How to Grow: Controlling Squash Bugs

Learn how to control squash bugs in the vegetable garden.

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podcast transcript

How to Grow: Summer Squash

You’ve got to watch out when growing summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) and zucchini. When it’s ready to harvest, you’ll get so many fruits so fast you’ll be begging neighbors to take it away. I’ve even heard of people dropping extra zucchinis through opened windows in

Zucchini fruit on the plant

unattended cars just to move the stuff. Yes, summer squash and zucchini has a reputation for being prolific. That’s a good thing for a new gardener, because it’s so satisfying to be able to offer extra produce to friends and family.

Summer squash and zucchinis come in a variety of skin colors and sizes. The skin can be dark green, light green or yellow colored. The shape long, crooked neck, scalloped or round. All have white-colored, mild tasting flesh making them perfect shredded raw in salads, baked in breads, sauteed with other vegetables or added to stews or casseroles. I love to pick the flowers and saute them with garlic and olive oil. It’s as versatile as it is easy to grow.

When to Plant

Summer squashes are warm weather loving crops, so don’t rush them into the garden in spring. Either directly sow seeds or transplant seedling after all danger of frost has passed — usually May. To get a jump on the season, buy transplants from local garden centers or start seedlings indoors 4 weeks before planting outside.

Where to Plant

Plant summer squash in full sun on well drained, fertile soil. Unlike winter squash and pumpkins, these plants stay bush-like, so are great for a smaller garden. I like to lay black plastic mulch down over the bed 2 weeks before planting to preheat the soil. I poke holes in the plastic to sow seeds or plant seedlings. This gives them a jump on the growing season, prevents weeds from growing, and keeps the soil moist.

How to Plant

Summer squash like a fertile soil, so amend the bed well with compost prior to planting. Plant seeds or seedlings 2- to 3-feet apart in rows spaced 4-feet apart. Summer squash don’t like cool spring air temperatures, so consider covering the planting with a floating row cover during cool nights.

Care and Maintenance

Keep plants well watered and weeded, especially early in the season until the plants get established. Once established, if not growing in black plastic mulch, spread a layer of an organic mulch, such as straw or untreated grass clippings, around plants. When they start flowering, add a small handful of an organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, around each plant.

Yellow patty pan summer squash on the plant

Summer squash are susceptible to a number of insects such as cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers. See pumpkins for more on controlling these pests.

Harvest

The mantra with picking summer squash is early and often. Start harvesting young squash when they are 6-inches long. Harvest patty pans or scalloped squash when they are 3-inches in diameter. The more you harvest, the more it will produce. If you make the mistake, like I do every year, and forget to harvest for just a few days, you’ll discover some large squash clubs in the garden that are better used as bowling pins than food! They actually can be stuffed and baked, so even large summer squash have a use.

Additional Information

‘Yellow Crookneck’ is a classic yellow summer squash, while ‘Partenon Hybrid’ and ‘Raven Hybrid’ are good growing zucchinis. The Italian heirloom ‘Constata Romanesco’ has green and white striped and ribbed fruits and great flavor. I like the light green skin colored Lebanese or cousa summer squash such as ‘Magda Hybrid’. They have a sweet, nutty flavor. If you like the flying saucer squash (what kids like to call them), scalloped, or patty pans, try the yellow ‘Sunburst Hybrid’. For bowling (just kidding), try ‘Eight Ball Hybrid’. It has green skin and grows the size of a bocci ball. Let’s play!

Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.

 

Podcast Transcript

I’m Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal. After having eaten enough straight necks, crooknecks, and patty pans and have played enough games of zucchini bowling and juggling to last a lifetime, I sometimes welcome insect attacks on squash. Yes, summer squash and zucchinis are prolific, but they do attract certain pests that can downright kill the plant. Let’s talk about the big two: squash bugs and squash vine borers.squash-bugs-3

Squash bugs are probably the most hated squash pest. These grey bugs congregate on the underside of squash leaves feeding and eventually killing the leaves. They’re prolific and can quickly decimate your plants. To control squash bugs plant zucchinis instead of summer squash, cover the plants with floating row covers, and place boards between rows to collect and squish the bugs in the morning (just remember they’re in the stink bug family and so smell when squished). Also try spraying neem oil on plants and clean up the garden well in fall to reduce the population.

Squash vine borers are devious. The adult lays eggs on the squash stems near the soil line. The eggs hatch and the caterpillar tunnels into the squash stem and starts eating its way to the tip. The leaves wilt easily and eventually whole stems die. To prevent squash vine borer damage plant in early July and cover new plants with floating row covers to prevent egg laying, check often for holes in the base of the plant and, if found, get ready for surgery. With a razor slit the stem going away from the base until you find the wormy bugger. Remove and squish him, then cover the stem with soil so it heals and re-roots. Some gardeners have had good success injecting the organic pesticide, But, into the stems to kill the caterpillars without removing them.

From The Vermont Garden Journal.

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