Attack Of the Squash Borer!

By Julie Sews - 4:39:00 PM


I didn't know if our squash, zuchini, and pumpkins would grow in our new garden bed, because it is lightly shaded and we've never grown any before.  I was so happy that they seemed to be growing well.  Then local fellow blogger and gardener Amy of Get Busy Gardening alerted me to stay on the lookout for squash borer.  When I learned of this pest I asked my next door neighbor who is an avid gardener if he's had any problems.  He said he did not.  I knew he had a huge squash plant last year and years before that too, so I breathed a sigh of relief mine should be fine I figured.  Maybe I got a little too comfortable.....
Our pumpkin plant showing wilt due to a squash borer infestation


I was not keeping tabs on my squash borer vulnerable plants.  They looked fine so I just figure they were.  The only sign of anything was the occasional wilt in the sun, but I just figured they needed water.  Apparently not, it was actually a sign that squash vine borer was attacking all my plants.  I realized when I decided to take a close look at the plants for whatever reason and noticed chewed out spots on the plants and saw dust like stuff coming out of it.  I immediately checked what squash borer damage looks like and yeppers looks like that's what my plants have.  That's right all of them!


What is a Squash Vine Borer?
So apparently the squash borer is a black and red moth that lays brown eggs on the plant in June (usually) at the base of the plant.  And when they hatch they start feeding on your plant, eventually they exit the plant and hibernate in the soil until they reemerge as adults the next season.
life cycle of the squash borer from Organic Garden Pests

How to Save Your  Infected Plant
I found out that what you want to do to try to save your plant is cut the stem lengthwise and go looking for the borer.  It's white grub worm looking thing with a black head.  You can actually have several in one plant according to Amy.  After you find them and kill them you should try to put the stems back together the best you can and then bury them in compost/dirt and water.  It should regrow roots.

After learning this I set out to get those darn borers.  I had my knife and I stated to cut into one and then I woused out.  I started to have doubts.  What if the borer is already out and this ends up killing it?  I've learned that I have a real hard time killing any of my plants, even if I know it's in their best interest.  I.E. I am NOT good at thinning, I've lost a lot of potential plants this season because I just didn't want to pull out plants.  But while doing some research for this article I came across some videos of people finding and killing their borers and it did motivate me to give it a try at least I could try on one right?  I also found out it causes the new fruit to fall off, which explains why I thought it was odd that they all have been blooming so long with no sign of any fruit.  So I'm guessing doing surgery really is my only hope of saving them.  I felt it helped to actually see someone do it.  The video I watched is below if you want to watch it.

Surgery in the Garden On Squash?! (8 min)

What I Plan To Do Next Year
Next year I plan to plant only butternut and acorn squash, since they are suppose to not be as attracted to them. I plan to buy my zucchini at the farmer's markets instead of growing it myself, they're so cheap there! I would like to plant pumpkins still though.....  I guess I'll just have to have a plan in place for next year. 

How to Prevent Squash Borers
  •  have  yellow buckets out with water in it at the end of May or start of June, and they will attract the adult moths and they will fall into the buckets (why not can't hurt huh?).  
  • Make a breathable row cover for young seedlings (Amy did but she still got them) until July, when they;re egg laying time is over
  • protect the base of the plant with nylons
  • be on the look out in July for signs of the borer so you can hopefully save your plant
  • rotate crops and destroy all squash plant material (do not compost)

According to Patty Leander(via Renee's Root's,“(Squash vine borers) are truly a pain......Somehow I manage to get enough squash every year. The main thing I do is cover my plants with row cover, then remove it when I see female flowers. I also monitor my plants regularly and watch for the moth that lays the eggs. I keep a fly swatter in the garden and also use a bug zapper I purchased at Harbor Freight.  I also plant more than one plant, and plant them in different parts of the garden. I watch for the eggs on the stems and scrape them off or puncture them. They can also be ‘popped’ between thumbnails. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Frankly, I’d rather pop an egg than a larva.”

Update August 25th 2012:
 I actually performed surgery on two and didn't find any (I think I killed one in doing this).  I started wondering what if they already left the plant anyways?  So I decided not to mess with it anymore and just threw dirt on top of them and watered.  Hopefully that worked.  I had pretty much given up on them and I just noticed about a week later that we have zucchini growing and the very start of a few pumpkins, so hopefully they're OK.  I planted them late too so we'll see!

The only question remains do I plant squash borer attracting plants again next year or give it a year rest?  Any thoughts?  Have you had problems with the dreaded borer?  I'd love to hear about it!

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