A vegetable garden is just not complete without summer squash growing among the tomatoes, peppers, okra and cucumbers.
The University of Georgia Extension Office has been busy as calls pour in because samples of squash plants have seemingly died overnight. The dying plants in the veggie garden takes a toll on the gardener who has thoughts of fresh squash all summer long.
The root of the problem is the squash vine borer.
Squash vine borers are a definite pain to deal with but can be managed.
These little guys survive the winter in cocoons in the soil where squash has been planted before. When the adults emerge in the spring, they lay eggs on the stems of squash plants.
After a week, the pale grubs hatch and eat their way into the stems near the soil level. As the grub feeds, the flow of water is cut causing the plant to wilt.
The squash vine borer is very difficult to control for a couple reasons. One is the fact that it is hard to know if you have them until you see dead plants. The other reason is once grubs are inside the stem of the squash plant, not much can be done.
However, a few potential solutions are at a gardener’s disposal.
One is to mound soil around the base of the squash plant at the stem. With good growing conditions, the plant should be able to put down more roots ahead of the borer. Then the infested part of the plant can be removed.
That solution can be tricky since everything need to fall into place for it to work just perfectly.
Another way is to outsmart the borers by using their instincts. As the adults emerge, they are attracted to the yellow flowers of squash. If you place yellow sticky traps or yellow bowls of soapy water in the garden, the borers will be more inclined to venture into the traps than the plant.
A final attempt to stop the problem is to remove the squash vine borers after they infiltrate the plant. If you see signs of borer activity such as bits of grass along the base of the plants, then cut a vertical slit and remove the larvae in the vine. After removing them, cover the vine with dirt to encourage re-rooting.
With all that being said, the best way to beat them is to start your squash plants as early as possible. This might buy you six to eight weeks of harvest time before borers become active.
Also, rotate the place where you plant the squash and rotate it around for year to year. That way you will not build up a population in your garden.
Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension.