Managing Garden Pests: Cucurbits (Squash Family)

The problem with plants that taste good to us is that they also taste good to a variety of insects. These bugs can suck the juices out of the plant, chew big ugly holes, and transmit diseases.  Because plants in the squash family (melons, cucumbers, squashes, and zucchinis) are very juicy and sweet, bugs love them. But don't despair! We can help you identify and manage these pests so you can bring in the bounty. Cucumber Beetles

These pesky little creatures are about 1/4 inch long with yellow and black stripes. They love to chew cucurbit leaves until they look like lace. They fly but tend to fall off the leaf when you disturb it, so put your hand underneath to catch them. Squish the beetles and look for their orange eggs laid in the soil around the plant. You can often catch them in pollinated squash flowers, then just squish or drop in a bucket of ammonia, kerosene, or other poison. For serious infestations, spray plants with pyrethrum (a botanical pesticide) every 3-4 days.

Squash Bugs

These large bugs are often found in pairs on squash family plants. They are brown or black, shield-shaped, and about 3/4 inch long. They lay very shiny reddish eggs on the undersides of leaves. They can be easily controlled by squishing or with applications of insecticidal soap. Making a small moat of wood ashes around the plants will control the bugs as well, since they hate walking over the ashes. Just make sure not to get any ash on the plants!


Aphids are one of the most common garden pests. They can be difficult to see because they are very small and often green or tan in color. They suck the sap of the tender young foliage and undersides of leaves. If you see ants on your squash family plants, you probably have aphids, since ants are attracted to the honeydew produced by aphids. A variety of methods for managing aphids are available. The best remedy is to squish them when you find them. You can also make "bug juice" by mixing the squished bugs with water and spraying the plants. A spray made of ground garlic, onions, or hot pepper can also be used to repel aphids. Insecticidal  soap or horticultural oil can be used as a last resort.

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are not as common on cucurbits as they are on plants in the cabbage or mustard families, but they can do damage. They are very small, about the same size as an aphid, and shiny black. They jump like fleas when disturbed and make zillions of tiny holes in leaves. Flea beetles can be repelled using row covers, hot pepper, or garlic sprays, and as a last resort can be killed with pyrethrum.