Start early to prevent or minimize squash bugs
Question: I have a terrible problem with squash bugs. I noticed them two years ago. ... I read somewhere to plant the squash in a different area the following year, which I did, but they traveled there as well. I've read that you recommend knocking them into soapy water, but what about the ones that are in the ground? There are literally thousands of them. Is there a spray or something to kill these pests?
Answer: Squash bugs can cause yellow spots, browning or wilted leaves on cucumber, squash, pumpkins or melons. These ¾-inch-long brown elongated bugs damage the plants by sucking and feeding on plant juices.
First of all, keep your plants healthy and growing vigorously so they are better able to tolerate the damage. Smashing the tiny yellowish-bronze eggs on the undersides of the leaves and stems along with knocking the immature and adult bugs into soapy water can help manage small populations.
Go on the defensive this season by covering the plants with floating row covers at planting. Remove the cover once flowering begins, so the bees can reach and pollinate the flowers. The early-season protection helps reduce the risk of damage to the harvest.
Trap the adults with wet newspaper, towels or boards laid on the soil around the plants. The squash bugs will gather under these at night and can be collected and destroyed in the morning.
Lastly, be sure to clean up debris surrounding the garden. The debris creates a great hiding place for this pest. In fall, remove all plant debris, especially vine crops, where the squash bug may overwinter.
If you still want to use a chemical, select one labeled for this use and be sure to read and follow all directions carefully. Pyrethrins and permethrins are currently labeled for this use. Apply around the base of the plant early in the season to manage the population, avoid injury to bees and allow time for the pesticides to degrade before harvest.
If plants suddenly wilt, check for the squash vine borer feeding inside the stem. Their damage causes squash plants to suddenly wilt and die once the water and nutrient transport vessels have been eaten away. Hopefully, you do not have both problems.
Q: I am writing for information on growing rhubarb. I love cooking with rhubarb. The problem is my soil does not drain well. For the past two years I have tried to raise rhubarb, but the roots have rotted and plants died. I want to try a raised garden but I am concerned our cold winters will kill the plants. How would I protect the rhubarb plants from freezing and dying in the winter?
A: Raised beds are a good way to overcome poorly drained soils. But it’s true, the roots of plants growing in raised beds are exposed to more soil temperature extremes. The larger the raised bed, the greater the insulation. Plants, especially those growing in the center of the bed, are at less risk of root damage.
Keep the plants healthy to increase their ability to tolerate weather extremes. You’ll want to monitor the soil moisture in the raised beds, as the soil dries out more quickly than in-ground plantings. Water thoroughly as needed throughout the season and before the ground freezes in fall.
Mulch the soil to conserve moisture and to moderate temperature extremes. Provide additional insulation for smaller or exposed beds or when a severe winter is in the forecast. You can surround the raised bed with snow, bales of straw, bags of leaves or wood chips, if you feel extra insulation is needed.
Email questions to Melinda Myers through melindamyers.com, or write her at P.O. Box 798, Mukwonago, WI 53149.