Nothing is a bigger garden bummer than to have big beautiful squash or zucchini plant suddenly die. One day your plant is big and bountiful and the next it looks as though it hasn’t been watered in weeks. What looks like lack of water may actually signal the death of your plant by the dreaded squash vine borer.
What are Squash Vine Borers?
The plague that is the vine squash borer takes what appears to be a perfectly healthy plant and completely destroys it. These borers do exactly what their name implies. They lay eggs at the base of the plant, and once the eggs hatch, they bore into the base of the plant and feast there until the plant dies.
What you may initially think is a plant drooping for lack of water, may be these pesky plant eaters. How you can tell is unlike a droopy under-watered plant, you will see the base of your plant eaten away. Frass, or poop, from the vine borer will be crusted around tiny hole around the base of the plant.
Dormant Vine Borers
To add insult to injury, these pests can lay dormant in the dirt for the next season, where the cycle repeats itself. There is hope though! After two frustrating seasons of no squash or zucchini, I finally broke down and called Mike McGrath, the host of You Bet Your Garden. As a gardener, we should always be willing to seek out help and advice. That’s what keeps us learning and growing as gardeners. He gave me an unconventional garden tip… use Ace Bandages! I’ll give you those details, as well as some other tips I picked up after last season.
How to Prevent Squash Vine Borers
- Plant squash and zucchini plants in a new location. If you’re a creature of habit, it’s time to add some change to your garden. Plant your squash and zucchini (both hollow stemmed plants) in a new location. You want to avoid those dormant vine borers from attacking your new plants. Vine squash borers are only after your hollow stemmed plants, so plant cucumbers or peppers where your squash used to go as these plants won’t be affected by vine borers.
- Wrap the bottom of your squash and zucchini transplants with Ace Bandage. This way, even if the eggs are laid at the base of your plant, they cannot penetrate the bandage to feast on the plant itself. Ace bandage does a good job of sticking to itself, so there’s no need to wrap it incredibly tight. You want your plant to still be able to grow, so be sure to check the bandage each week or so and loosen as necessary. (Also be sure to add more bandage as the plant grows.) I’ve also seen folks use this wrapping method with aluminum foil.
- Keep a watch at the base of your plants. If vine squash borers have been an issue for you in the past, keep an eye out. Whenever you’re working in the garden, simply wipe or rub the bottom of your plants to get rid of any eggs that may be there.
- In the most recent Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog, they recommend mixing a small amount of charcoal in with the soil where the zucchini and squash are planted. This helps reduce their numbers. Or you can place boards around the base of your plants in the evening, and in the morning, lift the boards to find the borers underneath.
- Cups- Yankee Homestead has a great video about using simple Dixie cups to prevent the vine borer moth from laying eggs. I will definitely be trying this method next year.
Though your squash and zucchini plants may look like they’ve had a recent surgery, the Ace Bandage should keep the borers at bay. I’ve planted half of my crop with the bandages and half without. But I am also going to be more diligent this year about spending time inspecting the plants themselves. Here’s to an abundant harvest!
Can vine borers be removed from plants?
Yes, It is possible to remove the borers once they’ve gotten inside the plant. This requires a small vertical incision in the stem, and removal of the borers by hand. It’s not ideal, but if you find yourself with borers already in the plant, it may be possible to still remove them. (See my Instagram feed for my video of removing a vine borer from my squash.)
I’d love know if you’ve dealt with the pesky vine borer in the past and if you have any tried and true methods for keeping them away from your precious plants. Have a great week and Happy Gardening!