Our Surprise Pumpkin Patch and the Squash Bugs That Almost Killed It

Our Surprise Pumpkin Patch and the Squash Bugs That Almost Killed It

Sarah Dobbins
Sep 7, 2012

A couple of months ago, in our little fenced-in suburban yard, we noticed some rogue squash-like leaves popping up out of the ground. Intrigued, we mowed around them and let them grow. We guessed: cucumbers? Squash? We have a raised-bed garden, so we figured some birds might have dropped some seeds from something we were already growing. We were so surprised to discover that we had our very own pumpkin patch — just in time for fall!

We watched with delight as the plants grew and elongated over the ground… yellow flowers soon popped up and we knew the pumpkins were on their way. We even had fun watching the bees pollinating the flowers — the whole patch was a busy little pumpkin factory!

Imagine our consternation, then, when suddenly our plants began to wilt. No holes appeared in the leaves, no obvious sign of infestation — just droopy, sad-looking leaves. We watered; no change. We hadn't even planned this little pumpkin patch, but now that we were in danger of losing it, we were worried. Finally I decided to investigate, and looked up every single insect I found lurking nearby.

Now, I'm no farmer; I'm not even close to being an expert on gardening or pests. I am new to the whole experience, so I'm learning as I go. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that the problem was right in front of me all along — what I thought were stinkbugs! Apparently the little "stinkbugs" I thought were harmless were actually squash bugs, and they are lethal to squash and pumpkin vines.

They use their little needle-like mouth to pierce the vines of the plant and suck out the sap. They like to hide in tall grass or mulch underneath the plant, and can also be found underneath the leaves.

I learned that to prevent a squash bug infestation, it's important to keep the vines off the ground, but for us it was too late for that. So we cropped the grass short underneath the vines, and began the battle against the squash bugs. I donned a pair of gloves and hand-picked the bugs off the plants, and threw them into a bucket of soapy water. I also scraped their little metallic-colored eggs off of the leaves as well.

Our infestation was already so advanced that we also resorted to pesticide application around the vines and at the bottom of the plants — we learned that a substance with either diatomaceous earth or pyrethrin would be effective, and so far we seem to be winning the battle!

So if you've got pumpkins or winter squash, and if you're excited about it like I am — and especially if you're as new to gardening as I am — beware the squash bug! This little bug now resides in my mental catalog of pests to avoid, and I'll be forewarned and ready to do battle with them next season.

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(Image: Sarah Dobbins)

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