Zucchini Problems - Beating the Bugs

Round Zucchini Photo
I'll tell you, growing squash can really teach you about guerrilla warfare in the garden. It seems as though just about everything is out to get your gourds, and if you don't like resorting to pesticides that kill the good bugs (think bees, ladybugs, praying mantis and butterflies) along with the greedy, pesky bad bugs, you can have a daily struggle on your hands.

In my ongoing effort to protect my zucchini plants (I planted some charming round ones this year), birdhouse gourds and other squash varieties, I've tried these tricks with varying degrees of success. In any given year, some tactics seem to work better than others.

Zucchini Tips and Tricks

Use aluminum foil - Place small strips or squares of aluminum foil around the base of the plants. It repels squash bugs. It won't get all of them, but every little bit helps. This works with cucumbers, too.

Dust with diatoms
- Diatomaceous earth looks like powder, but from a bug's perspective, it's really a pile of very tiny razor blades. It slices up bug bodies as they crawl around your plants. It's pretty safe to use. (It may cause skin reactions and you should strap on a mask before apply it.) Dust diatomaceous earth around the base of your squash plants to discourage vine borers (slugs and snails, too). It'll last until the next drenching rain. Diatoms are the skeletal remains of minute sea creatures. You also see them used as a super effective filtering medium.

Lure bugs with yellow - Place or paint something yellow in your garden away from the vegetable patch. Squash bugs are attracted to yellow and will flock to your lure, leaving the vegetables alone -- for the most part. In years past, I've strung yellow plastic tape or ribbon along the fence and it seems to work pretty well. If I place a couple of sacrificial squash plants under the ribbon, it works even better. It's probably also a good idea to keep plants with yellow flowers away from your squash -- their own yellow and orange flowers are problematical enough.

ZucchiniUse companion planting - I think of this as the art of placing a plant bugs hate next to plants they love. For squash, I interplant with marigold, lavender, dill and catnip. I also whip up bug sprays using those and other herbs. The idea is to make the squash plants so fragrant with other aromas that vine borers (and others) won't smell them and decide to lay their eggs in the middle of your crop.

Catnip grows fast and tall in my garden, and long about the beginning of July, I start pruning it back and sticking the stems among the squash plants for extra insurance -- just a suggestion.

Use row covers - This nonwoven fabric is available in 25 and 50 foot lengths (by 5 to 6 foot widths). It's very sheer and gauzy, but many bugs can't get through it or find their way around. You can leave row covers in place and tack them down for added security, but I find that's more of a hassle that it's worth. I drape the fabric over my squash plants in the evening and take it off before I water in the morning. The idea is that vine borers and some other nasties shop for new real estate late in the day. If you cover plants then, you'll be keeping them safer during the riskiest time. You can buy a 5 ft. by 25 ft. length of row cover fabric for around $12, and it's cheap at the price. If you don't poke too many holes in it, you can use it year after year.

Water in the morning - If you're having problems with powdery mildew, avoid getting plant leaves wet just before the temperature drops in the evening. Water in the morning instead, or water around the bases of your plants and keep the leaves as dry as possible.

If you're not sure who's nibbling on your greens but you know it isn't you, visit the National Gardening Association's Pest Identification Library for some great photos that will help you recognize and put a name to the culprits.

Image 1 ZucchiniRoundMF
Image2 BigZucchini_WikiCommons
By Michelvoss (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Image3 ZucchiniBlossom_WikiCommons.jpg
Fir0002 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons


  1. Anonymous12:29:00 PM

    Thanks for this info, I had almost decided not to grow zucchini and yellow squash as the squash bugs destroyed my plants last year and we are battling them again this year.
    Zone 6

    1. ME TOO! I even rotated the garden, rotatilled several times after last season thinking i would bring the pesty critters to the surface. i just took out the rest of my zuccini and cucumber plants. my garden is adorned with them. also my tomatoes have spots all over their leaves now. what the heck is going on!!

    2. Hey Sharlene,

      This was a BAD year. Take a look at the section on milky spore and nematodes in this post. It should help get rid of some squash bug problems next year.

      Good luck to us all.


  2. Hi Barb,

    I was in the same spot a few years ago, but in the last couple of years I've seen some real improvement -- fewer bugs and better yields. Come back in a couple of months and share your experiences.


  3. This is so helpful for the next zucchini plant I will try to grow!
    I really thought I might skip, trying to grow it next season... simply because of those nasty squash bugs.
    I did go to extreme measure, which made feel worse than the squash bugs getting the treatment... I will definitely be trying these strategies..
    zone 9

  4. Hi Virginia,

    I like to think of it as armed neutrality instead of outright war. The bugs win some, and so do I. That way the bees and lady bugs aren't casualties (much) in pesticide battles that don't help anyone.


  5. Anonymous10:38:00 AM

    Ha, This is good info! I have spent the last 2 years fighting squash bugs by hand, literally. Soappy water kills them and i would spend hours picking each one off and dropping it in a bowl of soappy water. Thank you for this added info!

  6. I lost all of my zucchini, beans, and cucumbers last year. This year I lost the first round of beans, cucumber, and nearly 3/4 zucchini plants. Recently I discovered a recipe on Pinterest (the same way I found this article) for making a tomato tea. Mix equal parts of tomato leaves and water and let it steep at room temperature for 24 hours. I'm not sure what is eating my plants but I think saw a flea beetle the other day. Anyway, since I don't have any trouble with bugs on tomato plants I thought the tomato tea idea was genius and I have plants now on the rebound. I also filled a bird feeder and my husband said the other day he has seen the birds eating bugs in the garden. I'm off to put down some aluminum foil, thanks for the tips : )

    1. Jennifer,

      Good luck. Let us know how it goes!


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