I had gotten a little complacent I suppose. I was trusting the ecosystem in my backyard…
I came outside last weekend and one of my winter squash plants had toppled over, after being seemingly healthy the day before.
When I took a closer look, I could see that something had entered the stem and was working its way up.
A squash vine borer.
I had heard talk from other backyard gardeners, that vine borers destroy plants quickly and mercilessly. And now, I was part of the club. Vine borers lay eggs at the base of the plant, and when they hatch, they eat their way up the stem, usually killing the plant in the process.
I quickly checked on my three other winter squash plants, did a speedy google search to identify squash pests, and realized I also had a yard full of squash bugs (a different pest that sucks the sap out of the leaves of squash.) I thought that they were harmless bugs, I had been seeing them around for a couple of weeks. I unknowingly welcomed them with open arms.
A squash bug:
I did a bit of hand-removal and squishing of every squash pest I could find.
Then, I headed to the nursery to find a quick natural solution to my pest problem.
Thankfully, I know a lot of my fellow urban gardeners use neem oil to deter harmful insects. Neem oil is derived from the seeds of the neem tree and is a natural insecticide and fungicide. The oil, when mixed with water, is sprayed on the tops and bottoms of leaves. It deters a wide-spectrum of bad bugs, while leaving most beneficial bugs alone (as long as you don’t spray it directly on them. Best practice is to wait until the evening when the pollinators are done pollinating for the day.) So, I grabbed a pre-mixed bottle of diluted neem oil, and waited until evening, and then I sprayed away on the remaining squash plants – and on most of my other plants for good measure.
The herds of squash bugs have diminished quite a bit since then, although, I have noticed several batches of their eggs on the undersides, and some on top, of other squash leaves (I’ve sprayed and removed all of those I’ve found). The orange eggs, are pictured here.
As far as I can see, I think I may have prevented vine borers from attacking any of my other plants.
Although as an aside, my winter squash have since developed some brown leaf spots and looked a little sick for a few days. I removed the unhappy leaves, applied more neem oil, added compost and fertilizer to help boost their health.
I’ll write a new post once I determine if they’ll pull through! (I sowed a few more seeds just in case they take a turn for the worse).
Going forward, I think I’ll use neem oil preventively rather than once a problem has already caused issues. Especially because pests like these can winter in the soil and resurface year after year.
Have you been plagued by squash pests? How do you prevent them?