Squash Vine Borer Control

Are your squash plants wilting and dying for no apparent reason??  Yeah.  There is an apparent reason for that.  The dreaded squash vine borer. Here’s how to get rid of it and save your squash plant from imminent death.

Skip right to the Squash saving steps.

I was away from my garden for approximately 2 days. In that time there was rain.  Actual, falling from the sky, RAIN.  We haven’t had a lot of that this summer.  I love my watering system but there is nothing like genuine rain.

City water is filled with chlorine, fluoride and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t bother to look up for the same reasons I don’t look up the calories in a Big Mac.  Nobody needs that information if they want to continue to enjoy life.

Watering my garden with city water keeps it alive and growing.  But having my garden watered by rain is like watering it with magic cloud happy tears (comprised of equal parts steroids, Miracle Grow and genuine miracle).

The biggest growth from the rain happened in my squash beds.  But if I hadn’t checked them for Squash Vine borer a couple of weeks earlier I may not have had any squash vines to grow.

What are Squash Vine Borers?

Squash Vine borers are disgusting, white, maggoty creatures that burrow into the stem of squash vines. The pests overwinter in the soil and when the time is right in the spring they emerge and proceed to lay eggs on their favourite plants; squash, zucchini and pumpkins.

The eggs are laid on the stem of the plant and when they hatch, the squash borer eats its way into the squash stem, just above the soil line.

Once inside the stem, the squash vine borer continues to eat the inside of the stem hollowing it out until the plant eventually wilts and dies a surprisingly rapid death.

 

Identifying Squash Vine Borer Damage

In the mess and tangle of squash vines, it’s easy for vine borer damage to go unnoticed, so you have to make a point of looking for signs around the end of June and beginning of July.

Signs of squash vine borer activity are:

  1. Mushy main stem that feels hollow when you squeeze it, instead of firm.
  2. Holes or cracks in the stems of the squash plant, near the soil line.
  3. Evidence of yellow fluffy frass (squash vine borer poop) around the soil line and on the stem. It looks kind of like sawdust.

You can see the 3 spots on this one large squash vine that vine borers have gotten into it. Anything circled is a vine borer hole. Anything highlighted slightly in red is where the vine will die. Basically it’ll die from the point of the hole straight out.

Since vine borers make their entry points at the start of the squash vine where it meets the soil that basically means the entire vine from that point out will die taking all the potential squash with it.

So what do you do?

You have to cut those suckers out. You have to lance the wound.  

Just because you can’t see the vine borer hole doesn’t mean you don’t have them. They’re often on the underside of the stem so there’s no visible evidence of a hole.

In that case look around the soil for orangey gunk.  That’s squash vine borer frass (poop).  If you see it.  You have squash vine borers.  

And again, the easiest way to check for vine borers is to squeeze the stem near the soil line. If the stem feels hollow, you have a vine borer.

Yup. That’s just how gross they are.  So to reiterate:

How to Get Rid of Squash Vine Borers

  1. Look for evidence of wilted leaves or stems. If you have them chances are you have squash vine borer.
  2. Check all around the stems of each plant for holes or frass (orangey poop)
  3. Feel the stems near the soil. They should be firm not soft.
  4. Slice into the stem with a knife where it is hollow and look for the vine borer. Extract it.
  5. If you can’t see the vine borer, scrape your knife back and forth inside the vine until you’re sure nothing could have survived.  You’re trying to squish/kill the vine borer inside the vine.
  6. Cover open wound of stem with soil.

TIPS

  1. Check your vines even if your vines aren’t wilting.  Catching the borers early is key to success.
  2. While your plant is growing earlier in the season, push your vines towards the soil and hold them in place with a mound of soil on top, or a U pin.  This will allow the vine to root there, helping that portion of the vine survive a vine borer attack at the main stem.
  3. Grow vine borer resistant varieties of squash.  Butternut and Honeynut are two that seem to be less vulnerable to vine borers.

Preventing Squash Vine Borer Damage

  1. Grow borer resistant varieties of squash like Butternut or Honeynut.
  2. Clean up all of your squash vines as soon as you pick your squash.
  3. Rotate zucchini, pumpkin and squash beds. The cocoons overwinter in the soil so moving to a new location should help eliminate chances of them being born right next to your plants.
  4. If you plant in a bed that you’re fairly confident doesn’t contain any cocoons you can cover your squash plants with row cover. This will prevent the Squash vine borer moth (Melitta curcurbitae) from laying eggs on the stems.
  5. Mound soil or mulch up high around the stem of your vine as it grows to prevent a moth from laying eggs there.
  6. Wrap the main stem with tin foil, a plastic bottle or anything else to cover up the stem and keep it safe from a moth laying eggs.  (I personally find this method to be a bit iffy, but others swear by it)

 

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Have a squash plant that was doing fine one day and then was dead the next? You could have squash vine borer. Here\'s how to deal with it and SAVE your squash.

26 Comments

  1. Sylvia says:

    This is the first time I am growing spaghetti squash and on a trellis to boot. They are growing great and today my bubble burst as I have extracted almost 10 squash vine borer larvae (and sadly, I still have 4 more spag squash and 4 zucchini vines to check). One vine was hit pretty hard. Originally, when I transplanted it from the pot into the ground, the vine split a bit and I put floral stem wrap on it, but I really should have just dug it up and thew it out. That vine was hit the hardest. I have at least 3 nice squash growing on it, but the lower vine where I did surgery is pretty mangled (I don’t know how the squash were getting nourishment!). The problem that I face now is how to “fix” the most mangled part of the vine. Since they’re growing vertically, I can’t put the mangled vine in dirt. I’m toying with wrapping it in some moist gauze and put it in between two popsicle sticks and stem wrap it shut to see if it will regenerate or just die. Another part of me wants to come up with some sort of way to suspend a plastic pot with dirt on the trellis and hope that it heals itself/sprouts. I will NEVER grow spaghetti squash again!

    • Karen says:

      Hmm. I’m pretty sure you cant’ do this, otherwise you so would have, but if it’s possible, I would pull the vine down off the trellis and lay it on the ground, burying the broken part of the stem under soil. If you can’t do that then I’d just tape it up and hope for the best. ~ karen!

  2. i hate borers. they’ve killed my zucchini, squash, cinderella pumpkins, watermelon. i’m obviously stubborn but they’re more cunning. i read once that the best defense against borers is to just buy your squash at the store.

    This year I’m trying again with zucchini and spaghetti squash. We’ll see…

  3. Kitsie says:

    Thanks for the article, it’s nice to commiserate with others about these lil’ effers. They have been the bane of my squash growing for several years. I read that one way to control them is to try injecting either BT or neem into the vines, which resulting in me spraying my face with BT, and swearing off blue hubbards for life. This year, I found a resistant variety (Seminole Pumpkin) that seems to be doing really, really well, with no maintenance from me whatsoever. We’ll see how they taste!

    • Karen says:

      I feel like I’m the only one at my garden who struggles with these things! But I think I just grow more squash than anyone else. :/ However, they’re all still alive and vines are all still doing well! So cutting them out really does work. It’s just a pain and gross. ~ karen!

  4. Katie C. says:

    Those little twat waffles! I went away for 4 days and came back to an almost completely dead pumpkin patch.

    I had 2 pumpkins that were ready to harvest, one that had been bored completely through, and one that’s still on the vine that I, hopefully, saved.

  5. Dr. James McCleary says:

    I really appreciate your garden tips and especially how you demonstrate what you are talking about.

    • Karen says:

      Luckily the day I did this particular vine I got what was the best example (huge) of a vine borer I’ve ever seen! ~ karen

  6. Sue McK says:

    I followed your instructions last evening…my zucchini plant stem looks exactly like your photo. Worked like a charm. Didn’t have camera out there to take a picture. But, out popped the icky, ugly borer. 40yrs. of gardening & I never knew to do this. Thanks… big thanks!

  7. Karen, this year my pumpkins had a gray bug that looked like a stink bug. It coated the posts that I had trained the pumpkin vine with their ugly bodies and left thousands of eggs on the leaves. I finally gave up and pulled up the vine hoping it doesn’t spread. Have you ever had those?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Peggy. Those are squash bugs. To deal with them you squish them. I also remove any parts of leaves that have the eggs underneath. I just tear that portion of the leaf off, fold it in half and smash it. It sounds like yours were officially out of control! ~ karen

      • Kulie says:

        I got the squash bugs! I have heard they stay in your soil and you can’t plant squash there again. True or old wives tale?

        • Karen says:

          You are supposed to rotate crops every year (or every 2-3 years if you don’t have a particular problem with pests) exactly because of that reason. So you should move your squash to another part of the garden if you can for a couple of years before you rotate back to the squash infested portion. It’s a garden though so there are always going to be pests and disease. Some years are worse than others for certain pests, they go in cycles. That’s just the way it is. You’ll never completely eliminate them, you just have to learn to live with them – which can be done! 🙂 ~ karen!

  8. Agnes says:

    Yikes!! I’ll be out looking tonight. Thank goodness my faves are Honeynuts, but I have a zucc making beautiful golden fruits just ready to pick.

  9. Eileen says:

    well damn and blast. I finally have a zucchino (yes, single…I’m the only person in the world who can’t seem to grow the bleeping things) after the first one got eaten by something in infancy. This post reminded me to go out and check for the ickies. The zucchino was the perfect size so I picked it (cue: Snoopy dance!) and then I noticed the signs of….And lo! the 3 disgusting buggers in there had eaten through enough of the single stem that it broke off as I was extracting them. ONE ZUCCHINO today! Tomorrow…the farmer’s market.

  10. Mary W says:

    GREAT ADVICE! You really got it together, girl. (Even when you make me want to spit like when I see pictures of you like last post looking all fresh and very pretty and fit and well, that’s just wrong!)

  11. Jody says:

    Will this wee beasty also attack my prized zucchini?? Horrors! I will check for them this morning. Also is it better to twist or slice the zucchini from the plant?
    And yes the borers do have a certain resemblance….

  12. lisamc says:

    As a veteran of the Borer Wars I have come up with the perfect battle plan. I run up a white flag and quit. The result of all the digging and squishing and swearing never seems to add up to more than a few extra squash and well…..it’s freakin depressing. So now I go to the farmers market and PRETEND that next year I won’t have this problem. (The river running through my garden is deNile.)

  13. linda in illinois says:

    can that be the cause of my cantaloupe vines dying? I will have to go check that. Thanks Karen.

  14. Jack Ledger says:

    Aside from the dirt, now you know why I don’t have a garden.

  15. I wrap the stems in duct tape after I find and kill the worms. Thanks for the reminder to check my squash!

  16. Benjamin says:

    White, maggoty creatures boring into…
    Look around for orangey gunk…

    This seems like you created a post specifically about metaphorical warning signs of the so-called ruler of the United States (scrotus). You did that on purpose didn’t you? You slick fox, I love you… biodegradable glitter-bombs in the garden !!

    • Eileen says:

      Almost caused expelling of coffee onto monitor!
      twould be funny if it twern’t so true.
      Have to go check my one and only zuke plant for signs of the dts. ugh

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