A summer vegetable garden is just not complete without summer squash growing in the mix of tomatoes, peppers, okra and cucumbers.
The office has been busy answering calls and examining samples of squash plants that have seemingly died overnight. All of this death and carnage in the veggie garden takes a toll on the gardener who has thoughts of fresh squash all summer long.
What is causing the anxiety is the squash vine borer. They are a definite pain to deal with, but they can be managed.
These little guys overwinter in cocoons in the soil where squash has been planted before. When the adults emerge, 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 and the plant wilts.
The squash vine borer is difficult to control for a couple of reasons. One, it is hard to know if you have them until a plant dies. Two, once they are inside the stem of the squash, not much can be done.
A couple of potential solutions exist. One is to mound soil around the base of the squash plant at the stem. With good growing conditions, the plant should put down more roots ahead of the borer and the infested part of the plant can be removed. The solution can be tricky and needs to have everything fall in place just perfectly for it to work.
Also, rotate where you plant squash year after year so as not to build up a vine borer population in your garden. Another way to outsmart the borers is to use their instincts. As the adults emerge, place yellow sticky traps or yellow bowls of soapy water in the garden; they will be more inclined to go to the traps than the yellow flowers of the squash.
If you see signs of borer activity such as bits of frass along the base of the plants, then can cut a vertical slit and remove the larvae in the vine. Cover the vine with dirt to encourage rerooting. All that being said, the best way to beat them is to start squash plants as early as possible. This might buy you a few weeks of harvest time.
Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact him at 770-535-8293. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.