Got tiny caterpillars (worms) eating your summer squash, winter melon, or cucumber? They’re pickleworms!
These little bugs are the larval form of pickleworm moths. They’re extremely destructive in their caterpillar phase, where they’ll gladly munch on flowers, then fruits, then vines. In that order.
While they may look harmless (who hasn’t eaten pickleworms?), they can quickly eat up your harvest within a single season.
This is because of their “boring” nature.
In other words, they “bore” holes into fruit rinds. Once the rind is pierced, the fruit will rot. So then you have some caterpillar eating the inside.
Plus fruit that’s been cut and now exposed to the elements.
Let’s not forget to remind ourselves of the worm poop that leaks out of the tunnel they dig. Gross.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help reduce their numbers.
In this article, you’ll read about:
- How to identify pickleworms
- What pickleworms eat, where they hide, and where they come from so you can ID the source
- How to get rid of them naturally without poisons
- Ways to prevent pickleworms in the future
- And more
If you have a question about your pickleworm issue, post a comment using the form on the end of this page. I’ll try to help you out!
Please bookmark this page if you feel the need to do so. It’ll make it easier to refer to on your journey to rid these pests.
Let’s send those pickleworms out of your squash and into the garbage!
What’s a pickleworm?
Pickleworms are the larvae of the pickleworm moth.
They’re notorious for eating a variety of seasonal produce like squash, melons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, winter squash, watermelon, or cucumbers.
Pickleworms are commonly found in the southern states like Florida or Texas, but also range up north, even to Canada.
These worms are known for the tunnel-like holes they bore into your fruits or veggies which can ruin your harvest.
The holes they dig are telltale signs that your produce has been infested.
While pickleworms may be scary to find crawling in your fruit, they’re not too hard to get rid of. They can cause significant damage to many different plants.
Note that pickleworms are the most destructive as larvae.
This is when they’re munching down the fruits, leaves, stems, and organic matter of your plants.
They need food to molt and finally undergo pupation where they turn into a moth. Even as larvae, they can pose a serious threat in the garden. This is where they do the most damage.
Pickleworms have a few different aliases in the community.
Other than pickleworms, here’s what other nicknames they can be referred to:
- D. nitidalis
- Green caterpillar
- Melon worm
- Cucumber worm
- Squash worm
- Pickle caterpillar
- Pickleworm moth
- Cantaloupe worm
- Pumpkin worm
- Diaphania nitidalis
- Squash bugs
- Stem borers
You can clearly see they have a bunch of different names.
Identification – What do pickleworms look like?
Pickleworms may be hard to distinguish from other similar bugs like caterpillars in the garden, but they do have some phenotypic characteristics that you can use to identify them in your yard.
Remember that they go through 5 different molts before they turn into an adult moth.
So it’s important to know their lifecycle. This way you can tell if it’s a pickleworm or not during any of the instars.
The following subsections tell you what to look for.
Pickleworms are easy to identify because of their color. They’re light tan to brown and will change multiple times as they grow.
These caterpillars will change their size, shape, and color over time as they approach metamorphosis into an adult pickleworm moth.
Newly hatched pickleworm larvae are nearly colorless. They may have a slightly whitish or tan coloration to them but can be translucent.
Their head has a darker shade compared to the tail end. Older caterpillars turn yellowish-green. Larvae have dark spots and are found in flower buds.
Younger pickleworms can be identified by their row of raised tubercles. These look like tiny dark dots on their body.
Nymphs also have a line of seta that stick out from each raised tubercle.
Setae look like tiny caterpillar hairs that stick out from each set.
Pickleworms will turn a variety of colors as they eat away at your fruits. They’ll turn from light yellow to dark green.
Over time, the caterpillars will drop their tubercles. If you don’t see these raised dots or hairs coming out anymore, they’ve been in place for a while.
The adult moths emerge from the cocoon, depending on temperature, food, and resources.
People unfamiliar with bugs generally get confused. They assume that the adult pickleworm moth is not the same species as the larvae when they are.
Thus, it can make identification difficult. If they only see half the picture, they may not put the pieces together to know what insect they’re dealing with.
That’s why it’s important to get educated about how to identify, manage, and finally get rid of pickleworms!
Pickleworms under multiple instars (3-4) until it pupates into a moth.
This can confuse people who don’t know what they’re looking for.
The entire lifecycle takes about 25-33 days to complete.
Pickleworm eggs are about 0.5mm in width and about 0.8mm in length.
The eggs are tiny and hard to see without using a zoom function. Eggs are laid in small clusters, which consist of 2-7 eggs each.
They’re found on the buds, flowers, stems, and leaves of host plants. It’s been noted that a single female moth can lay up to 400 eggs!
The shape of the eggs varies. They can be spherical or flat. They’re white when first laid, but will slowly change to yellow over the first 24 hours.
The tiny black eggs can be seen on the leaves and the larvae can be found crumpled under the leaves or in the fruit.
Larvae undergo 5 total instars. Each instar is about 3 days in length. Younger larvae are almost pale white with lots of dark spots on the body in pairs.
The dark spots will disappear on the final instar, which usually occurs on the 7th day upon feeding.
Larvae will be anything from yellow to green before they molt depending on what they eat.
When they’re ready to pupate, they turn into a dark brown shade that suggests feeding is done.
Pickleworms reach up to 2.5cm at max length before turning into moths at pupation. The numerous black spots on their body will fade as they molt through instars.
These worms can be off white, yellow, orange, or green.
When born, they’ll often be found eating flowers. But will eventually go into fruit by eating the inside and produce waste.
Younger fruits are preferable because they have soft rinds.
But pickleworms can still eat fruits with hardened rinds. Pickleworm will pupate on dead or dry leaf materials rather than being exposed.
The pupa will form on a leaf fold which can be curled or rolled.
They seek out these folds to protect them from predators during the pupation process because they go dormant. The larvae will use dry material to construct their pupa.
Cocoon isn’t the technical name, but it sure does look like one. You may see a few pieces of silk on the pupa, which measures about 13mm in length with a 3-4mm thickness.
Pupae are brown or black and then tapers at the top and bottom of it. About 10 days later, the moth will emerge in the nighttime hours, but won’t fly until midnight or so.
The adult moth will fly shortly after hatching and release a pheromone to bring in males.
Pickleworm moths are dark brown on the fringes of the wings and head, but have a lighter tan color in the center of their wings.
They have long antennae and large black eyes. They’re somewhat transparent with a yellowish color on the front wings.
Wings are about 3cm at max length with hairy brushy tips on the abdomen. Moths aren’t found out in the daytime and will hide in plant matter during hot days.
They come out at night to mate. The wings are shiny and will show purplish reflection. They have hairy rear ends.
The triangular wings are mostly brown with a splash of yellow. It’s about the same size as the melon worm moth, but a bit smaller.
The moth is nocturnal. If you disturb it, it’ll fly a short distance.
Are pickleworms dangerous to humans?
Pickleworms aren’t considered to be dangerous to humans. They’re just dangerous to your crops.
You wouldn’t believe how many people will eat pickleworm larvae without ever noticing it. It’s just the mental aspect of it- eating a caterpillar? Gross.
But you should still avoid eating fruits that have been infested with them. Rinse your fruits, inspect for pests, then eat carefully.
When in doubt, throw it out!
What do they eat?
Pickleworms eat a variety of fruits and veggies, including the stems, vines, flowers, and more. They can be extremely harmful to smaller harvests since they decimate the entire plot.
But they’re known for their favorite host plant- this summer squash.
You may also find pickleworms in the following crops:
- Creeping cucumber
- Wild balsam apples
- Winter squash
This list is not inclusive. Damage extent also depends on the fruit itself.
For winter squash or watermelon, pickleworms rarely will do enough damage to get to the actual fruit.
This is because of the tough rind on the outside that protects the internal flesh.
But these pests will still feed on the rind, which will leave behind some minor scarring.
The flesh of the fruit should remain intact unless it’s been compromised by plant pathogens or other pests.
These caterpillars may also eat the flowers, stems, buds, or foliage of plants, whether they’re fruit-bearing or not.
The majority of pickleworms will be found inside the fruit.
Where do they come from?
Pickleworms are native to southern states like Texas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Sanford, Michigan, Connecticut, and even further up north. Pickleworms are excellent migratory insects.
Their capability of flight allows them to easily invade much of Florida when the winters are not too cold.
Warmer, humid conditions are perfect for pickleworms.
They generally show up in the summertime, as with most insects, and will migrate north throughout the regions. Warmer weather with high humidity helps pickleworms thrive in their native environment.
They’ve even been discovered in Canada, so don’t doubt their migratory ability.
Since they can fly as adults, they can infest many different regions just by flight. When temperatures rise in the summertime, pickleworm activity increases.
They slowly vanish when fall approaches and will completely disappear with winter.
So yes, pickleworms do go away on their own. But only because of the cold winter.
But if your zone is relatively warm all year round, pickleworms may be present even in fall and winter. Only in USDA zones with cold frost will the pickleworms vanish.
Otherwise, you need to do something about them if you wanna save your fruits.
Where do they hide?
Pickleworms spend most of their time inside the fruit. They eat through the outer, soft surface and then dig a signature hole right into the flesh.
If you cut the fruit, you may see the caterpillars on the inside of it which may freak you out!
These caterpillars are excellent hiders because of their tiny size. Most gardeners won’t even notice them until they cut the fruit.
For fruits with outer shells (rinds), the worms will spend their time eating the rind.
You may see them crawling on the outside of your fruit, which is usually fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, squash, etc. either way, the first worm is the one that’ll let you know your fruits or veggies are in danger of pickleworms!
Where are pickleworms found?
Pickleworms are found on many different host plants.
The larvae caterpillars infest cucurbits, whether they’re wild or cultivated species.
The pickleworm is known for destroying its favorite food- the squash. But it can be found on cucumber, pumpkin, cantaloupe, gourd, muskmelon, winter squash, or other cucurbits.
But summer squash is the most common host plant where both gardeners and industrial farmers face destruction.
The larvae can be found on the rind of the plant, which can lead to scarring. Larvae will eat the vines when all the blossoms are eaten, but won’t burrow into the fruit just yet.
Signs of pickleworm damage
Here you can find some common telltale signs of pickleworm damage.
Look for these signs of pickleworm infestation:
- Dark holes in the sides of soft fruit
- Yellowish green frass (pickleworm waste) that’s sticky with a mucus-like appearance
- Visible caterpillars inside the fruit
- Curled or damaged stems
- Leaves with jagged edges
- Holes in leaves
- Visible pickleworm moths buzzing around your watermelon or squash
- Visible pickleworms on the flowers, stems, or foliage of the plant
- Scarring on the rinds of the fruits
- Failed blossoms
- Holes or damage to the vines
- Visible larvae hiding within the stamens
- White frass around the holes of the damage
- Yellow fecal matter coming out of the tunnel
Crop damage occurs early in the season. The moths will start to migrate north from south FL or TX into NC or SC.
So most people won’t see the damage until late June. Crops planted earlier can actually completely avoid damage from pests.
Northern regions may not see damage from pickleworms until August.
Pickleworms can also go through their entire population without ever getting into the fruit, such as those with large blossoms.
They can fly from one blossom to another without having to burrow. They prefer NOT to burrow since the blossoms are much easier targets.
When blossoms have been destroyed, they’ll enter the fruit. When the fruit has been destroyed, the larvae will eat the vines.
Pickleworms generally do more damage to the fruit.
But they may feed on the small leaves at the tips of vines or blossoming flowers. Vines may have visible holes or punctures in them which can stop the growth of your buds.
What kills pickleworms?
Plenty. There are lots of DIY techniques you can utilize.
Everything from neem oil to nematodes can kill the larvae.
There are also other alternative techniques such as physical barriers using row covers, bird netting, or pickleworm traps.
Trap cropping, spraying spinosad, or even using natural predators can also be effective.
We’ll cover each of these remedies in this guide.
How to get rid of pickleworms
This section covers how you can get rid of pickleworms naturally without using harmful compounds.
After all, you don’t wanna be spaying down your squash with dangerous insecticides because you’ll be eating it.
Depending on the type of you’re growing, your care needs may vary.
However, these general guidelines should work to help you control, manage, and eradicate pickleworms from your crops.
Some control techniques can be done organically so no synthetic poisons are necessary.
Remove pickleworms manually
Larvae can be found in the squash flowers.
They hide near the stamens of the flower, which look like a ring of pointed parts inside the flowers.
If you dig around the base of the flower, you can spot pickleworms hiding there. Remove the entire flower and then dip it into soapy water to kill the larvae.
Pickleworms will then move to bore holes into the fruit. This happens when they’re about half grown.
Once they dig their way into the fruit, they will continue to feed inside. This looks like small holes with a pile of white frass on the outside rind.
If you see this, remove the fruit entirely to dispose of it. The easiest way to sample pickleworms?
Check the buds for small caterpillars before they start to feed into the fruits.
You can find these darkened holes with their white excrement on the outside.
It can be yellowish or whitish. The poop exits the tunnel by leaking out of the original hole. It dries and turns hard.
It’s easy to spot because it looks like the white crust on the rinds of your fruit right next to their tunnels.
Neem oil has been backed by people in the gardening community. There is also research that suggests neem oil is effective against pickleworms.
It can be used as an organic insecticide to kill and prevent pickleworms.
Neem that’s been cold-pressed will interrupt the lifecycle by killing on contact. 100% neem oil can be purchased in local home improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) or online.
Look for ingredients that are completely natural or organic since you’re using them on edibles. Use as directed.
Neem oil should always be tested on a single leaf before spraying or painting the entire plant.
It’ll take a few weeks to see results, as it’s not instant. It should also be OMRI or WSDA listed. They MUST be safe for edible plants before you apply them.
Read and understand the safety precautions and are labeled and intended for the crop you plan to spray it on.
Typically, you’ll dab a paintbrush with the neem oil then paint the fruits with the oil.
The neem acts like a physical barrier that’ll kill the caterpillars when they’re crawling on it. Reapply every few weeks or after it rains. Ensure that your neem oil is completely organic.
The oil will have a texture that makes it easy to see on your fruits.
So you can tell which parts of your plants have been coated with the neem. Be sure to wash it off before you eat. Use a rough sponge dabbed with some vegetable cleaner to completely remove the neem.
Other people have tried using a hand sprayer combined with neem oil, soap, and baking soda. This is less laborious but may not work as effectively as 100% straight neem.
Note that neem will trap heat, so don’t apply it during the peak hours of sunlight. Only use it when there’s limited light outside.
Additionally, read all warnings as some pets or people may be sensitive to neem oil.
If you don’t have easily accessible neem oil for purchase, check Amazon. There are plenty of organic products there, but be sure to check the ingredients. It should be 100% organic neem oil only.
Use row covers
Row covers are neat little barriers you can set up to shield your fruits/veggies from pickleworms.
It acts as a physical barrier that blocks the moths out. If they can’t get in, then they can’t deposit their eggs.
This reduces the likelihood that your fruits will become the host plant for larvae. Row covers can be purchased in a variety of different sizes.
Size your floating row cover so that it fits snugly over the soil line and isn’t large enough for moths to cross the netting. Make sure you set it up correctly or else moths can still get in.
Note that barrier netting won’t keep the caterpillars out. They can easily sneak in between the gaps.
It’s made for adult moths so they can’t lay pickleworm eggs on your plants. These can be purchased in rolls in bulk online (check price on Amazon).
Floating row covers have been shown to effectively keep pickleworms, caterpillars, moths, beetles, whiteflies, worms, flies, and other pests out of squash plants.
Even aphids or melon worms. Row covers prevent the large moths from getting to the plant, which stops them from laying eggs.
They need to be removed to let bees and birds pollinate, which is usually after your cucurbits flower. This can help prevent early infestations, but will still allow adult moths present to deposit eggs.
The alternative is to remove the covers during the day so bees can help fertilize your fruits.
But then replace the row covers after the evening to prevent the moths from getting inside.
Do you see how they can serve dual purposes?
Row covers are cheap and effective, and you can easily find them in home improvement stores, nurseries, or just order them online. Make sure you fit them well and use a sizing tool to get accurate assessments for your plants.
If it doesn’t fit right, it’s compromised because it just lets them walk into your plants like a buffet.
Here’s a video that shows off how row covers work so you get an idea of it:
Plant pickleworm resistant cultivars
Some cucurbits exhibit resistance to pickleworms by deterring egg-laying mated females.
The following types of cucurbits are more resilient to pickleworm infections:
- Butternut 23
- Summer Crookneck
- Early Prolific Straightneck
- Early Yellow Summer Crookneck
These types of cucurbits are more vulnerable to pests:
- Cozini Zucchini
- Black Caserta Zucchini
- Benning’s Green Tint Scallop squash
You may be able to find these types in nurseries or online. Check for professionals to help you identify the types.
Bag your fruit
Fruit bagging can be extremely effective in keeping pests out.
Use fine mesh bags to cover your fruits so that larvae can’t burrow into them. These mesh bags can be purchased at specialty greeneries or online.
Get reusable bags to save yourself money. Bird netting also works well if the holes are no larger than 0.5 inches in diameter
Nylon socks are also an alternative. Wrap your vines with the sock completely then tie it down using a twist tie or rubber band. Cheap, effective, DIY solution!
The netting keeps bugs out of fruits. It’s also cost-effective and readily available. Moths are about 1” in length, so if the holes are small enough, then they can’t get through to deposit eggs.
Get rid of weed clutter
Weeds in the cucurbit genus can be hosts for these pests.
These include creeping cucumber, balsam apple, and other cucurbits.
These plants can be temporary homes for pickleworms during the temperature dips.
If removed, it can help eliminate the possibility of them hiding or seeking shelter in these plants in crop fields.
Never plant or allow these weeds to grow near your main crops.
Keep your garden clean
Removing plant materials that are not needed can help make your garden less favorable to pests.
Doing this regularly can help remove larvae or eggs that can be hiding in the plants.
While a clean garden isn’t impregnable to bugs, it can be significantly less appealing compared to your neighbor’s yard.
So consider these tips to prevent pickleworms from infesting your fruits:
- Get rid of unwanted plants immediately (these just take time/effort to maintain and provide hiding places)
- Don’t overwater your plants (overwatering leads to excess moisture buildup)
- Don’t overfeed your plants (nutrient build up is bait for pests)
- Remove plant debris
- Clean up leaf litter immediately
- Clean up grass clipping
- Mow your lawn
- Prune plants regularly
- Remove plants that have been infested
- Do NOT compost infected plants!
It’s important to not save plant matter that has been infected because they can have eggs intact. That fruit that has minimal damage? Get rid of it!
Harvest fruits early
As you already know, you should be the one enjoying the “fruits” of your labor- not the pickleworms!
So pick your fruits on time. You should never just let them sit on the stems. Harvesting on time helps save your plants in the same manner as persea mites, asparagus beetles, and cauliflower bugs.
Pick your squash as soon as they’re ready. Don’t let them sit.
This will reduce the likelihood of pest infestation, especially as the crop becomes softer and easier for them to penetrate by munching through it.
Do some in-depth research on knowing when to pick on time. Some fruits can be harvested even before they look like they’re good to go.
You can sit them safely inside your house while you wait for them to be ready.
This will shield them from pickleworms so you can enjoy them for yourself!
Plant crops early
Just like harvesting earlier, you should plant your fruits as early as you possibly can.
Yes, your hardiness zone will only allow you to plant so early, but you can always start indoors to get a head start.
These pests will start out in the south and move north throughout the season. If you plant early, you only have to deal with early infestations, which aren’t as bad.
If you plant late, the insects will migrate north, which will be more destructive to your fruit. The bugs get bigger, which means a more voracious appetite.
So sow your seeds earlier in the season if possible.
Start indoors so you can get an earlier harvest compared to a later one. Check your hardiness zone to see when is the earliest you can possibly plant your crops.
Plant extra fruit
Consider planting additional fruits.
If your area is prone to these caterpillars, then plant more so that even if some are destroyed, you’ll have some leftovers to harvest.
Be careful though. You may just be providing food for them to eat.
Prune on a schedule
Keeping your harvest nice and tidy is supplemental to keeping bugs off your fruits permanently.
Practice doing a regular, scheduled pruning to keep your fruits looking clean. Use a sterile pair of scissors or pruners (use rubbing alcohol to sterilize it).
Go around your plant and prune these key areas to prevent infestation:
- Snip off damaged foliage
- Cut yellowing or browning leaves
- Cut off stems that have been compromised by pest activity
- Cut off leaves that have holes or eggs
- If you see pickleworms feeding actively on a specific part of your plant, remove that section entirely
- Remove overgrown or dense foliage
- Snip off flower buds to help encourage your plant to fruit
Pruning should be done regularly to maintain your harvest. It can help get rid of pickleworm activity significantly when done on a scheduled basis.
Cleaner foliage means fewer hiding places, which makes the environment less favorable so they’re not as likely to infest it.
Be sure to prune!
Set a reminder on your phone if you have to.
It makes a huge difference when done consistently. Less foliage = less hiding places = easier to spot the pests. It also makes the adult pickleworm moths less drawn to your squash plots.
Remove infested fruits right away
Infested fruits should be removed immediately when you spot them.
Cut them off gently from the stem or vine, then dispose of them in a sealed bag or container.
Don’t just toss them into the compost bin. It allows the worms to come out and then reinfest something else.
Or if they’ve already undergone pupation (the process of metamorphosing from caterpillar to moth in a cocoon), adult moths can be present.
Infested fruits will have holes on the outer surface which are the telltale clue that pickleworms are inside.
Don’t take your chances. Infested fruit that you don’t remove gives them somewhere to hide from view! You already know the signs of an infested squash or watermelon.
Check your fruits whenever you’re outside watering, pruning, harvesting, or doing some work on them. Get into the habit of it for your good!
Kill pickleworm larvae
The pupae will hide in curled leaves or rolled leaves.
They often squeeze themselves between foliage because it provides them some safety.
Predators may not notice a pupating between a small gap.
These areas prove to be the place that the caterpillars will spend their time nestled between as they slowly change into adult moths.
If you have a nicely pruned plant, it’s easy to check for pupating larvae.
Look for these key areas in your foliage where pickleworms are hiding in:
- Places where leaves are curled or rolled
- Areas with dense foliage cover
- Between stems and leaf joints
- The pupation cocoon looks exactly as you would imagine it
- Pupating pickleworms are white or tan with a sticky coating
Here’s a video to show you how to identify them:
What you want to do is remove or crush them. If you’re squeamish, put on some garden gloves. Pick off the leaves with pickleworm larvae then toss them into a bucket of soapy water.
You can make your pickleworm killer simply by using 1 part dish soap to 10 parts water. Once you drop the leaves into it, they’ll perish. You can also just crush the pupae on the foliage if you want to do so.
This will interrupt their pupation and stop them from becoming adult moths, which can prevent future infections on your crops.
Use natural predators of pickleworms
Pickleworms have very few natural predators because they’re always hiding. At first, they’re hiding in the flowers.
Then they’re hiding in the fruits. So there are limited opportunities for predators to eat them.
Because of this, it’s not recommended. It’s also hard to get ahold of these predators.
Soldier beetles, fire ants, or other parasitoids may be effective in pickleworm management, but aren’t practical. This is why you should look at other options.
The only reliable predators include the regular bunch- birds, bats, and parasitoid wasps.
These may not be available to you, depending on where you live. But if you have these beneficial insects natively in your garden, do some research on how to get more of them to your garden.
For example, you can set out bird feeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses for birds. Or put some bat boxes around your yard for bats.
Pickleworm trap planting
You can use a lesser-favored decoy plant to help keep your pickleworms from being eaten.
Squash can be used as a trap crop to keep them from eating cantaloupe, which is less preferred to these bugs.
This depends on what you’re planting. If you plant both highly preferred plants with lesser preferred plants together, they’ll swarm to the higher one as a target. Use it as a decoy if possible.
For example, if you want to grow cantaloupes, you can use squash as a decoy. They’ll swarm to the squash instead, which leaves your cantaloupes intact.
Destruction of squash blossoms should be done to eliminate them by getting rid of their food supply.
Consider nematodes or microorganisms (biological)
Nematode Steinernema carpocapsae has been shown to kill pickleworms in squash.
But nematodes are limited in effectiveness because once they get inside the fruit, the effectiveness goes to zero.
Not all nematodes or microorganism are safe to use for edible plants.
There are some things you need to keep in mind before you use them:
- It should be OMRI or WSDA listed.
- They MUST be safe for edible plants before you use them.
- Read and understand the safety precautions and are labeled and intended for the right crop you wish to use it on.
- The insect should be listed on the label.
Nematodes should be used in large open blossomed plants because it allows the nematodes to kill the larvae when they’re still inside the flowers.
But when they start to move into the fruit, it’s pointless. Thai nematodes can help reduce damage from pickleworms in squash because of the large flowers.
The nematodes can eat the pickleworm leaves before they drill holes into the fruit. But it may not work on smaller blossoms because they’re not protected from the sun, which kills this particular species of nematode.
Bacillus thuringiensis will kill pickleworms as well, but should only be used on large blooming plants. Bt can be used as a last resort if all other DIY remedies fail.
Some studies out of FL have found that Bt can be effective in the control of pickleworms, but only before they burrow into the rind of the fruits.
Pickleworm and melon worms are vulnerable to Bt. It is considered to be an organic pest control method, but only when OMRI-listed products are used.
Bt must be ingested for it to work. Since most pickleworms hide in leaf curls, spray coverage is reduced.
It’s most effective when sprayed on buds or open flowers. If you choose to use it, be sure to follow the label and use it as directed.
Pickleworms and melon worms are both susceptible to Bt. It’s also considered to be an organic way to get rid of pickleworms, but only when OMRI-listed products are used.
Bt must be ingested by the pickleworm caterpillars to be effective. Since most of them are hiding between leaf curls, it can be hard to get them to eat them.
Spray coverage is hindered because of this. Bt is most effective when applied during the period when the blooming cycle.
Similar to Steinernema carpocapsae, it’s useless if the caterpillars have already entered your crops.
Both of these microorganisms can be purchased online (see Amazon). Read the label. Use as instructed.
Nematodes aren’t usually used in the home garden but are more for industrial usage. They’ll wash off with the rain so you need to constantly reapply if your zone is subject to rains.
Some people in the community have had results using Bt or S. carpocapsea. So it’s up to your due diligence.
Spinosad is a microorganism that naturally occurs in soil.
This bacteria is considered to be an organic insecticide.
However, they’re only effective if the worms haven’t burrowed into the fruit yet, so it’s similar to Bt in terms of how well it works against caterpillars.
Read all labels and use them as directed.
Get professional help
If you can’t get rid of the worms on your own, it’s time to hire professional exterminators.
Do some research on local pest control companies and see if you can get a few quotes. Look for companies that offer a guarantee so you don’t have to spend more money if the pickleworms aren’t taken care of.
Check if they offer organic pest control, as you’ll be eating the crops so you don’t want poisons sprayed all over them.
There are plenty of other ways to manage and control the pickleworms in your garden that don’t involve dangerous compounds or poisonous ones.
Your task is to find the exterminators near you that offer them!
Read some reviews and call around. It can be worth it for you, even if you have to pay for it.
If you’re a busy person, your time is worth more than the cost of hiring contractors to do the work for you.
Out of options? Then try a commercial product. Just be sure that whatever you use is labeled for organic/natural use and is SAFE for edible plants!
There are a few products out on the market that you can buy advertised to work for pickleworms.
Here’s one of them that you can check out on Amazon:
If you choose to use a store-bought insecticide, make sure you read the label and use as directed.
Pickleworm should be listed as a pest on the label. And the intended crop you plan to use it on should be there as well.
Will Sevin dust kill pickleworms?
Sevin dust should not be used to remedy pickleworms. The application is messy and rarely will stick to just the application site.
There’s also not enough evidence online that it’s effective against pickleworms, nor the safety to use on edible plants. Stick to the safer, natural remedies.
How to prevent pickleworms for good
This section covers basic tips and tricks you can practice to reduce the likelihood of infestation.
Remember that if you’re in the southern states prone to pickleworm damage, it’s really not possible to completely prevent them.
You can take steps to help save some of your crops so you can enjoy them for yourself:
- Keep your garden CLEAN
- Harvest your fruits early if possible
- Inspect your vines, flowers, buds, stems, fruits, and soil regularly for pests
- Wrap plants in the evening; remove wraps in the daytime to allow pollination
- Plant early harvest verities or switch to insect resilient cultivars
- Consider using neem oil to coat your vines/fruits
- Manually remove larvae every time you water or do yardwork
- Be patient and diligent in your efforts!
Pickleworms can be safeguarded from damage when proper practices are put into effect, which can help keep pickleworms away from squash, melons, cucumbers and other crops.
If you have specific questions, please post a comment using the form at the end of this page. I’ll try to help you if I can do so!
You may find these references helpful if you need more info:
- The PICKLEWORM: – AUrora: Auburn University Scholarly
- Pickleworm – Diaphania nitidalis – UFL
- NPA Pickleworm MASTER – Hawaii Department of Agriculture
- Pickleworm – Hawaii Master Gardener Program: FAQ
- Pickleworm – University of Tennessee Extension
- Pickleworm Control – Bonnie Plants
- How can I save my cucumbers from pickleworms? : r/gardening
Did you get rid of the pickleworm infestation?
Now you should feel a bit more confident.
While these bugs show up, they may look pretty scary as they eat through your precious squash, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber, or other cucurbits.
But with some patience and DIY remedies, you should be able to greatly reduce the damage from their destruction using the techniques outlined in this guide.
Remember that pickleworms are a native pest to many southern states, so it’s just something to be expected in the garden.
But when you actively go out and practice good pest management, you can get rid of most of the damage and only have a few crops to throw out.
If you have specific questions about your pickleworm problem, please feel free to fill out the comment form below. I’ll try to get back to you ASAP.
Additionally, if you found this guide to be of any value, please consider leaving some feedback using the comments!
Or share it with a friend or neighbor who may get some benefit out of it! It’s the most you could do for me!
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.
1 thought on “How to Get Rid of Pickleworms Naturally (Complete Guide)”
We live in Florida and just discovered that our whole crop of spaghetti squash has been infested with pickleworms, which we never heard of and didn’t know about…we are very disappointed and depressed. Thank you for this informative article!