I wouldn’t bring that pumpkin spice latte anywhere near your garden. Fall is on its way, which means it is almost time for all things pumpkin. I hope you’re ready because the bugs and insects are!
Pumpkins can attract a variety of insects such as squash bugs, squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, pickle worms, whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites. The best way to stop these pests from eating your pumpkins is to plant in late July. This is when most of these bugs have finished egg laying.
Bugs and insects love to feast on your pumpkin plants – it’s their version of pumpkin pie. Keep reading to learn more about what loves to eat your pumpkins, and how you can get rid of them!
Pumpkins Attract Squash Bugs
Squash bugs are one of the most common vine plant annoyances of the gardening season.
Commonly confused with the brown stink bug, the squash bug is distinguished by its dark gray color and less round body shape.
Squash bugs will mainly feed off the base of stems, the underside of leaves, and the fruits of your pumpkin plants.
An early sign of squash bug damage to your pumpkins are yellow spots on your plants and pumpkins that eventually turn brown, but you’ll more than likely see the squash bugs themselves crawling on your pumpkins before you see the damage they cause.
They feed on your pumpkins by sucking the sap out of the leaves and stems of each plant causing your pumpkin plants to wilt and turn black before ever producing picture-perfect orange pumpkins.
How to Repel Squash Bugs
Squash bugs can be one of the hardest garden pests to get rid of. Once your plants are riddled with squash bugs, there’s no easy way of turning back.
If you’ve already noticed some squash bugs around your pumpkins, your best plan of action is to handpick the squash bugs off and put them into a bowl of soapy water.
Also, check under each leaf for small, brown eggs in between each of the leaf veins and pluck them off.
Squash bugs are secretive creatures, so you might not notice you have a problem on your hand until it’s too late. They prefer to hide under plant debris, thick mulch, and other protective ground covers.
Secrets don’t make friends, right?
The best way to get rid of this enemy is by using their secretive nature against them by placing a wooden board around the edge of your vines. During the night, they will scurry over to hide underneath the board, allowing you to snatch them up before the sun comes up.
The best way to avoid losing your pumpkins over squash bugs is to prevent them from finding your pumpkins in the first place. Plant nasturtiums or marigolds around your vines to mask the scent of your pumpkins and keep the squash bugs away.
Squash Vine Borers Love Pumpkins
Squash vine borers are the larva of moths that emerge as adults in late June and July, and they love to eat your pumpkins. Before emerging, they spend their worm-like days creating tunnels in the stems of your pumpkin plants.
Once they emerge, the female squash vine borer will come out of the plant and begin laying flat, brown eggs around the base of your pumpkins. They lay eggs singly, not in groups, unlike the squash bug.
This may make it harder to control the population once they’ve made their presence known.
Squash vine borers are known to attack any cucurbit plant (your common vines), but love to eat pumpkins and squash more than your cucumbers and watermelons.
The tunneling of the squash vine borer disrupts the flow of water and nutrients in the stems of your pumpkin plants until the plant begins to wilt.
This is the first sign of damage.
You may also notice sawdust-like frass around the base of your stems, which is a tell-tale sign of squash vine borer infestation.
Occasionally, when many are present, they will begin to bore into the pumpkins themselves causing a whole new world of problems.
How To Repel Squash Vine Borers
Squash vine borers are just as hard to get rid of as squash bugs, making them the two biggest threats to your pumpkin plants.
Because they are so hard to control, the best way to prevent your garden from becoming their village is to keep them from entering the gates, to begin with.
Using row covers is the easiest way to keep squash bugs and squash vine borers out. Since they bore into the stems and fruits of your pumpkins, keeping the stems inaccessible will leave them searching for a new village.
However, this may not work if you’ve had the presence of squash vine borers in previous planting seasons.
The eggs nest in the soil around the base of your plants and pumpkins, so unless you’ve burned last year’s debris, or rotated your garden, you’ll have to try something different.
Like squash bugs, you can trap the squash vine borer before it enters your garden. Place yellow pans or bowls filled with soapy water around the perimeter of your pumpkins.
Yellow catches their sight, and they become flightless once they enter the bowl of soapy water.
Cucumber Beetles Love Your Pumpkin Plants
Do you want the good news or bad news first?
The cucumber beetle, striped or spotted, is the third threat to your pumpkin plants, and they are the most common pumpkin pests.
That’s not good news.
Cucumber beetles, typically yellow or green in body color, cause significant damage to your pumpkin plants. They tend to feast on the young seedlings, slowing growth, and eventually halting growth altogether.
They’re not picky. They will eat all parts of your pumpkin plants. The first signs of damage are small holes chewed in the leaves and pumpkins.
After some time, their munching can cause bacterial wilt to your pumpkins.
Well. Neither is that.
But wait – I still have good news!
Although they are the most common pumpkin pest and can cause a variety of damage, they are the easiest to control.
How to Repel Cucumber Beetles
There are so many ways to keep cucumber beetles from eating your plants and pumpkins.
Row covers, sticky traps, and trap crops are the main ways to control the population of cucumber beetles on your pumpkins.
Remember, prevention is key.
Cucumber beetles favor dark green zucchini, so planting zucchini in your garden as a trap crop specifically, can keep your pumpkins safe from them.
Cucumber beetles come up out of the ground, and if there’s a layer of something in the way, they won’t come up. Dry powders are a great way to keep cucumber beetles away.
Dry powders such as garden lime, or even soot from burned materials, can be dusted in a thick layer around the base of your pumpkin plants to repel them.
Down to Earth is an all-natural fertilizer company that creates dry powdered fertilizers that will keep the cucumber beetles from emerging out of the soil and onto your prized pumpkins.
This Down to Earth Garden Lime is a five-pound box of all-natural, ultra-fine, organic fertilizer that will keep your plants growing healthy while repelling cucumber beetles when applied in a thick layer around the plants.
The five-pound box itself is even recyclable, made of unbleached paperboard boxes printed with plant-based inks, so shred it up and add it to your compost pile when you’re finished!
Pickleworms Prefer Pumpkins
This is a fun one.
In a study conducted by the Bureau of Entomology and the United States Department of Agriculture on a small farm in South Carolina in June, the pickle worm was found in almost every cucurbit blossom.
Pickleworms are small caterpillars that tunnel into the stems, buds, flowers, and fruits of your pumpkin plants.
While they’re known to tunnel in almost every part of your plant, they prefer the fruits of plants, especially your pumpkin plants.
The pickle worm starts by feeding on the delicate parts of the plant, so first the buds and flowers. They then move on and burrow themselves deep in the flesh of your fruits.
When pickle worms have found their way into your product, they are no longer edible.
Well, that’s not good. How are you supposed to know if you have worms inside your pumpkins?
Like the squash vine borer that also tunnels in your plants, but is much larger and easier to notice, they will start to leave sawdust-like frass around the hole they entered in. That is the first sign of damage to your pumpkins from a pickle worm.
And that’s about it.
Until you cut open your produce, there is no obvious way of knowing if your pumpkins are ruined by pickle worms.
How to Repel Pickleworms
Okay, I can tell you’re worried now.
Pumpkin pests, in general, are just hard to control. Again, prevention is key when trying to keep your pumpkins pest free, but there are still ways to keep your pumpkins free of pickle worms.
Planting your pumpkins as early as possible is the best way to prevent pickle worms from eating your pumpkins. As soon as the threat of late-season frost is gone, plant those pumpkins.
Honestly, this is more of a worry for super southern states. Pickleworms cannot make it through cold, snowy winters, so they hang out on the southern coast.
That should calm your fears. Unless you’re in Florida, of course.
There are still other ways to repel the pesky pickle worm. Common insecticidal soaps and neem oil can slow the population of pickle worms and rid pumpkins of them altogether.
Whiteflies Love Pumpkins
I cannot express this enough – whiteflies love pumpkins.
Whiteflies are small white pests that host on the underside of your pumpkin plant leaves. When the plant is disturbed in any way, you might notice an abundance of white bugs flying off in all directions.
Infestation rates of whiteflies on pumpkin plants are common and populations are on the rise as we transition into the warmer months leading up to the fall.
Whiteflies are attracted to the color yellow and other closely related colors such as orange and even red. The blooms from your pumpkin plants are in fact yellow, while the pumpkins themselves are variants of oranges.
Along with the colors of the blooms and fruit bringing them in by sight, the sweet smell of your pumpkin plants attracts whiteflies to them.
And just to add, it has been studied and proven that whitefly populations have a permanent breeding relationship with pumpkin plants.
Here we go again.
Whiteflies are sap-sucking insects. This means that while they are hiding under the leaves of your plants, they are sucking the juices right out of them.
Eventually, your plants will turn yellow (their favorite color!) and begin to wilt.
Isn’t that going to attract more whiteflies to my pumpkin plants? Yeah, probably.
However, whiteflies prefer to feast on the young, healthy leaves of your plants so while they might be attracted to the plant initially, they’ll probably end up on a nearby garden plant with healthier leaves.
The good news is that only high populations of whiteflies will cause problems for your pumpkin plants, so if you can keep the population under control, you’ll be able to enjoy your pumpkins too!
How to Repel Whiteflies From Your Pumpkins
Whiteflies aren’t that terrible to deal with; there are a variety of ways to repel them.
Companion planting, yellow traps, insecticidal soaps, and even certain scents can keep whiteflies away from your pumpkins.
Planting thyme near your pumpkin vines is one of the best ways to repel whiteflies and even other pesky pests! If you want to learn more about pumpkin companion planting, check out our article on 7 plants that repel whiteflies naturally!
While the thyme is working in your garden to repel whiteflies by confusing their odor receptors, it is also bringing in beneficial insects to pollinate your pumpkin plants.
Without pollinators, your plants won’t produce pumpkins!
If your pumpkin patch doesn’t have any growing room for thyme, you can easily create a DIY essential oil spray to spray on the undersides of your leaves to repel and rid your pumpkins of whiteflies.
Try this: fill a glass bottle with warm water, 10 drops of thyme, 10 drops of lavender, and 10 drops of peppermint for a powerful natural repellent. Spray on your plants in the evening coating the underside of each leaf.
Whiteflies simply cannot stand these strong scents. If you want to learn about some more scents they hate, check out our article on 8 scents that repel whiteflies.
Aphids Are Attracted to Pumpkins
Aphids and whiteflies are part of the same sap-sucking family, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that aphids are attracted to pumpkins. Just think about it, this family of insects are feasting on your pumpkins as if it’s their thanksgiving dinner.
Aphids come in all colors and hide under the leaves of your plants sucking away the juices just like whiteflies do. Honestly, there’s not much of a difference between the habits and habitats of aphids and whiteflies.
When aphids feast on your pumpkins, they also secrete a substance called honeydew and if this sticky substance gets on your pumpkins, it’s almost impossible to get off making them unmarketable.
Aphids also stunt the growth of your plants, reducing pumpkin production.
According to the University Of Illinois, The first sign of damage from aphids is the curling of your leaves. When they begin to curl under and start turning shades of brown and yellow, you’ll know the aphids are starting to do a number on your plants.
This is usually the case if you’ve been heavily spraying insecticides or insecticidal soaps.
Natural enemies reduce aphid numbers naturally unless you’re unnaturally reducing beneficial insects by the overuse of insecticides.
Try not to spray your plants regularly. It is recommended that you spray your plants every 4-5 days for heavy infestations and go longer without.
Did you know that aphids are attracted to most of your garden plants. Read more about this in our article on 14 vegetables that aphids love!
How to Repel Aphids
Beneficial insects are usually attracted to plants with high aphid populations naturally, so your pumpkins shouldn’t have many issues with this pest.
If you do find that your aphid population is out of control, your best option is to place yellow sticky traps or yellow bowls of soapy water around your pumpkin plants.
Gideal sticky traps, essentially just yellow sticky traps for the garden, can help keep aphids off your pumpkin plants or any plant for that matter. These yellow traps draw them in by sight and don’t let go. These yellow traps are also recyclable and waterproof!
You can also read our full list of scents that aphids hate to help repel them naturally!
Spider Mites Spin Webs on Your Pumpkins
Spider mites are a less common threat to your pumpkins, but you’ll still probably find a few. They build up in hot weather, so as the day gets warmer, the chances of finding some get higher.
Spider mites favor sweet pumpkins and significantly reduce the yield outcome of your pumpkin plants, so that’s not good news for your local pumpkin patch or the beloved Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie.
Identifying a spider mite problem might be difficult. Because of their size, spider mites are often overlooked and cause different types of damage making it hard to confirm their presence.
Damage from spider mites on your pumpkin plants can range from yellow or reddish-brown spots to stippling white spots in a variety of sizes.
How to Repel Spider Mites
Like aphids, spider mite populations are usually controlled by their natural enemies. By attracting beneficial insects to your pumpkin plants, you can repel them naturally.
With that in mind, spraying too often can also be the cause of your spider mite issues.
The best way to rid of spider mites once you find them is to spray them with a strong blast of water while you’re outside watering your plants.
Spider mites will create a village of webs from the vines to the pumpkins, so spraying them with a strong stream of water will get rid of them easily.
Keeping Bugs And Insects Away From Your Pumpkins Long Term
There are many ways to repel pumpkin pests before they enter your patch. Although that might be the case, you might find that you’re doing everything right and it’s still not working.
Warm weather and dry spells will do that, so you’re not alone.
Outside of spraying insecticides and preparing traps for the pests, there are a few other factors to keep in mind if you’re trying to keep the bugs away long-term.
As a quick note, if you’re realizing that you may instead have animals going after your pumpkins, take a look at our guide on the animals that love your pumpkins and how to stop them!
Plant Your Pumpkins Late In The Summer
The natural cycle of insect hatching during planting season creates a constant battle between the two – that isn’t to say it doesn’t create its fair share of benefits. However, using this idea to your own garden’s benefit can create a long-term solution to keep the bugs from eating your plants and pumpkins.
Planting pumpkins in late July can help combat most pumpkin-eating pests. By late summer, most bugs are completed with laying eggs and are beginning to end their life cycles which gives your pumpkins the opportunity to (almost) grow pest free.
But, if you are part of the southern states, you need to plant early because the pickle worm doesn’t stop for the sun.
And, if you’re trying to produce pumpkins before the end of fall, you’ll have to look into some faster-maturing varieties. Don’t plant any later than the last week of July to produce porch pumpkins by Halloween.
Grow Your Pumpkins Vertically
Pumpkin vines love to climb.
Your local pumpkin patch grows their pumpkins horizontally, allowing the vines to crawl out and take root. If you’re just growing pumpkins in your backyard, allowing them to grow vertically can keep the majority of the pests away.
Give your pumpkin plants a trellis to climb up. Pumpkin vines are strong, so your vines won’t collapse under the weight of the pumpkins.
Allowing your pumpkins to grow up will shelter them from a variety of pests. Since the squash bug loves to hide, you won’t have to search through the crawling vines to find them.
Not only that, but many bugs emerge from the ground. If your pumpkins are kept off the ground, you’ll have fewer bugs to battle on your way into fall.
Wrapping Things Up!
As you find yourself thinking of fall – the cool, crisp weather, new pops of color, pumpkin patches, the smell of pumpkin spice, yummy pumpkin pies – sorry got distracted – don’t forget about the pests that also love eating your pumpkins, whether they’re sitting on your porch or growing in your backyard.
To review, squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles are the biggest threats to your pumpkin plants, but pickle worms, whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites still love eating your pumpkins.
A pumpkin patch comes with its fair share of problems. If you find that this fall you’re struggling to part ways with these pumpkin pests, always contact a professional for additional advice.
Britton, W. E. (1919). Insects attacking squash, cucumber, and allied plants in Connecticut (No. 216). Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Lee, J. S., Kim, H. K., Kyung, Y., Park, G. H., Lee, B. H., Yang, J. O., … & Kim, G. H. (2018). Fumigation activity of ethyl formate and phosphine against Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae) on imported sweet pumpkin. Journal of economic entomology, 111(4), 1625-1632.
Painkra, K. L., Kerketta, A., & Jha, M. K. (2019). Pest management of cucurbits. J Entomol Zool Stud, 7(2), 1371-1373.
Robinson, R. W. (1992). Genetic resistance in the Cucurbitaceae to insects and spider mites. Plant Breeding Reviews, Volume 10, 2, 307.
Sintupachee, S., Milne, J. R., Poonchaisri, S., Baimai, V., & Kittayapong, P. (2006). Closely related Wolbachia strains within the pumpkin arthropod community and the potential for horizontal transmission via the plant. Microbial ecology, 51(3), 294-301.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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