Pumpkin Insect Control – Dealing With Pumpkin Insect Pests

Pumpkin Insect Control – Dealing With Pumpkin Insect Pests

By: Liz Baessler

Growing pumpkins can be a high risk operation, especially if you’re after a real giant. Big pumpkins can take all summer to grow, and the last thing you want is for your prize specimen to fall victim to pumpkin insect pests. Keep reading to learn about pumpkin insect problems and pumpkin insect control.

Pumpkin Insect Problems

Pumpkins are a favorite food of quite a few insects, and pests on pumpkins can be a real problem. Most, however, are treatable or at least preventable. Here are the most common bugs on pumpkin plants and how to treat them:

  • Beetles – Beetles are the most common but easily treated pests on pumpkins. Spray your vines with a mild pesticide and they should disappear.
  • Snails and slugs – Snails and slugs love to eat the tender flesh of very young giant pumpkins. Put a ring of epsom salt or sand around your pumpkin – the pumpkin insect pests won’t cross it. Once your pumpkin’s skin has hardened, they won’t be able to puncture it and won’t be a problem anymore.
  • Squash bugs – Squash bugs can destroy stems and leaves and require pumpkin insect control in in the form of Carbaryl, as an effective insecticide.
  • Vine borers – Serious pumpkin insect problems can be caused by vine borers. These creatures burrow deep into pumpkin vines and suck away their moisture. If you find one, you may be able to save your vine by digging the bug out and burying the damaged part of the vine in the ground to encourage it to take root. This is a dangerous business, though, and not always successful. The best thing to do is take preventative measures by spraying the entire vine with a strong pesticide.
  • Aphids – Aphids are pests on pumpkins that don’t necessarily do damage except in large numbers, when they can yellow leaves and produce a nasty, sticky substance called honeydew. Even in small numbers, however, they can spread diseases among pumpkin plants. Light insecticides should kill off an aphid infestation, but they can also be combatted by a strong spray of water, the introduction of natural predators like ladybugs, and the installation of reflective mulch.

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Identifying Plant Pests and Diseases

Derechos Reservados - Enrique Freire / Getty Images

Gardening in your yard has major upsides, but it has one irritating downside: pests and diseases that attack your beautiful plants and delicious homegrown vegetables. These attacks not usually fatal, but monitoring your garden regularly makes you aware of a problem early enough to prevent major damage and nip it in the bud. This list will help you learn about common pests and diseases and how to identify them.


Pumpkin Insect Problems: Learn About Common Bugs On Pumpkin Plants - garden

You like pumpkins. So does a wide variety of animal pests. Some of them gnaw away at the plant, while others like the fruit. More than a few pests like to make a snack of both plants and fruit! Some garden pests forage by day, while other will visit your pumpkin patch at night. Even before you see an animal in your garden, or find evidence of their presence, it's time to take action. Once they have found your pumpkin patch, they will return on a regular basis.

The four basic ways of controlling garden pests are: hunting, trapping, repellent sprays, and fencing or netting to block them from reaching your crop. In urban and suburban areas, hunting and trapping is not be an option. Repellent sprays have a limited effectiveness, They need to be re-applied regularly, and after a rainfall. Miss just one application, and the pests return. Fencing and pest netting, carries an upfront cost, but keeps most animals out. Once you have bought it, it should last for years.

Here are the most common animal critters, that will enjoy munching on your pumpkin fruit, leaves, and/or vines:

Deer - These foragers like both the plant and the fruit. During the summer, they feed on the growing tips of the vines, and tender, newer leaves. Just as the plant is recovering, they return to feed again. In the Fall, they like the ripe fruit. They usually seek ripe pumpkins after the first frost, when foliage becomes scarce.

They are controlled by hunting, trapping, repellents and fencing or pest netting.

You may find rabbits in your pumpkin patch by day, or at night. Rabbits like the tender leaves and growing tips, as well as new, small fruits. If you have lots of other tender greens, like lettuce and beans, they will visit them first.

They are controlled by hunting, trapping, repellents and fencing or pest netting.

These pests burrow under your garden, disturbing the roots. More importantly, they tunnel under a ripening fruit, and up into it from the bottom in search of seeds.

Mice and Moles can be controlled by traps and rat/mouse poisons. A field cat is an excellent way to keep the population under control. Note: We discourage the use of poisons in the garden, as it can get into the soil and ultimately the food you eat.

Squirrels and cute little Chipmunks love pumpkin seeds. Just as you are ready to harvest your fruit, you find they have gnawed through your pumpkin to extract the seeds. They are notorious at attacking pumpkins left out on the front step.

Hot pepper sprays should keep them away from ripe fruit. Spray often, and after each rain.

Like their cousins(mice and moles), squirrels and chipmunks can be controlled by traps and poisons. A field cat will help keep chipmunks under control. They seldom go after squirrels, which are bigger. Note: We discourage the use of poisons in the garden, as it can get into the soil and ultimately the food you eat.

These nasty garden pests can be a real problem. There is little that will keep them away. They will climb over, or burrow under a fence. They will gnaw a hole in anything short of a metal wire. Their diet includes tasty, ripe (and almost ripe) fruit.

Hunting and trapping are your only effective methods of controlling woodchucks.

Important Notes: Make sure to learn and abide by your local hunting and trapping laws.


How to Identify and Eradicate the Pumpkin Beetle

The pumpkin plant is a favorite for most gardeners because it is relatively easy to take care of and provides excellent ground cover. However, along with the orange vegetable often comes the pumpkin beetle.

What Is a Pumpkin Beetle?

Pumpkin beetles begin as small yellow eggs that are not easily seen by the human eye. Since they are laid around the base of the plant and into the ground around it, it is nearly impossible to tell if you have an infestation until the eggs begin to hatch.

After hatching, the pumpkin beetle is impossible to miss. It is a bright red bug that will often cluster on the leaves of the pumpkin plant. Both new and mature leaves are vulnerable, and the holes are evident as the bugs move from leaf to leaf.

How To Eradicate the Pumpkin Beetle

There are several ways to get rid of the pumpkin beetle, both naturally and with human-made chemicals. Which method you choose depends on your gardening philosophy.

Insecticides can help control the pumpkin beetle infestation by killing both the eggs and the larvae before they can hatch into adult bugs. There are also treatments for adult bugs that will kill them and prevent them from laying more eggs. Look for a pesticide that contains neem oil or rotenone, or a human-made pesticide.

If you are growing pumpkins organically, you can:

  • Combine wood ash and lime to treat the plants.
  • Treat plants with diluted neem oil.
  • Pick mature beetles off of the plants by hand.
  • Spray soapy water over the plants.

Prevention of Pumpkin Beetle Infestations

The best way to protect pumpkin plants from the beetle is to prevent them from appearing in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is to provide an active, healthy growing environment for the plants. Proper spacing, good fertilizer, and adequate water and sunlight all work together to prevent beetle infestations.

If you already have pumpkin beetles, you can prevent future colonies by burning all of the pumpkin debris from the garden and planting [growing-pumpkins]pumpkins[/link]in a different area the next season. Without pumpkin plants to eat, the beetle will naturally die out.

Despite the potential for crop damage by the pumpkin beetle, pumpkin plants remain one of the easiest and most fun plants to grow. Provided you take the proper care and precautions, you can easily keep your plants healthy and thriving.


Pumpkin Insect Problems: Learn About Common Bugs On Pumpkin Plants - garden

Garden pest problems often lead to pumpkin plant diseases. In general, pumpkins are strong plants and are able to resist many of these diseases. However, they are unable to defend themselves against harmful insects.

There are three main pests that can wreak havoc in your pumpkin patch:

  • Cucumber Beetles
  • Vine Borers
  • Snails and Slugs

The most common enemy in your pumpkin patch is cucumber beetles . The striped cucumber beetle has black and yellow spots on its back. The spotted cucumber beetle has a yellow back with black spots. Both of these insects can damage the leaves and spread pumpkin plant diseases. Fortunately, cucumber beetles can be controlled with common insecticides including sprays and dust. Diazinon and Malathion are common chemicals that will kill cucumber beetles. Apply products that contain these pesticides according to the manufacturer's instructions. Most can be applied soon after the seedlings emerge and throughout the growing season. Organic insecticide products are also available.

Vine borers are a common garden pest and can do some serious damage. They will attack any summer or winter squash plant, along with cucumbers and pumpkins. They will bore into the vines at the base of your plant, sucking out the juices and eating the vines themselves. Once inside the vine, they will continue eating away at your plants from the inside out. Many times this damage is not noticed until significant and irreversible damage has already been done. The fruit growth will suddenly slow and the vine will wilt, shrivel and die. Many backyard vegetable gardeners see the plant wilting and assume that the problem is lack of water. If the plants continue to wilt after a thorough soaking, you're definitely battling vine borers. There are several products on the market that will prevent vine borer infestation. It's important to apply these products before your plants become affected. Read the labels on products that contain Diazinon or Carbaryl to make sure that the spray is effective against squash vine borers. Follow the manufacturers directions. Most of these insecticides can be applied soon after the seedlings first emerge.

Snails and slugs can cause problems for larger pumpkin varieties. They generally do not attack small and medium sized pumpkins. If you are growing giant pumpkins, beware of snails and slugs when the fruit first appears and before the skin becomes hard. They love to suck on the soft fruit of developing pumpkins. Special snail and slug pellets are available at most garden centers and can be spread around the plants. Some organic pumpkin growers put down a layer of sand under and around the developing fruit. For some reason, slugs and snails do not like to crawl across sand. If they can't reach the developing pumpkins, no damage will be done. Once the skin on the pumpkins begin to harden, snails and slugs will no longer attack the fruit.

We've had good results by implementing a preventative spray program for pests in our own garden using a homemade soap spray. We mix together 2 gallons water, 2 tablespoons liquid dish soap and 2 tablespoons hot sauce in a 2 gallon pressure prayer. We shake well to mix and spray all over our pumpkin plants every 10 days or so, or after every heavy rainfall. This mixture doesn't actually kill any pests, but it does encourage them to move elsewhere.

If you are sure you don't have pest problems in your garden, you are probably dealing with a bacterial or fungal infection. Some diseases that affect pumpkin plants are wilt disease, powdery mildew, downy mildew and scab disease. These are usually identified by a powder like substance on the leaves or stems. There may also be visible black spots or splotches on the leaves themselves. Most pumpkin plant diseases can be avoided by choosing disease resistance varieties and by keeping the garden clean and free of weeks. They can also be controlled with fungicides or organic soap sprays that are usually available at most garden centers.

We've implemented a preventative spray program in our own garden using a homemade fungicide. We mix together 2 gallons of water, 4 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide and 4 tablespoons baking soda. We mix it all up in a 2 gallon pressure sprayer and spray it all over our pumpkin plants to the point of runoff every 10 days or so, or after every heavy rainfall. This mixture works well at preventing fungal problems. However, if we get an infection, we switch to a commercial fungicide product.

Remember, many pest problems and pumpkin plant diseases are preventable. As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."


Major Pests

Aphid adults (winged adult in center) and immatures.
Alton N. Sparks, Jr., University of Georgia, www.insectimages.org

Aphids: Aphids are small, soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects about 1 /16– to ⅛-inch long. They are usually green but may be pink, brown, black or yellow. Some aphids have a woolly or powdery appearance because of a waxy coat. Adults may or may not have wings.

Aphids are usually found feeding on new growth or the undersides of leaves. Some feed on roots. They suck plant sap, resulting in yellowing and misshapen leaves. In addition, growth may be stunted, and new buds deformed. As aphids feed, they excrete a sugary material, called honeydew, which makes leaves shiny and sticky. Sooty mold fungi may grow on the honeydew, producing unsightly dark splotches on the plant’s surfaces.

Control: With minor infestations, handpicking, spraying with water or wiping the insects with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol may be practical. Insecticidal soap spray may also be used. In most cases the treatment will have to be repeated multiple times. For houseplants that are taken outdoors, spray with insecticidal soap, neem oil extract, pyrethrins, acetamiprid, imidacloprid, cyfluthrin, or permethrin to control aphids. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. Imidacloprid plant spikes put into the soil will also control aphids. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.

Mealybug nymph. US National Collection of Scale Insects Photographs Archive, USDA ARS, www.insectimages.org

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are small, pale insects, related to scales. They are about ⅛ to ¼ inch long and move very sluggishly. The adult females cover themselves and their eggs with a white, waxy material, making them look cottony. Some have waxy filaments that extend beyond their bodies.

Nymphs (immature forms) hatch from the eggs. Once they begin to feed, the waxy coating starts to form. Nymphs look like adults only smaller. The wax on mealybugs helps repel pesticides and makes them somewhat difficult to control. Mealybugs are most commonly found on the lower surfaces of leaves and in leaf axils (where the leaf attaches to the stem). One species feeds on the roots. They suck plant sap, causing stunted and distorted growth and sometimes plant death. Like aphids, mealybugs excrete honeydew, providing the opportunity for growth of sooty mold fungi.

Control: Light infestations can be controlled by removing individual mealybugs by hand or by wiping each insect with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. An insecticidal soap spray may also be used. With a heavy infestation, it may be necessary to discard the plant. For houseplants that are outdoors, spray with neem oil extract, pyrethrins, acetamiprid, imidacloprid, cyfluthrin or permethrin to control mealybugs. Imidacloprid plant spikes put into the soil will also control mealybugs. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.

Spider Mites: Mites are not insects but are more closely related to spiders. Since they are extremely small, plant damage is typically the first sign of their presence. A silky web is often seen with heavier infestations.

Both spider mite adults and their immature forms damage plants by sucking plant sap. Damage includes light-colored speckling on the upper surface of leaves, and results in a plant with an overall faded look. If the mites are left unchecked, leaves become bronzed or yellowed, and the plant dies. Spider mites are usually more of a problem on house plants that remain indoors year round.

Spider mites with webbing.
David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Two-spotted spider mite adult.
David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Control: Spray sturdy plants forcefully with water, including the undersides of leaves, to dislodge mites and break up their webs. Plants also can be sprayed with an insecticidal soap. For houseplants that are outdoors, spray with insecticidal soap, neem oil extract or an insecticide containing sulfur. It is often necessary to spray once a week for several weeks to control mites. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.

Plants placed outdoors during summer may have a reduced problem with spider mites. Be sure to place all houseplants initially in mostly shade, as even plants that grow well in more sun might be burned until they have adapted to the higher light levels.

Fungus gnat adult.
Johnny N. Dell, Retired, www.insectimages.org

Fungus Gnats: Adult fungus gnats are delicate in appearance and about 1/8-inch long. Often they can be seen running across or flying near the soil surface under a houseplant. They are weak flyers and are attracted to light.

The adults do not feed on houseplants but can be a nuisance to people. In severe infestations they are often seen in large numbers on nearby windows.

The whitish larvae (immature forms) of fungus gnats have shiny black heads and can grow as large as ¼-inch. The larvae generally feed on decaying organic material or fungi growing in the soil. The larvae of some species will also feed on roots. This feeding is especially damaging to very young plants. With older, established plants, the initial sign of an infestation is that the plant loses its normal healthy appearance. A heavily infested plant may lose leaves as a result of the feeding of larvae on its roots.

Indoors, fungus gnats are most often a problem when potting soil that is rich in organic matter, such as peat moss, is used to grow plants. It is especially a problem when overwatering occurs.

Control: For plants that can tolerate it (i.e. most houseplants, especially during winter), allow soil to dry between watering. Dry conditions will kill the larvae. Do not allow water to stand in the saucer beneath houseplant containers, and invert saucers beneath plants outside, so as to not collect rainwater. Products that contain strains of the biological control agent Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis can be applied to the soil of houseplants and watered into the soil for control. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. Follow label directions for safe use.

Pill bug (Armadillidium vulgare).
Joseph Berger, USDA, ARS, Bugwood.org

Root Ball Pests: Houseplants taken outdoors during the summer may have their root balls infested with pillbugs, millipedes and slugs. These houseplant pests may cause minor feeding damage to root systems. They are generally found along the exterior of the root ball in small cavities carved from the potting mix. Ants may also make nests within the potting soil of houseplants while outside.

Control: The plant container can be gently removed to inspect for pillbugs, millipedes and slugs, which simply can be scraped away. Ant colonies in the container may be killed by soil drenches of products containing cyfluthrin or permethrin. Mix insecticide at the same rate as for spraying, and pour solution through soil in container. Allow pots to thoroughly drain and dry before bringing indoors. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.

Scales: Several species of scales are pests on houseplants. Scale insects can be divided into two groups: armored scales and soft scales. An armored scale secretes a waxy covering that is not an integral part of its body. The covering can be scraped off to locate the insect living beneath it. In contrast, the waxy covering that a soft scale secretes is an integral part of its body.

Example of an armored scale adult.
US National Collection of Scale Insects Photographs Archive, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org

Example of a soft scale.
US National Collection of Scale Insects Photographs Archive, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org

Scales are unusual insects in appearance. Adults are small and immobile with no visible legs. Scales vary in appearance depending on age, sex and species. Some are flat and appear like fish scales stuck to a plant. Others look like waxy, colored masses. They range in size from 1 /16 to ½-inch in diameter. They are usually found on stems and the undersides of leaves, but may be found on upper surfaces as well. Scales feed by sucking plant sap.

Their immature forms, called crawlers, are mobile and also feed by sucking plant sap. Like mealybugs, the soft scale insects excrete honeydew (which results in black sooty mold problems on foliage and stems). Armored scales do not excrete honeydew.

Control: Early infestations of scales can be removed by scraping with a fingernail. Adult scales are relatively protected from insecticides by their waxy covering. However, for houseplants outdoors, sprays with products containing neem oil extract or canola oil help control adult scale insects by smothering. Their crawlers are susceptible to many insecticides, such as insecticidal soap, neem oil extract, canola oil, pyrethrins, acetamiprid, imidacloprid, cyfluthrin or permethrin. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.

Sweetpotato whitefly. Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive, British Crown, www.insectimages.org

Whiteflies: Whiteflies are not true flies, but are more closely related to scales, mealybugs and aphids. They are very small about 1 /10 to 1 /16 -inch long. They have a powdery white appearance and resemble tiny moths. When at rest, the wings are held at an angle, roof-like over the body. The immature stage is scale-like and does not move.

Both the adults and their immature forms feed by sucking plant sap. The damage that they cause is similar to that caused by aphids. The infested plant may be stunted. Leaves turn yellow and die. Like aphids, whiteflies excrete honeydew, which makes leaves shiny and sticky and encourages the growth of sooty mold fungi. When plants that are infested with whiteflies are disturbed, the whiteflies flutter around for a while before settling again.

Control: Wash the plant. Spray the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap, especially the lower leaf surfaces. Imidacloprid plant spikes put into the soil will also control whiteflies. For houseplants that are taken outdoors, spray with insecticidal soap, neem oil extract, acetamiprid, imidacloprid, cyfluthrin or permethrin to control whiteflies. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products. See footnote on Table 1 about spraying houseplants outdoors. Follow label directions for safe use.


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