It’s early March in North Central Texas. Soon it will be time to plant veggies and begin dreaming about the fresh, home-grown produce to come. As a public service, I’d like to inform would-be vegetable gardeners about the pure evil that is the Squash Vine Borer (SVB). It’s my desire to spare others the anguish of seeing their plants harmed by these minions of Satan.
This is a personal crusade of mine because a few years ago everything was rainbows and sunshine in my veggie garden until the day my kids noticed an ugly red and black winged bug on the leaf of one of my squash plants. I didn’t know what the bug was. At the time, it had been years since I last had a garden and perhaps I had repressed all memories of past insect inflicted trauma. However, I soon found out the beast’s identity as the spawn of the critter caused the death of ALL my squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, cucumber, and watermelon (collectively known as cucurbits).
These vicious bugs enter from the base of the plant. The SVB lays eggs – lots and lots of eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larva crawl to the base of the plant and bore into the hollow stem and start feasting. In short order they will deprive the plant of nutrients and kill it. If you cut open an infected stem you’d see it filled with tiny white grub-like critters. The base of the plant will have what looks like saw dust on the outside of the stems. That’s when you know you’re in trouble and your plant is most likely done for.
The videos below provide a better understanding of the SVB.
- This video has some good closeups of the SVB, complete with a southern drawl.
- This is an informative video from Central Texas Gardener.
- Here’s one from Oklahoma Gardening.
- Here’s another video I found that shows what the buggers look like inside the stems of the squash.
Know Thy Enemy
So what does the beast look like? Click the links below for photos of the squash vine borer.
- A close up photo of the SVB.
- Multiple photos of the SVB.
- Close up photos of the damage they do from Texas A&M.
What To Do
How does one combat such a menace? Here are some links that discuss controls of the Squash Vine Borer.
- Here’s a nice short summary from the agricultural wizards at Texas A&M.
- This report provides a good overview. It used to be free, but now cost $3 to download.
- This is a discussion from GardensAlive.
Comments & Suggestions from Other Gardeners
WardinWake from the Square Foot Gardening forum says, “…Control includes removing the larva by slitting the vine were the moth laid her eggs (usually at the base of the vine) and physically removing the larva. After the larva is removed cover the damaged area with soil and hope the vine re-roots. As a preventive you can put a sticky substance on the base of the vines (Tanglefoot is one brand) to catch the moth(s). Also an organic insecticide such as Neem Oil can be used if sprayed every few days on the base of the plants. The Organic Gardening Magazine recommends companion planting with onions and garlic and also making a spray out of onions and garlic and spraying on the plants. …Tanglefoot is a sticky substance used in apple orchards. The apple tree owner makes or buys a fake red apple and applies Tanglefoot to the fake apple and hangs it in his tree. The bad bugs are attracted to the fake and become stuck to it. It can be ordered through most orchard supply houses. …Neem oil will kill beneficial as well as bad bugs. The key is to spray Neem only at the part of the plant where the bad bugs are prone to visit. If sprayed over most of the plant Neem can control squash bugs as well as the squash moth.”
SirTravers from the Square Foot Gardening forum says, “Adult borer moths are attracted to yellow stuff. You can use yellow painted pie pans filled with water to catch the adults. Once you’ve noticed a few adults in the traps you can use floating row covers for 2 weeks after you spot the first adults. In the North, they emerge as adults the following Spring. Where it’s warm like in Texas, the first run pupates quickly into adults, whose children commit another round of squash vine damage before they drop down into the soil for the winter so remember it’s not just the adults…it’s the babies in the ground too! …Don’t plant squash in the same spot 2 years in a row. If you don’t like row covers you can wrap the base of the vines with a small piece of the row cover material. Make sure to get it down into the mix a little. Next line of defense would be to spray insecticidal soap on the base of the vines once a week.”
Best of Luck
I fought these creatures three years in a row and lost each and every battle. The experience made me want throw in the trowel and gave up vegetable gardening all together. Instead, I just quit growing squash. Should you engage these hell-spawn in battle, I wish you better luck than I had. Remember, the squash vine borer is a moth. It looks intimidating but it’s not a wasp and it will not sting you. Should you see one on your plants, do not hesitate to swat it with extreme prejudice!
Tim Wardell is a deep thinker, gardener, husband, father, would-be science fiction sex comedy novelist, and margarita aficionado. When not doing any of those things, he reads, studies, practices, and blogs about sustainability.