussion of cutting scapes and flowers, but let me be clear.

Allowing the scapes and, more importantly, the bulbs that form after flowering, will deplete the size and quality of the harvested below-ground garlic bulbs. Like other bulbs, garlic will use the nutrients stored in the bulb to produce above ground growth, ie., forced daffodils, tulips and such. So the best advice I can give is to cut the scapes —  early if you don’t intend to eat them, when they curl if you use them, but don’t let them grow and flower.

Week in the garden

Planting: Plant pansies for fall color and, if you select winter pansies, early spring blooms. Asters and mums are available, buy now for best selection; use either in the garden or as part of a container display. Sow seeds for fall flowers and foliage: pansies, snapdragons, mustard, cabbage and kale. Plant but protect from heat: late-season cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peas, and broccoli for late summer or early fall harvest. Also sow seeds that require a cold period for germination; poppies, for example. Hold new plants for a week or two until the weather cools a bit more than start planting perennials, shrubs and trees. Hold bulbs until October. Divide and replant summer blooming perennials as they finish flowering.

Seasonal: Allow the final flush of flowers to go to seed. Many provide food for the birds and small mammals during the fall and winter. Take cuttings of those annuals that you want to winter over or other favorite plants that have grown too big to move indoors. Order asparagus, rhubarb, bulbs, flower and fruit plants, and shrubs for fall planting. Shop nurseries for end-of-season bargains or new fall arrivals. Weed often and cut off flowers of any weeds you don’t get pulled out. Deadhead flowers and trim damaged, diseased, and dead foliage to keep beds tidy and encourage reblooming. In particular, keep irises and daylilies from forming seedpods. Allow peony greens to grow until fall and then cut back. Prune summer-flowering shrubs about two weeks after flowering. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden and follow a schedule for reapplication, usually at four to six week intervals

Lawn: Seed, overseed, dethatch and aerate lawns September through mid-October. Apply broadleaf weed control, September through mid October. Install sod as the weather cools, September and October. Treat for chinch bugs and sod webworms. Purchase fertilizer and, if desired, apply now until mid-October. Cut as needed, based on growth not schedule, to a height of about 2  to 3 inches tall. Use a sharp blade. Keep newly seeded or sodded lawns watered; supplement rain in weeks where less than an inch falls. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn.

Chores: Stop watering amaryllis bulbs. Allow the bulbs to dry out and go dormant. Store in a cool dry area until they resprout in about 8 to 10 weeks. Start planning for fall. Order bulb and plants for early fall shipment. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall planting. Get plants ready to bring in. Repot those that need it and pot up those you want to winter over indoors. Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Clean and sterilize weekly to control songbird disease. Water any recent plantings and containers anytime we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Repair damaged screens and caulking around windows and doors in preparation for the indoor invasion of wintering over insects and rodents. Maintain deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clean and fill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seed and empty hulls. Dump, scrub, sterilize, rinse and refill birdbaths at least once a week. Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.

Tools, equipment, and supplies: Check winter/fall equipment, repair or replace as needed.

Safety: Clear lawns of debris before mowing and make sure pets, children and others are well away from the area being mown. Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50 F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer.  Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

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