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Protect Squash and Zucchini from Vine Squash Borer

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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. If you’re looking for how to grow these plants, then check out my guide on How to Plant and Grow Squash and Zucchini.

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 until the plant dies. You can see in the picture below how tiny a squash vine borer egg really is.

Lack of water or vine borers?

What you may initially think is a plant drooping for lack of water, may be these pesky plant eaters. Typically squash and zucchini are affected and once robust leaves will suddenly be dropping.

How you can tell if what you’re seeing is lack of water or actually vine borers? Well, unlike a droopy under-watered plant, you may see a small hole at the base of your plant. Frass, or poop, from the vine borer will be crusted around this tiny hole around the base of the plant. 

If you notice this crusty deposit, then chances are, you’re dealing with vine borers. But all is not lost! It’s still possible to save your plant from these spring and summer pests. But let’s first talk about prevention.

If you’re looking for natural pest control methods, then be sure to check out my book Natural Pest Control Methods for the Home Garden. It’s a great reference for treating all kinds of garden pests without harsh poisons!

Hole where vine borer entered the stem.

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 were last year 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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       squash vine borer

Wipe the stems. 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.

Charcoal in the soil. In a past 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. Then get rid of them.

Dixie Cups CollarsYankee Homestead has a great video about using simple Dixie cups to prevent the vine borer moth from laying eggs. Simply pop out the bottom of a dixie cup and use it as a collar around the base of your plant. This will prevent the borer moths from being able to land and lay eggs supposedly. I will definitely be trying this method next year.

I’ve tried almost all of these methods over the years, and as for prevention, I have found that crop rotation (rotating where I’ve planted squash) and wiping the bases of the plants to be the most effective.

Can vine borers be removed  from plants?

Yes, It is possible to remove the borers once they’ve gotten inside the plant. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Small sharp knife
  • Jar with soapy water

Removing vine borers from a plant 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.

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!

Dormant Vine Borers

To add insult to injury, these squash vine borers can lay dormant in the dirt for the next season, where the cycle repeats itself. This is why it’s important to treat affected plants and to get rid of them if the plant becomes infested.

Not planting your squash in the same place year after year will also help in case some did make it into the soil.

Squash Vine Borer FAQ

Does Neem Oil kill squash vine borers? Yes, it can kill the newly emerged borers if it’s applied to the base of your plant. However, it’s not the most effective method, as neem oil can easily wash away and would need to be applied frequently. It also wouldn’t help for those who have already moved into the plant.

Are squash vine borers and squash bugs the same thing? No, but that’s a common question. Squash bugs are typically found on the plant itself, not the inside and have a shield shaped body. They also lay eggs on the underside of leaves in a patterned cluster. They can do a lot of damage, but are much easier to spot than vine borers.

Do squash vine borers attack all varieties of squash? No, they only focus on the hollow stemmed varieties like summer squash and zucchini. They avoid the thicker stemmed butternut and winter squash varieties.

Can traps be set for the squash borer moth? I have heard of setting out bright yellow bowls that mimic the flowers of the squash plant, but haven’t seen any conclusive results. Burpee also offers a vine borer moth trap that hangs away from your plants and is said to attract the moths with pheremones. It has some mixed reviews.

As always, if you have any tips that have helped you prevent or deal with existing squash vine borers, then feel free to leave a comment below.

Yield: N/A

How to Prevent and Treat Squash Vine Borer

healthy squash plant

Learn how to find eggs of the squash vine borer on your plant, so you can get rid of them before they completely destroy your squash or zucchini plants. This will help your spring and summer vegetable garden thrive.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Active Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Difficulty Moderate

Materials

  • Ace Bandage
  • Dixie Cup
  • Aluminum Foil

Instructions

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 were last year 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.   

Wipe the stems. 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.


Charcoal in the soil. In a past 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. Then get rid of them.


Dixie Cups Collars- Yankee Homestead has a great video about using simple Dixie cups to prevent the vine borer moth from laying eggs. Simply pop out the bottom of a dixie cup and use it as a collar around the base of your plant. This will prevent the borer moths from being able to land and lay eggs supposedly. I will definitely be trying this method next year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Notes

Try several methods for best results. What has worked best for us is wiping stems and moving the plants from year to year.

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I'd love to hear from you

canadagrl

Monday 27th of July 2020

Thanks for your post. My experience was exactly as you described - one day big beautiful lush green garden, next few days everything dying. Finally discovered it was these pests! Have managed to do some surgery and remove some but am worried that some borers are still in the plant. Is there a way to know if I've gotten them all out? I've also been using H2O2 solution mixed with water. I'm a very new gardener and am enjoying all the learning that's coming with planting :-)

Courtney

Monday 27th of July 2020

Hey! I'm so glad you discovered they were in there. My advice would be to dispose of the plant when it's done producing, just in case there is a worm or two missed. Nobody wants them hanging out in the soil over the winter to come back next year. Thanks for the tip on the solution mixed with water!

Kate

Thursday 16th of July 2020

On my way to pick up some Bt now!

Courtney

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Yay! Thanks for stopping by, Kate!

Kim

Thursday 28th of June 2018

Thank you! I'll try the ace bandage this year. I had been using pantyhose, but that didn't work. The only thing that I have found that worked was to inject the hollow stem with worm killer. I do this every 7 days or so. It works great, but you must be diligent.

Susan Hofer

Tuesday 9th of April 2019

What type of worm killer? Do you inject just the base or the entire stem?

Courtney

Friday 29th of June 2018

I haven't heard of using worm killer, Kim. Thanks for the tip!

I'd love to hear from you

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