One of the most memorable parts of October is visiting the pumpkin patch and finding that perfect gourd to take home and carve. While you can pick out your soon-to-be jack-o-lantern from the pack, you can’t always pick out the pests that might be infesting the pumpkin patch…
Squash Bugs (Anasa tristis) are one of the most damaging pests to pumpkins, melons, gourds, and other cucurbit plants. As members of the true bug order (Hemiptera), squash bugs share the iconic long, flat body plan of other insects in their order like boxelder bugs, elm seed bugs, and brown marmorated stink bugs.
Squash bugs remind me of assassin bugs (Reduviidae), only they feed on plants instead of other insects. Like assassin bugs, squash bugs have toxic saliva that can be injected into plants to liquify the tough cellulose inside. Then, the squash bugs suck up the liquid plant, significantly damaging the cucurbit from the inside out. While their bite marks are not big, these pumpkin pests rarely travel alone. Hundreds of squash bugs can easily overtake a single gourd, creating larger wounds on the plant that can lead to additional pests, bacterial infection, and pre-maturing rotting due to exposure to the elements.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to protect your pumpkins from a squash bug attack.
If you are bringing pumpkins home from a pumpkin patch:
- Thoroughly check your pumpkins, especially under any leaves or stems left on them. Squash bugs prefer to hide in these sheltered areas and will scatter away when disturbed.
- Pay attention to the other pumpkins surrounding the ones you pick out. Old, damaged, or rotting pumpkins may have squash bugs that can hitch-hike their way to another cucurbit nearby.
- Choose an older pumpkin. Squash bugs can damage pumpkins no matter how young or old the plant is, but they prefer to feed on softer, flowering plants when available. Older, tougher gourds are less attractive to these pests.
If you run a pumpkin patch or have a personal gourd garden:
- Keep your pumpkin patch tidy and free of debris. Squash bugs take advantage of any hiding spots they can find, including under gardening supplies, overgrown vegetation, and rubbish.
- Physically remove squash bugs by vacuuming them off of plants and destroying egg masses. This will require careful monitoring of crops throughout the growing season, but for small infestations this can significantly decrease the population.
- Contact your local extension agency to learn about biological and chemical control options you can use to reduce squash bugs. Remember to always follow the labels and the law when using any organisms or insecticides around food sources, like cucurbits.
Keep Your Garden Gourd-geous!
The Pros at Mosquito Squad will do more than just squash the pests in your yard. Call us today to learn more about our seasonal pest treatments and visit our website for a free quote.