If only I could rub a magic watering can and have a garden genie pop out! My first wish would be to rid my garden of the striped cucumber beetle and its cousin, the spotted cucumber beetle. Over the years, cucumber beetle damage has desecrated more of my cucurbit plants than all other garden pests combined. This dazzling duo is the reason I wasn’t able to harvest cucumbers and make pickles for several years in a row.
Cucumber Beetle Damage
Weather plays a key role in planting the garden in my area. If I plant too early, I run the risk of losing tender veggie plants to a late frost. If I plant too late, long-season plants won’t have time to reach maturity. This gives me about a three-week planting window.
Coincidentally, this three week period, which lasts from the end of May until mid-June, is when the striped and spotted cucumber beetle actively mate in my region. Year after year, I would sow cucurbit seed and await germination. As they sprouted from the ground, my cucumber and squash plants would appear healthy and would grow quickly.
Then seemingly overnight, the leaves on my cucurbits would wilt. A quick check of the soil revealed sufficient moisture, but within days, the whole patch would die. Worse yet, the culprits never bothered hiding. Spotted or striped cucumber beetle adults could be found crawling over the leaves, vines and flowers with their taunting six-legged stride.
Like their name suggests, the adult striped cucumber beetle is marked with yellow and black stripes, while the spotted cucumber beetle sports a yellow abdomen with black spots. Both are about ¼ inch or 6 mm. long. Cucumber beetle damage from adults is seen mainly above ground. Their worm-like larvae live in the soil and attack the roots of cucumber, squash, pumpkin and watermelon plants.
Home Remedies for Cucumber Beetles
Like many gardeners, I grow a garden to provide healthy food for my family, so chemical warfare in the veggie beds isn’t an avenue I take. Yet, I knew if I ever wanted to have homemade pickles again, I needed to implement some form of cucumber beetle control.
As I searched for home remedies for cucumber beetles, it quickly became apparent that I would need a strategic plan of attack. This means executing cucumber beetle control by first learning about the enemy. As with all pests, the more we know about their life cycle, the better we can defeat them using non-chemical means.
So here are some natural methods for battling cucumber beetles, which is based upon their life cycle:
- Adult cucumber beetles overwinter in the garden soil. Cleaning off the garden in the fall and tilling the soil exposes them to the elements.
- If their favorite plants aren’t readily available when they emerge, adult beetles won’t linger in the garden. Start cucurbits indoors and transplant into the garden after mating season. For me, this is from mid- to late June.
- Rotate crops whenever possible. I’ve had success growing cucurbits in containers using fresh soil each year.
- Try companion planting with tansy or nasturtium. Or use the leaves of these plants as mulch around the base of susceptible cucurbits to deter cucumber beetles from laying their eggs there.
You can also handpick the beetles from plants or use row covers to protect the vines, but I’ve had more success with cucumber beetle control by simply outsmarting the little buggers.