Got squash bugs munching on your squash, melon, or pumpkin?
These guys can make a mess of your plant leaves as they suck the sap out of them like a straw into a cup of watermelon juice!
Squash bugs can kill younger plants that aren’t completely established yet.
So if your squash is just beginning to flower, you don’t want your harvest to be taken away by pests.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to get rid of squash bugs organically using basic materials you probably already have lying around your garden.
In this guide, we’ll cover these topics:
- How to identify squash bugs
- Signs of their damage
- How to get rid of them naturally
- Ways to keep them out of your squash
- Why your plants are infested with pests
- Various ways to repel pests from your cucurbits (squash, melons, zuchinnis, pumpkin, etc.)
- And more
If you have questions, post them using the comments form. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference since it’s quite detailed.
Let’s dive in and get rid of those squash bugs and squash ‘them up.
What’s a squash bug?
Squash bugs are named after their prominence in squash plants. They don’t only feed on squash plants. Once they get into your vegetable garden, you’ll find them infesting everything from squash to zucchini.
Zucchini, cucumber, cantaloupe, watermelon, and even pumpkin are tasty to them. Any plants in the cucurbit family are fair game for these critters.
In this article, we’ll go over some ways to get rid of squash bugs naturally using only organic DIY remedies.
While they’re not that hard to fully eliminate, they can quickly devour your vegetables (and fruits). So you need to get a plan of action immediately.
Squash bugs look very similar to other pests, so gardeners easily get confused over other bugs that have a similar appearance.
Squash bugs may also be referred to as:
- Squash borers
- Squash vine borer (mistakenly)
- Anasa tristis
- Squash beetles
- Stink bugs (mistakenly)
They’re similar to kissing bugs or blister beetles because they both have patterned fringes. But people who don’t know what to look for won’t have any idea, so that’s why it’s necessary to ID it if you wanna get rid of it.
Squash bugs are most vulnerable when they’re still within the egg or as a nymph. When they become adults, their long legs allow them to quickly run away from being caught.
They also get a pair of wings so they can easily migrate from plant to plant in your backyard. The ideal time to get rid of them for good is through the egg.
Females lay eggs in the spring after mating and emerging from the winter. They’ll seek out favorable host plants and will look for suitable foliage to deposit their eggs.
The eggs are laid in clusters on the bottom of the leaves where the corner of the vein thickens. The eggs are brown, tiny, and small.
Eggs will take up to 14 days to hatch, depending on the ambient temperature. Warmer temperatures mean quicker hatching time. Nymphs will emerge and then begin feeding.
Adults will do the most damage as they have larger mouths and burn more calories for basic metabolism. But the nymphs are easier to catch.
Over the course of 3-4 months, the nymphs will slowly become adults. When they do, they’ll have a full set of wings.
They’ll continue to eat until the winter comes to and they’ll hide under shelter until the spring. When spring rolls around, they’ll mate.
The eggs are the most vulnerable because they’re not protected.
You can easily prune off leaves that are infested with eggs to remove squash bugs by the hundreds.
Identification – What do they look like?
Squash bugs will look different depending on their age. Let’s start with the overall adult appearance so you can identify whether or not it’s indeed a squash bug.
The body is primarily flat, which allows them to seep into small cracks or crevices such as your garden fencing. Some squash bugs have a diamond shape on their back that often comes paired with small white dots on the edges.
They can also have the letter “U” across their back or random dots with no pattern.
Adult squash bugs are about 0.5” in length. They have wings and can fly, but rarely will do so. They use their legs to crawl around on your pumpkin or squash and just feed.
They can also appear to be black, blue, or brown. Depending on how the light hits. You’ll often see them scattered on the skin of your squash running in random directions when they get disturbed by you or other predators.
Baby nymphs are about 1/10 of an inch in length. The babies are the same as the adults, but miniature versions.
They start out with green bodies but will get their grayish color when they grow. They look like small spiders and will hide on the bottom of the leaves.
Squash bugs have dark legs and are capable of moving quickly.
This lets them dodge predators like humans so they can remain safe. But when you see them feeding on your squash, you’ll see them in large groups eating together.
What do squash bugs eat?
Squash bugs can cause major damage before you even notice them.
These guys eat plants primarily from the cucurbitae genus, which encompasses a variety of cucurbits such as pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, various melons, winter melon, gourds, summer squash, etc.
They eat the leaves by sucking the sap out of them which will destroy the plant over time. The leaves will be eaten first as they drain the sap from the foliage, then they’ll feed on the vines, then the fruit of the vegetable.
Where do they come from?
These pests are fully equipped with wings for flight. They can quickly migrate from one cucurbit to another as they please.
Whether it’s changing seasons, competition, or breeding, squash bugs can fly quite a distance in terms of size.
This allows them to infest new plants with ease and why you may see them suddenly show up seemingly overnight. If there’s a food source, you can expect it to be infested with squash bugs if it’s not protected to keep them off.
They mainly feed on cucurbits as their primary host plant but will settle for others if necessary. If you’re growing cucumbers, pumpkins, or squash in your garden, it’s fair game.
It just takes a single mated female to deposit her eggs. They can also travel from one plant to the other with their wings or just by crawling with super fast speed.
They’re good at finding plants using their wings.
Where do they hide?
Squash bugs generally hide in the crown of the plant. Both the adult and nymphs will congregate in this area because it protects them from predators right at the soil line.
You can easily spot them if you check the crown of your infested plant. The eggs look like oval-shaped, brown eggs that are deposited in clusters on the undersides of leaves or near the crown of the plant.
Are they dangerous? Do they bite?
Squash bugs pose more of a threat to your plants than you. They don’t bite, transmit diseases, or contain poisons or venoms.
So they’re harmless to humans. But they can transmit the circuit yellow vine disease because they’re a vector. This can’t hurt you, but it will hurt your plants.
If you’re thinking about picking them off with your fingers, wear protective gloves. Although they don’t have toxins, you want to avoid getting their bug guts on your fingers.
It can stain clothing or fabrics. Their saliva is also not harmful to humans. They only use it to help digest the sap they suck out of the squash leaves.
Do squash bugs overwinter?
Squash bugs will overwinter (hibernate) in the soil or any other location that shields them from the cold.
They can be found winterizing in vehicles, plants, rocks, garbage bins, compost bins, leaf litter, mulch, or other clutter.
When temperatures pick up in the following spring, they’ll come out to breed then the females will deposit eggs on the leaves.
Signs of damage
Squash bug damage is noticeable if you know what to look for:
- Wilting leaves
- Yellowing or browning foliage
- Dropped leaves
- Vine damage
- Holes in fruit
- Warped fruit
- Dry leaves with torn edges
- Skeletonized leaves
- Plant drooping
- Poor yield
- Black vines
- Holes in the leaves
It depends on the type of plant you’re growing and how old it is. Older plants that are established can handle quite the infestation compared to younger ones.
Squash bugs will kill your plant if you don’t get rid of them. Squash plants that are larger and virile will fare just fine with smaller infestations.
But younger smaller squash plants can’t. They’re vulnerable to squash bugs so you need to do something.
How to get rid of squash bugs organically
Here we cover some natural techniques to get rid of these pests without poisons or sprays.
Start with the easiest using whatever you have handy. Then move onto the more invasive techniques if necessary. Only use commercial products when none of these DIY remedies work for your case.
Remove them by hand
While it’s possible to remove them manually, you need to be quick. These guys are extremely fast despite their size.
But if you act quickly, you can get rid of them with just a pair of gloves. You need to be persistent and find out what works for you.
To hand-pick, put on a pair of gloves. Get a bucket of soapy water and place it near your squash. Get ready to pick!
Move the plant so you can see under the leaves and into the crown. Once you see them, they’re going to run.
Quickly scoop them up and then toss them into the bucket. They’ll likely stick to your gloves so you can dip it into the soap which should kill them instantly.
They don’t bite, so don’t worry. But they will release this nasty goop if you crush them. Repeat this daily until the bugs are gone for good. Check under leaves or just snip it off entirely. Dump the bugs into the compost.
This is the most basic way to get rid of squash bugs. It’s kind of primitive, but it really does work. Plus you don’t need anything to get started.
Remove the eggs
Getting rid of the eggs should be your main focus.
When there are dozens of eggs on a single leaf, you can effectively wipe out them in huge numbers rather than trying to catch the nymphs or adults one by one.
Check your leaves, vines, and crowns for those tiny brown eggs. Remove them by scraping them off or just pinch the entire leaf off. Even spraying it with some dish soap will damage the outer layer. Kill the eggs to prevent squash bugs in the first place.
Look for the eggs where the leaves have veins. The eggs are small, brown and oval-shaped. Remove them by hand or pull the leaf.
You don’t need any special equipment to see the eggs. You can also scrape them off using a paint peeler. This is one of the most effective ways to keep the bugs off your squash. Check the foliage for new eggs weekly.
Plant bug resistant varieties of squash
Some squash varieties are much more insect-hardy than others. If bugs are a common issue in your yard, consider changing the type of squash you’re growing.
Here are some more resilient cultivars:
- Crookneck squash (summer squash)
- Butternut squash (large squash for soups/stews)
- Green Hubbard squash (winter squash similar to sweet potatoes)
- Dickson pumpkins
- Cheese pumpkins (sweet long island)
- Zucheeta tromboncito (similar to zuchhnia)
- Royal Acorn (flavorful squash)
- Spaghetti squash
- Striped Cushaw squash
- Pink Banana squash
- Sweet Cheese squash
The key is to grow what thrives in your hardiness zone. Even though they’re all just squash, some won’t do well in your zone. So check it first. The same goes for pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.
Baking soda by itself won’t kill squash bugs. It’s used in combination with onion and a few drops of neem oil. This makes a nasty repellent that can make the bugs go crazy.
It works more like an organic insecticide rather than a repellent. You may need to adjust the neem oil level in order to get the bugs out. Do not use it near pets or people.
Spot test in a small spot first. The mixture can cause reactions, so use PPE.
DIY insecticidal soap for squash bugs
You can make your own homemade solution right in your kitchen so you don’t need to spend money on those toxic sprays or liquids from the hardware store. All you need is some liquid soap. Mix 1 tsp of it with 1-2 liters of water, depending on how concentrated you want it.
If you notice that your plant burns (always test on a single spot first), then add more water. If you notice that the bugs aren’t being eliminated by it, then use more soap.
If you use organic soap, it’s technically an organic remedy, right?
You can make this for pennies at home compared to the markup you’ll pay at the store.
Pour it into a bottle and spray it on the pests directly. It won’t kill all of them, but it will make them slower so you can remove them by hand. The soap should be washed off the plant after you spray. Repeat daily until the bugs are gone.
You can use Dawn dish soap to kill squash bugs, but most soapy solutions will work. Just adjust the measurements as necessary.
Always test it on a single leaf first to see how your veggie reacts to it first. If it burns, change the concentration of the soap. Spot test first. Always.
Don’t spray the whole plant because you do some serious damage on contact. Let it sit for 48 hours then check the spot test.
You can use regular tape to quickly grab running squash bugs. Pull a thick strip and then use it to stick the bugs on it just like you would when removing Fido’s dog hair from your shirt.
This tape will quickly get rid of tons of them at once. You can be creative with it. Roll it on your fingers. Then run it on the bottom of leaves, vines, or even the crown.
The nymphs and adults will stick to it. Unwrap then toss it when you’re done. This is a quick way to gather a lot of squash bugs with minimal effort.
No poisons, toxins, or sprays are necessary! Is it organic? I think you can guess the answer to that!
Check your local hardiness zone and see what grows well in your zone. You can plant them in rows alongside your squash, or in a perimeter.
This will act as a physical barrier to keep pests out of your veggie garden. Nasturtium has been favored in the gardening community because it’s very good at keeping squash bugs away.
Some oils release a powerful scent that can be used to organically keep bugs away. These can be utilized in multiple ways.
Use a cotton bud and soak it in a solution of oil, then place it next to your plants. Make multiple so that the scent is evenly distributed.
Don’t spray it directly onto the plant as it may harm it.
Some good choices to try are the following:
- Cedar oil
- Lavender oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Peppermint oil
Use organic oils only. Read the label. Use as instructed.
Build a squash bug trap
Using a trap is a cheap and easy solution to catch them by the dozens. These bugs like to hide under shelter overnight and come out during the day to feed. If you make a fake shelter, they’ll hide in it or under it for the night.
You can use newspapers, magazines, or cardboard. Place a piece of it near the soil line of your squash. Then wait overnight. The next day, remove it and you’ll see a ton of them congregating within it.
Remove them or spray them down with dish soap before they scatter. You can repeat this daily until you get rid of the population.
If you raise fowl, chickens are excellent natural predators that’ll gladly eat up those squash bugs. They’ll forage on their own between the leaves and crown during the day. Not to mention they’ll do it for free!
Similar to using plants that repel pests, consider planting your squash with decoy plants. You can space the squash by row and then put decoy plants between them.
These plants should be something you’re willing to give up as they’ll be eaten by the bugs, but the point is that they eat these plants instead of your prized squash.
For example, if you’re growing winter squash, you can put pumpkins between the squash (not the plant, just the fruit). The bugs may go for the pumpkin instead of the squash.
There are also several herbs and florals that can naturally repel squash bugs:
- Bee balm
Consider pairing your squash with these insect-repelling plants.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural supplement that many use in their diet. But did you know it can also be used as a natural pest control product?
It’s basically a fine white crystal that can scratch the hard exoskeleton of bugs. Once they come into contact with DE, it pierces them like a throwing knife.
It’s also safe for humans (we consume it), so it’s much safer than spraying everything with synthetic pesticides.
Make sure you buy organic diatomaceous earth that’s used as a supplement, not the pool-grade one. It must be pure, food-grade DE.
Sprinkle it around your squash in a ring on the soil. This forces bugs to crawl over it in order to get to the plant.
You can also sprinkle it around potters (the rim) or in the soil. You can even put some on the leaves, vines, and crown. The point is to get as much powder onto the bugs as you can! If you see a bunch of them together, dump the powder all over them.
Keep people and pets out of the area so they don’t mess up the powder. Reapply after rain, watering, or high winds.
Use row covers (the floating type) to safeguard your veggies from bugs. Squash bugs are too large when fully grown to squeeze through the netting in the cover, so you can prevent adults from getting in.
Nymphs may be able to sneak through if the net diameter isn’t tight, so make sure you get one that’s sized appropriately. Row covers allow regular watering, sunlight, and photosynthesis to take place while keeping larger bugs out.
You can get row covers for cheap from your local hardware store or garden center. Just make sure you install it right and snug again the soil line. There are also DIY solutions that you can use to replace them in place of row covers.
Some ideas include fabrics, fish nets, or leggings. The drawback is physical barriers for pests doubly keep beneficial pollinators out like birds and bees, which may be needed for your squash, pumpkin, or other cucurbits.
You need to manually allow pollinators access to your plants in the summertime, then cover it when you’re done. Do it when the plants bloom.
Use trellises for your squash
Trellises can help keep your plants elevated, which can prevent some crawling insects from getting onto your cucumber or pumpkin.
This can help reduce the chance of infestation. It also helps keep mold or fungus from growing because they’re not sitting in the soil where water can be pooling.
Overplant your squash
Planting more squash (or whatever circuit you’re growing) will help ensure a harvest.
You should expect some number of your plants to get infested by squash bugs, but they can serve as decoys while your “real” plants are thriving.
This can also backfire if they don’t stay in one place and infest the nearby plants as well. Their population will only be limited by the supply of food.
By putting a layer of mulch, you can protect your foliage from swings in the temperatures. But simultaneously, it gives them a place to hide as well.
Bugs can use the mulch as a shelter too. You can avoid this by removing the mulch when the cold front has passed.
Only use it on the cold nights you expect it to be too much for your plant to tolerate. Older plants can handle wider temp ranges than seedlings.
Also, don’t let the mulch touch the base or crown of your plant. This just makes it easier for the bugs to hide in it. It also introduces fungus or mold if water gets stuck there.
There are some predators that eat squash bugs.
Predatory insects like spiders, birds, and ladybugs will feed on the eggs or nymphs. If you have them native to your zone, do some reading on how to bring in more of them to eat up the squash bugs!
Tachinid flies are also excellent predators of squash bugs.
They’ve even been used in industrial control in California, which shows how they can be an integral part of a natural solution. You can plant insect-attracting plants like dill to bring in more flies.
Neem oil does kill squash bugs. You can spray it on them or your plant leaves. It will burn your plants if you apply it during peak hours when it’s hot.
Only use it at night. Then wash off the excess residue. It has a residual effect so it lasts quite some time.
Keep pets and people away from neem as it can have adverse effects if ingested or contacted. Use only organic neem oil. Read the label and use it as directed.
Neem oil is an organic way to get rid of squash bugs, but it also prevents pollinators from pollinating because it’s harmful to them too.
You should avoid using neem on veggies, fruits, or other edible plants that flower because it can hurt beneficial insects.
Practice crop rotation
Rotate your crops often to help reduce the risk of infestation. You should never plant crops in the same plot in multiple seasons.
This means next year, plant something else in the place of the squash that’s a completely different genus. Move the squash elsewhere.
This helps reduce the possibility of infestation from the same insects. It also prevents soil depletion of nutrients.
Keep garden clean
Never let your garden go to waste. Keep it clean, neat, and tidy. Just doing this (what we should be doing) will help deter pests from infesting it by nature.
This means doing regular work such as maintaining, pruning, mowing the lawn, and harvesting on time. You should never let dried or wilted foliage sit as it brings in pests that consume it.
Prune plants that are growing like the wild. Remove unwanted foliage. And till your soil! Regular tilling of the soil can expose eggs or other insects hiding in the soil for the winter.
Tilling in the fall before winterizing can help get rid of hibernating bugs. If you have water features like a pond or pool, make sure that you keep them clean and maintained.
Clean up leaf litter immediately, including those grass blades from cutting the lawn. Don’t store junk in your garden either as it can squash bugs edu
Lastly, ensure that your water drains well. Pooling water increases the ambient humidity which just brings in more squash bugs and co. The water should never sit.
Delay planting until the summer
This can be done with varieties of squash that bloom quickly.
If you wait until later in the season to plant, you can prevent infestation because they won’t have anything to lay eggs on early in the spring.
Of course, you need a variety of squash that is ready to harvest quickly before the wintertime. This varies depending on your hardiness zone.
Check your squash!
Perhaps the most overlooked way to naturally get rid of squash bugs and keep them away is by checking your plants regularly.
Look for their signature brown egg clusters or feeding near the plant crown. If you see active bugs, quickly start a plan to get rid of them.
Comb your leaves and check for eggs. Remove adult bugs by hand or by spraying them with a natural insecticide. This will kill them on the spot so they can’t breed.
Every time you go out to tend to your plants, check for squash bugs when you prune, water, or harvest your fruit.
Vinegar acts more like a repellent than an insecticide. If you want to kill squash bugs naturally, use your fingers to pick them off!
You can also use neem oil or rubbing alcohol, but use it with caution as it can burn your plant. For vinegar, you spray it right onto the bugs as they feed.
The acidity of it can kill the nymphs, but the adults generally run away.
While we as humans love the smell of coffee (most of us), squash bugs hate it.
You can sprinkle used coffee grounds into the soil around your cubit plants.
The scent will organically repel squash bugs and repel them due to the nature of coffee. it’s also good for the soil by providing fertilizer and adjusting the NPK.
Are organic methods not working for you? It may be time to resort to commercial solutions.
Whatever you do, make sure you opt for organic or natural sprays that are safe for edible plants. You do NOT want to use synthetic insecticides that are not safe for veggies!
Look for organic products that contain Spinosad, which naturally kills squash bugs.
Here are some popular products to get you started (links to Amazon):
Whatever you decide to buy, be sure to read the label. Make sure squash bugs (Anasa tristis) is listed as an insect it works on.
Commonly asked questions about squash bug control
Here are some questions that readers often ask about squash bugs that you may benefit from. If you still have questions of your own, please post them.
How to get rid of squash bugs overwintering in the soil
Squash bugs will winterize in the soil to protect themselves during the cold season (think to hibernate).
So basically they’re hiding in the soil and waiting until spring when the temps pick up again so they can come out and then mate. Then lay eggs. Then eat your fruit.
Squash bugs are vulnerable when they overwinter because they’re sleeping.
Till your soil to remove sleeping bugs by hand. Drown them in soapy water to kill them.
This is why it’s important that you rotate your corps. If you don’t do it, you can see how they’ll just infest your plant again when they emerge from hibernation. Right?
What do squash bugs hate?
Squash bugs hate specific plants, herbs, and oils. Essential oils like neem oil can help repel them naturally so they keep off your squash.
Other plants like nasturtium have a bug-repelling scent to keep bugs away too. You can try vinegar, baking soda, or diatomaceous earth, which all have mixed degrees of effectiveness in the gardening community.
Do squash bugs come back every year?
Squash bugs will reinfect host plants in the same garden if possible. They tend to stay in the same area they get out of overwintering.
Even though they have wings, they rarely use them to migrate unless they need to. So by crawling, they don’t move much from the original host plants.
This is why you see them show up every spring but disappear in the fall. You can try tilling the soil to expose them or remove the eggs.
Does squishing squash bugs attract more?
You may have read that killing squash bugs bring in more.
This is true for some insects like stink bugs in the house, but for squash bugs, they’re not cannibals so the scent of their own kind getting squished doesn’t bring in more.
However, squishing them can leave a nasty stain on your fingers, so you should only do it with gloves.
How do farmers kill squash bugs?
Farmers utilize industrial-grade pesticides that aren’t practical for the public.
They’re generally purchased in large bulk quantities and are very expensive since they need to cover many acres of farmland.
This isn’t something that the everyday person would do in order to spray a small garden. Farmers can control squash bugs with these sprays because they have the means to purchase, apply, and have the right licensing to use them.
You may find these additional references useful:
Squash bug control without insecticides!
Congrats. You’re now armed with the knowledge of natural remedies for squash bugs.
Now go apply it to save the precious harvest that you worked so hard for. Squash bugs are a PITA because they’re so darn quick and show up in the dozens.
But with a combination of these techniques, you should be able to greatly reduce their numbers. For instance, combine manual picking with natural predators with row covers to make a three-pronged technique.
If you have any questions about your specific squash bug problem, please post a comment and let me know.
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.