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  • Writer's pictureJenna Bonnoront

Battles with Beetles... Cucumber Beetles

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Allow me to geek out on garden pests for a moment…

Between cabbage worms and cucumbers beetles, I’m not sure which garden pest I detest more. I try to remember that all critters have their place in an ecosystem, but gosh darn it… they are so destructive! I was flipping back through last year’s garden photos and came across these pics- reminding me all over of my ongoing battle with the beetles!

If you look closely, you can see not 1, but 2 types of cucumber beetles on that squash blossom- the striped & the spotted.Both beetles are major pests of cucumbers and melons, and to a lesser degree, watermelon, pumpkin and squash. While the adults do feed on the plants, the major concern with cucumber beetles is not feeding damage but that they vector bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila)—a devastating disease of the Cucurbitaceae family (AKA cucurbits-- cucumbers, squash, melons, some gourds, pumpkins). Adults carry the bacteria in their digestive tract and transmit to plants via their feces and mouthparts into any open wound on the plant (delightful, I know).

If you’ve ever walked out to your garden to be greeted with cucumber or melon vines that seemed to have wilted and died overnight, your plants were likely the victim of bacterial wilt. Once the plant is infected there is no way to stop the disease’s progression and once you see the signs, it’s already too late. Thus, prevention is key. The only way to prevent bacterial wilt is to control cucumber beetle populations.

I’m still searching for a great natural solution to the problem of controlling beetle populations.I’ve had mixed results with covering my crops with insect barrier fabric. In theory, if crops are covered at the right time (as soon as plants are transplanted or seedlings emerge) and barrier is securely in place, row cover could be quite effective.The caveat being, most cucurbits require insect pollination, and covers need to be removed when plants are in flower so pollination can occur-- so maintaining protection can become quite tricky.Surround, a kaolin clay product, can be used as another type of physical barrier method, as it is said that the texture of the dried clay deters adult feeding on the plant. Good coverage is key, and should you let coverage lapse (say after a heavy rainstorm) be assured cucumber beetles will be one step ahead of you!I’ve not actually tried the kaolin clay but have it on the docket for this year.

The only other advice I’ve come across is to encourage the presence of the cucumber beetle’s natural enemies in your garden.These include Celatoria setosa, a fly which parasitizes the adults, and lady beetles, daddy long legs, ground beetles and wolf spiders which eat the eggs.I’ve plenty of these delightful creatures in my home garden, but they don’t seem to be winning the war against cucumber beetles either!

As I plan for this year’s garden, I’m curious if anyone has any effective natural solutions for these pests. I’d love to hear what has worked for you!

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Mar 08, 2023

I wait to plant my zucchini until mid July in my wv northern panhandle garden. The theory is that i am tricking the beetles that emerge to move on because they think there are not any squash, cucumbers etc to feed on. I find this works in delaying an infestation, although they still find them but much later on. It never gets to an infestation of them. I then get good production until fall. I also move them far away from where they were the previous year. Yes I am sacrificing an earlier harvest but this is the only way I have found to help control them.

Jenna Bonnoront
Jenna Bonnoront
Mar 09, 2023
Replying to

That is good to know! Thank you for sharing!


Feb 08, 2023

I tried handpicking them, but they tend to go deep into the flower making it nearly impossible to get them without annihilating the flower. I read somewhere that someone used a handheld vacuum to suction them out of the flowers! I don't have one to try, but it sounds like it might work, and I'm sure my neighbors would have a good laugh seeing me out there vacuuming my garden. Ha!

I tried making a trap using yellow cup that was coated inside with "tangle trap", a sticky substance used to trap insects. The yellow of the cup was supposed to lure the beetles into being trapped in the glue, but I didn't catch a single beetle. It was a…

Jenna Bonnoront
Jenna Bonnoront
Feb 17, 2023
Replying to

I definitely saw fewer beetles in the garden last year after the nematode application. But-- it wasn't a controlled experiment and the decrease in population could have been due to a variety of causes. I'm going to try an application at my parent's farm this year and see if I can notice a difference there. I will say- netting my plants until they start flowering seems to help, as does keeping them coated with Surround kaolin clay.

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