How To Remove A Squash Vine Borer

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One of the biggest enemies of squash, zucchini, and pumpkin is the squash vine borer. This nasty little pest will destroy a plant in no time if left alone. If your plants look fine one day then begin to wilt the next, it could be squash vine borer.

Look around the base of your squash plants for any signs of squash vine borers. You will notice a hole in the vine, near the soil line, that has an orange colored frass that resembles sawdust. If you find this there is a good chance the plant is infested by a squash vine borer.

Squash Plant Infected With a Squash Vine Borer

If the plant is not too heavily damaged you may be able to save it. Generally, squash vine borer damage happens quickly, and the plant is too far gone to salvage. It is might be worth it to try and save the plant if you catch the critter early.

How To Remove A Squash Vine Borer

The first thing you need to do is locate the squash vine borer. One of the best ways to do this is at night with a flashlight. The light will shine through the hollow vines of the plant, making it easy to spot the exact location of the caterpillar.

Once the squash vine borer is located, use a knife or razor blade and carefully cut a slit lengthwise in the vine. Gently open the vine up to expose the squash vine borer.

Slit Open the Squash Stem To Reveal the Squash Vine Borer

Use the knife and remove the squash vine borer from the vine of the plant. I use the knife to kill the caterpillar (gruesome, I know but we need to get rid of this guy).

Dig the Squash Vine Borer Out and Remove the Frass

Once the squash vine borer is removed and dead, pour a cup of clean, fresh water over the wound. Clean the area out well, removing the orange frass and any other debris that might be in the affected area.

Once the area is cleaned, scoop some nutrient-rich compost or soil over the wound – covering it completely. Make sure to thoroughly water the plant right after the surgery, and each day after.

Most of the time the squash vine borer hole is near the soil line, but if it is higher up the vine you can follow the same steps as above. Once the wound is cleaned, try wrapping the area snugly with an strip of old panty hose to cover the wound.

Another method for removing this pest is to stick it with a toothpick. Once the squash vine borer is located using the flashlight, take a toothpick and stick through the hollow vine and also though the squash vine borer. This will kill the caterpillar without having to slice open the vine. Leave the toothpick in place, and cover the wound with soil the same as the above method.

Trying to salvage a squash, or squash family plant, after a squash vine borer infestation is not a complete science. It is mostly trial and error mixed with a lot of luck. These methods are not guaranteed, but are worth a shot. The key is catching the squash vine borer as soon as possible. How have you dealt with squash vine borers? Please share any tricks or tips you may have for removing these pests.

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Comments

  1. I’ve used a similar method. I’d say it works 50% of the time. Like you mentioned, the key is early detection. If the borer gets through more than an two inches or so, it is tough to save the vine.

    • You need neem cake in the soil before you plant and at end and beginning of each season. Use a topical application of neem at the root base and leaves during the egg laying period.
      The active ingredient in neem cake will slow release into the soil and provide systemic protection to the plant to the detriment of the borer. It will throw off the hormonal clock and breeding ability of the borers. Borers do not like neem.
      You’ll still get the borers but not as prolific. The over winter population will be adversely affected for the next curcubit planting.
      We use neem cake in all soil except where we plan to broadcast seed since it will also interfere with seed germ rate. It also has a slow release low nitrogen content that is complimentary. Like anything else you have to use it in the right amounts.
      Once you do have them though the dig them out method works if you find them in time.
      BT is a beneficial bacteria – its ok. It is however not the answer to the borers.
      10 grams of trichoderma per square yard with the neem cake and you will notice a increase in yield.
      NEEM

  2. I’ve lost all my zucchini and pumpkin plants to squash borer for the last two years. I’m almost to the point where I decided not to plant cucurbits for a few years to see if I could eliminate them from the garden.

    Instead, I developed a three-part plan for protecting them from this damaging insect. The plan calls for late in the season planting, succession planting and protecting the vines with paper towel rolls.

    Has any preventative measure worked for you?

    • Hi Bill – Well, you have stirred up my most hated adversary in the vegetable garden. I hate the squash vine borer with the fire of a thousand suns LOL. I read your post today on your plan for controlling SVBs. It’s a darn good plan, I think! I’m very interested to see it works. I’ve been working on a plan myself throughout the entire winter, and been discussing it with cityslipper and Backyard Wisdom (great people, you should check them out if you haven’t) on Twitter many times.

      Her are a few ideas I’m going to try this season, which I’ll probably write about later on –

      1. Crop rotation – I’m plan on planting squash in a completely different place. This may help some, but is not fool-proof since the SVB moth can fly and will probably eventually find the plants any way. Still crop rotation is a good thing to practice.

      2. Black plastic mulch – Cover the areas (maybe my whole garden, haven’t decided yet) with black plastic mulch to keep the overwintering larvae from re-emerging in spring. Hopefully, by having them covered where they can’t get out will help reduce their numbers.

      3. Row covers – Just about everyone I’ve talked to says this is this best method of controlling SVBs. Just make sure you aren’t trapping the emerging SVBs inside the row covers (hopefully black plastic will prevent that). Although it is the most recommended defense, it’s the one I like the least. Mainly due to pollination issues. I have a ton of ants around my squash each year which help to pollinate. With row covers and black mulch I’m afraid ants might be gone along with the bees, and I’m not too thrilled about hand pollinating to be honest. I’d rather nature do it ;)

      4. Similar to the paper towel rolls idea, I plan on using old stockings to cover the main stem and branches on each plant. The stocking material is flexible and will last throughout the season.

      We’ll see how these work LOL I appreciate you sharing your ideas Bill, and would love for us to exchange our ideas, progress and results throughout the season!

  3. I see you’ve opted for the panty hose approach. I used footies (disposable nylon socks) on my apples to protect against pests last year. It worked great.

    Plastic mulch is not something that I considered. I’ll be interested to hear how you like it.

    I’m looking forward to hearing how your plan works. I’ll provide an update on my plan when I have some results.

    • I’m going to try it LOL. I may use the paper towel rolls on half and the panty hose on the other half to see which works best.

      One other option is spraying the base of the plants a couple times a week with Bt. This would be a total last resort though as I would like to keep my garden completely pesticide-free (although Bt is deemed safe, I still don’t really want to use it). I just don’t think the Bt exposure is worth it because this method has a low success rate.

  4. What is Bt and where can I buy it? I hate squash vine borers.

    • Hi Jane – Bt is the abbreviation for Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a naturally-occurring bacteria that affects worms and caterpillars. It comes in a liquid form and is usually diluted with water and sprayed on plants with worm or caterpillar problems.

      To be effective for squash vine borers you will need to continually spray plants with the Bt every 7 – 10 days, or every time after rain.

      A very good source of Bt is Thuricide and is safe for use on vegetables up to the day of harvest. You can click here to find out more about Thuricide and about purchasing it.

  5. Hi, Have you tried radishes (I believe icicle) &/or nasturtiums grown with squash, zuke, & cuke? I’m new to this but have read that these help. Have a wonderful day!

    • Hi Mary – Adding radishes, nasturtiums, onions and garlic around squash can help deter squash bugs. I am not so sure about squash vine borers. The only way to really keep them off is to use floating row covers, or a lightweight garden fabric.

      The problem with using these items is it will also keep out pollinators such as bees. They will need to be removed in the early morning when bees are active then replaced later in the day when squash vine borers are lurking around.Their definitely isn’t an easy solution for them.

      Thanks for your input and have a great day yourself!

  6. A few years ago, I discoverd SVBs and tried the ‘stem-injection’ method using BT. Went to the feed store, got a small medicine syringe and injected BT at the site of damage. But I discovered it too late, and lost all the plants anyway. This time around, I may try the row covers; but it will be tricky, as we’re growing all our squash on 6′ tall vertical frames. Is Bt considred ok for organic gardens? We invested in heirloom seeds and are going organic so I don’t want to mess this up. Any thoughts??

    • Hi Cindy – Yes, Bt is safe to use on veggies and considered to be organic. Bt is a naturally occurring bacteria that kills caterpillars. I have also heard of people spraying the squash plants, especially around the stems, once a week with Bt. The idea is to get the SVB to ingest the Bt as soon as it emerges from the egg and attempts to bore into the stem. I have never tried it myself, but be some work (and some expense) if you have a bunch of squash plants.

      If you only have a few plants it could be worth a try. Good luck with preventing the squash vine borers this season!

  7. Maria Elena Alvarado says:

    I was so happy starting to grow my own vegetables in a small patch of dirt. I choose squash, for me this was the easiest to grow, my other did it very well. I saw those little plant grow up almost through the night and I was planing to grow beens and corn. After a few days little flowers start to appear. but they start to die before open and the smallest just dry without even open. Can somebody tell me what to do . thanks.

  8. Maria, squash flowers should be quite large. Are you sure there wasn’t a seed mixup? At any rate, for squash and other cucurbits (cukes, melons, gourds, pumpkins), usually the male blossoms come first, then the females. You can tell the females because there is an ovary (looks just like a tiny fruit) at the base of the flower, while the males only have stems. You have to have both male and female flowers plus bees (or your hand pollinating) to get the fruit. Sometimes, but not often, the plants get mixed up and females come first. If you have only male blossoms, try a stir-fry with the blossoms.
    Row covers can be pulled back before sunup, if you have squash bees (not all have them). Squash bees are a little smaller than honeybees; they start work very early, and spend a lot of time in each blossom. If they are present, pollination will be done in a couple hours and row covers can be replaced. If there are no squash bees, and you depend on honeybees or bumblebees; they work later. Bumblebees will sometimes drive off squash bees. There is another pictorial on emergency surgery of squash borers; with pix of the adult moths at: http://gardensouth.org/2011/06/11/time-for-emergency-surgery/ The idea of checking at night is a great idea! I’ve never tried that.

  9. Lori Frownfelter says:

    I am not sure we have a squash borer problem but something is going on. just with the squash. The cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe and watermelons are going crazy but the squash is another story it came up great and we actually got about 7 mature squash. Now there are cracks in the vine along the ground and the leaves are turning yellow and brown. Would it help to pull up these since we have along growing season and replant using some of these methods you have stated or is it a lost cause and just wait until next year? It has been unusually hot and dry here and we water on a regular basis. I thought we might be over watering at first then I thought it was a pollination problem because so many little squash were just shriveling up but we have plenty of pollinators out there. I really don’t want to use pesticides but from what I have read they don’t work to well anyway. Any suggestions would help. Thanks Lori

    • Hi Lori – You can try to cover those cracks with fresh soil and water them well for a few days. This may help the plant re-root and become healthier (if no borers are present). If the stem of the plant, near the soil, has any orange coloration then it’s a good sign of a borer which will need to be removed.

      Many times my squash plants will grow, produce fruit well, then around July they will kind of stop producing for a bit and look really pitiful. Then it will get its second wind, begin growing new stems and new growth and continue another round of squash. This happens almost every year.

      I would cover the cracked areas with soil and see what happens. If they look like they are getting worse then you can remove them and replant if you like.

  10. Hello just found this site. Lots of great info here. I have a few questions. Last year was my first year to plant a garden. I had summer and winter squash cucumbers zucchini among other things. All that I mentioned above died after only harvesting a few of each. I was thirty five and never ever heard of a cucumber beetle let alone saw one but last year I seemed to see them every where I went. Funny what has probably always been there I had never taken notice of. Anyway I had them all I think. Flea beetle, SVB, cucumber beetle (stripped and spotted), squash bug and what ever else you can think of. This year I have been using neem oil and it has seemed to help a lot (fingers crossed).

    Now for my questions…. My squash is picking(6 to 10 inches) size and the tops are nice and yellow but the bottoms (ground side) are still white. Should I wait to pick letting them get bigger or will they ripen more after I pick? Also I have a zucchini that was petty much flattened by a storm most leaves are laying on the ground. Will it recover or should I cover the stem with dirt? Not sure givin it is storm damage and not pest damage.

    Thanks for any advise you may have

    • Hi Ben – Well, you probably never noticed the pests around until you had a garden because they won’t be around unless you have something around that they like :)

      As for your squash – they are probably white on the bottom because they are touching the ground. If that’s the case then it’s pretty normal, but you don’t want any vegetable to lay on the ground too long because it will begin to rot due to the collection of moisture and lack of air circulation around the squash. The squash that are 6 – 10 inches are a good size for picking. I wouldn’t let them get much bigger than that. The more often you pick, the better the plant will produce, and the better the squash will taste.

      Your zucchini could make a nice comeback if it hasn’t lost too much foliage. If the plant has lost almost all of it’s leaves then it may die. Zucchini and other squash are pretty resilient so I suggest to feed it with diluted fish emulsion or compost tea once every day, or once every other day, for the next couple weeks and see what happens. It might make it.

  11. Hi there. I too have been plagued by the heinous vine borer. My question is can I still eat the pumpkins? I tried to cut the larvae out of the plant and then cover the wound with soil as others have, and the plants have survived, just not in the best shape (lots of dead leaves and cracked vines). I don’t think I got all of the larvae, but my pumpkins have still grown and are all orange. They should be ready to pick in another week or so. Can I eat these pumpkins or will the remaining larvae have gotten into the actual fruit, and is there a way to tell? I mean, I guess I could just cut the pumpkin open when the time comes and take a look. I’m just wondering if I should bother? or is it more likely the bug is in the fruit? I really don’t want to inadvertently eat a larva.

    • Hi Amy- I’m sorry to hear the squash vine borers have attacked your pumpkins. They are devilish creatures! It is possible for there to be two or even three borer larvae in one vine. Even after you remove one you must continually check for more throughout the season. I have removed three within the course of a couple of months from one plant.

      The good news is they do not directly affect the fruit so consuming your pumpkins is just fine. The borers only damage the vines themselves. Good luck with your pumpkins!

  12. So what’s the verdict? Panty hose or foil? When and how do you put these on?

  13. Great info! Thanks for the ideas. My husband is afraid to eat the squash from an infested plant. Do the vine borers release any kind of toxin into the squash? Are the squash safe to eat?

  14. hi…well i am also new to gardening as this is my 2 nd year,however i plant cucumbers,yellow squash,it seems the same green worms are eating both my cukes and yellow squash,are they the same type of worm?also can i take precaution measures by squirting for the worms with a syringe directly into the vines before they attack the plant?would this help or not?what type of of worm kill should i buy?cause these worms are driving me crazy? someone told me that if i take a plastic cup and put about 2-3 inches of beer into the cup the worms would go directly to the beer in the cup,Is this true for these type of worms?thanks so much for any answer….Bill…..

  15. i JUST did this this morning. I was really surprised by how easy the borers were to find. And while I was worried about hurting my plant, I kept reminding myself that I wouldn’t do as much harm as leaving the borer.
    And a few hours after the “surgery” my plant(s) seems to be doing ok.

    Question: is there usually only one borer per vine?

  16. Jen Littsey says:

    I used the evening sunset to spot the vine borers in my plants drilled holes just above the larvae and then flooded the vine downwards with a soap solution of dove body wash. they really Hate the stuff and push their way out of the vines where the meet mr. RAID and cigarette ashes after I scoop them up. Also a hyperdermic needle filled with cayenne pepper stabbed directly in their ugly little bodies works too.

  17. hi,

    Have you ever used epson salts in the soil? Would that be helpful to keep those critters away? Thanks :~)

  18. This is my first year with a veggie garden at my new home. The plot was a shrub garden previously, so this is the first planting of zucchini and squash in this location. All was great until I discovered SVB in almost all of my 6 plants. I pulled the worst and attemped surgery on the least affected, and found up to 6 borers in each stem of the most heavily damaged plants.

    Next year I will try the tips listed above, but I also read that planting after July 4th will miss the main window of SVB egg laying – is this true? Also, how late is too late to replant (seed or container seedlings)? I am in New England, Zone 5.

    Finally, what is a neem cake, how do you use it, and where are they sold?

  19. Captain Jack’s dead bug spray is organic and works on vine borers. Just keep it on the ground and stems as it will kill pollinators too. Works great before and after borers emerge. Of course after you still have to cover cracked vines with dirt etc. but I have saved several after the fact and kept the rest from SVB devastation since I discoved it.

  20. Hi Tee. I have a quick question for you….I have planted yeallow squash in a raised garden this summer and I have gotten fruit with bumps all over the flesh of the squash. Are they decorative gordes or is the plant yellow squash?

  21. Hey there….. I think I too have been infested with squash borers … But this is not my only problem …..I have done some gardening in the past, but this year tried raised beds. I have 4 beds and did a slight version of sq ft gardening . I have created a jungle. I don’t ever remember my zucchini and summer squash getting SO big… They are overshadowing everything else and I can hardly get in or around the beds to harvest …I also noticed they have powdery mildew and closer inspection showed what I think is svb….this is a new spot with all trucked in soil so I thought I was safe ( naive I know) if I lose the all of the plant my overcrowding is no longer an issue. But if I can save them any suggestions on how to solve the issue they all robbing all the other plants of sunlight..can I trim leaves without damaging the rest of the plant ,,,should I just remove some of the plants? Also I put in a tomatillo plant for fun and it has become enormous edging out the things around it can it be cut back? Any help,suggestions, good web sites will all be appreciated….. Next year will be a def scale down ( or a move to the country)

  22. Jen Littsey says:

    I’ve gotten to the vine borers with natures agent– Fire!!! I locate the damaged areas under and along the plant vine. Then I light two candles and a small wood chunk right over it and right below it. The caterpillars will come out willingly because of the heat. The fire cortirizes the damage and neutralizes the borer’s toxin. It takes a few days for the plant to recover. Also if you’ve got a long knife, use the flame to heat it up and poke that into the hole I guarantee they will come out of hiding willingly. Cook till crispy and feed to the birds. Oh, and once or twice a week use the lit candle to burn suspect eggs on the leaves and the vine.

  23. Just planted squash for the first time this year. Lots of squash, grew fast and large and production was great, and then nothing for a week or two, I thought I was in between harvests and discovered yesterday all are infected with SVB. This is my first “real” garden and had no idea what was going on so did not catch the buggers early. I am sure I am too late to salvage the majority but I did spray the plants with a recommended insecticide and am hoping that I might be able to save my pumpkins, cucumbers and a few others…I appreciate all this advice. Will the Neem ensure the borers do not winter over? I am devastated and wonder if I should bother with squash next year…

  24. I have read your article and decided to give it a shot. My plant was showing symptoms and wanted to try and fix the problem before I lost the plant. I slit the plant open only to find 7 little grubs about a half an inch long so they wasn’t to big yet. But doing quite a bit of damage. I cleaned out the wound and buried the wound, then burried the tip of the main vine and side vines to try and get more roots going. Does anyone know how long it takes before you know if your pumpkin plant will survive or not? Please let me know.

  25. I managed to save my squash plants after vine borers attack. I have harvested 2 squash since then. But the rain surely helped alot!
    This is what I did. I slit open the base where I could see frass. I sprayed it with neem oil. I make sure that all adults or larvae are gone. Then I cover the base with a fast rooting soil. I also cut some leaf stalks off the stem where it touch the ground. I covered these areas with more fast rooting soil. I water these areas daily and ensured that they are constantly damp or moist. I am happy to say my squash plants still survived. I now spray my plants every few days. Neem oil works!

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