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When Vine Borers Attack!

Buckle up, here we go. Let's talk about the squash vine borer.

First of all, raise your hand if you're growing summer squash, patty pan squash, zucchini, or any kind of winter squash (like a butternut, spaghetti, delicata, acorn, etc.)

That's what I thought, juuuust about all of you. Listen up!

Tuesdays are when I run my weekly maintenance route. I usually have anywhere from 6-10 stops to make. I visit my four business clients, and regular maintenance clients (like those with the Summer Survival Maintenance Package and PREMIERE PRACTICE members).

This year is going to be a doozey for pests and disease! Yesterday, at every single visit, and every single squash plant, I either treated for squash vine borers because I saw damage on the plants, or I pre-emptively applied products to help reduce risk of vine borers.

Let me back up a sec and introduce the squash vine borer to you.

The adult squash vine borer is a flying insect that is active in May, June, and July. Momma squash vine borer is black and bright orange. She flies around full of eggs, trying to find a cozy home for her babies. So sweet. Her goal is to find the center of a tender squash vine and lay her eggs INSIDE the base of the squash plant. The eggs quickly mature, babies are hatched as larvae and begin to feed on the squash vine, munching their way from the inside, out.

The tell-tale signs of squash vine borer damage are as follows,

  • Perfectly healthy looking plants one day, droopy, wilted, brown/yellowing plants the next day

  • Mushy, almost webbed, squash vines at the base of the plant, near the soil

  • Small piles of what looks like wet saw dust at the soil near the base of the squash

Unfortunately, once you see this damage, that means the larvae are already INSIDE your squash plants. Some brave souls will seek out the larvae inside the plants and try to remove them without destroying the plants. Chop sticks are helpful tools for removal.

I personally have never been able to stomach that approach and instead grab my Neem Oil* and diatomaceous earth** for a topical treatment. Yesterday, when treating plants with visible damage, I changed the spray nozzle on my Neem Oil bottle to be a straight stream and soaked the base of each plant thoroughly, trying to get the Neem Oil in all the nooks and crannies. Then, I sprinkled a heavy hand of diatomaceous earth along the base of the squash plants. For plants where I did not see damage, I just applied the diatomaceous earth as a preventative, which is what I would encourage all of you to do.

If after reading this you suspect you have vine borers in your squash and fear it is too late for the plant, don't worry! There is still time to reseed summer squash, zucchini, and winter squash for the season. It's best to do this ASAP. And when you have new squash sprouting, add diatomaceous earth to the base of your plants to prevent the vine borer momma from visiting.

*Neem Oil Tips:

  • Buy a concentrate and dilute to the specifications on the bottle. A concentrate is more effective and will last 20 times longer than a pre-mixed spray bottle.

  • Try to only apply Neem Oil in the morning or evenings, or at least on parts of your plant that are out of direct sun. Neem Oil can be damaging to leaves in direct sun.

  • Neem Oil is a BROAD SPECTRUM insecticide, miticide, and fungicide. Mites are arachnids so there is a possibility of affecting spiders too. Be caution when using Neem Oil around flowers to protect pollinator populations.

  • A little Neem Oil goes a long way. Don't overdue it!

  • Neem Oil is most active when the product is WET, so try to make contact with whatever you're treating when you use it.

  • Neem Oil is safe for organic growing.

**Diatomaceous Earth Tips:

  • DE is a topical, powdery product used as an insecticide.

  • DE works as a desiccant and dries out insects' exoskeletons. It also has a jagged texture (perceived only by insects) similar to fiberglass, which helps keep insects away too.

  • As such, it is important not to breathe in DE or get it in your eyes.

  • DE is also a BROAD SPECTRUM insecticide, so avoid flowers as often as possible for the sake of the beneficial insects.

  • DE is one of the few products that can be applied as a preventative against insect damage.

  • DE is safe for organic growing.

Godspeed, vine borer warriors!

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