Ready to get rid of vine borers for good?
There’s nothing quite so discouraging as watching a perfectly healthy zucchini plant wilt before your eyes, while you stand by, helpless. If you have trouble with vine borers, I’ve got good news and bad news.
Disclaimer: Oh, the irony. Gardening sure has a way of keeping us humble, doesn’t it? The method described below has worked well for us for a number of years, but this year we’re experiencing a few snags. Be sure to read my update at the end of this post…
First, the Bad News
Once a vine borer damages your plant, there’s really not much you can do. It’s almost impossible to save a plant infested with a vine borer.
What happened was this: an adult vine borer layed an egg at the base of your healthy zucchini plant. About a week later, the egg hatched and the larva drilled into your zucchini stem, munching its way up the inside of the vine.
You had no idea this was happening until one morning when you went outside and noticed your formerly robust zucchini plant suddenly looking wilted and then yellowing. The damage occurs so quickly that by the time the gardener realizes it, most plants are beyond repair.
If your plant isn’t heavily damaged, you can take a shot at saving it. Act fast! Start by slitting the vine from the entry site (which you’ll identify by the yellowish sawdust-like “frass” left behind at the base of the plant) until you locate the larva. Remove and destroy the vine borer.
Rinse the surgery site well with water, then pack good soil around it and wrap with something like tin foil or panty hose. If that part of the vine is laying on the ground, you can simply pile mulch over it. More great instructions here.
Now for the Good News
The good news has two parts.
1. Do not despair! You can plant again.
In most regions, you can plant a second round of zucchini in early July and still get a good harvest later in the growing season. Act quickly if planting from seed. Better yet, check your local nurseries for leftover squash transplants.
From what I understand of the vine borer’s life cycle, squash planted later in the growing season like this (early July) should not be affected by this pest. By the time these plants mature, adult vine borers will be finished laying their eggs. Hooray!
2. Here’s the best part: vine borers are 100% preventable.
I’ll show you how we have successfully warded off vine borers in our garden for the past several years. It’s so easy!
If you lost some plants to vine borers, don’t beat yourself up. It happens to most gardeners at least once! Just don’t let it happen to you again. Be smarter than the vine borer, friends.
How to Get Rid of Vine Borers for Good
Are you ready for this? Here is the solution to vine borer trouble: Dixie cups.
Yep, all you need is one 5 oz. paper cup per plant. I’ll show you my simple method in the video below, or you can simply follow these instructions:
- We follow this method for all vining crops. Zucchini usually takes the hardest hit, but we play it safe by protecting melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, and winter squash too.
- Timing is important. Wait until seedlings are a few inches tall, but still small enough to fit through the cup. It’s also best if the ground is soft and wet, like after a rain.
- Remove the bottom of each paper cup. I like to make a slit with a sharp utility knife, then use my fingers to pull the round bottom out of the cup.
- Gently push one hollow cup around each seedling, carefully wiggling it down into the ground.
- That’s it! Leave the cup there all throughout the growing season.
- I should also mention this Easy Garden Spray we use on our zucchini plants to ward off squash bugs. It’s possible the spray is also effective against vine borers, so I recommend using both methods just to be safe!
UPDATE: Just yesterday, the very day before this blog post was scheduled to be published, we discovered vine borer damage to two of our otherwise healthy zucchini plants. Noooooo!
It’s ironic, because I had just asked Mr. Native Texan, What is it about the cups that keeps the moths from laying eggs on the stem? Couldn’t they still get down inside the cups? We weren’t sure, but for some reason, we’ve had very little trouble with vine borers since we started using the cups. So we shrugged it off. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Well. Now that we’ve lost a few plants to vine borers, even with the cups, here are a few observations, preliminary conclusions, and a game plan for moving forward.
We’re now pretty confident that our Garden Spray with Peppermint oil was making a much bigger difference than we realized. This year our zucchini crop is planted in an entirely different area of the garden. Because of the new location, it’s harder to access the base of the plants. In previous years, our squash was planted in raised beds, with a garden walkway directly behind the plants. That made it much easier to spray the entire plant, including the base of the stems. This year we also haven’t sprayed as proactively as we did over the past several years. You’d better believe we’ll be spraying future squash plants like it’s our job.
I don’t have high hopes, because we’ve tried it before with little success. But we’re a little smarter this time, with more experience under our belts, and really, what do we have to lose? We plan to slit the stems of any affected vines, locate and destroy those blasted little worms, and cover the surgery sites as best we can.
It’s still the first half of July, so we plan to plant another crop of zucchini if necessary. As I mentioned above, we hope to get around the vine borer’s life cycle by planting later in the season.
4. Stem Wiping
In my research to find effective, organic methods for vine borer control, I’ve come across a few intriguing ideas. Going forward, and especially beginning today with our Pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash, and Blue Hubbard Squash seedlings, I plan to wipe down each stem with a rag soaked in water and Peppermint & Thyme essential oils. According to my research, this should be done at least every five days but I plan to do it daily-ish.
5. Stem Wrapping
The Dixie cups were a good start, but we plan to take it a step further by wrapping the stem itself with a material like gauze bandage rolls.
6. Yellow Bowls
Apparently the adult moth is attracted to the color yellow (hello, squash blossoms). Much anecdotal evidence online shows some success in using yellow bowls of water to trap adult vine borer moths. Simply set out yellow bowls of water in the garden and the moths will fly to the bowls and then drown.
7. Tilling Under
According to Abby Seaman at Cornell University’s New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, affected crops should be tilled under immediately after harvest. Somehow this helps to prevent buildup of potentially damaging populations like the vine borer. I definitely don’t want these little buggers overwintering in the soil, so we’ll be following Abby’s advice.
You’d better believe we’ll be releasing the chickens in that area this fall and next spring. I hope they find and destroy every single larvae and pupae in the soil.
We gardeners are a resilient bunch, and now I am more determined than ever to outsmart these nasty vine borers with completely organic methods. Hopefully we won’t lose any more zucchini plants to the dreaded borers, but with two plants lost already, I’m not holding my breath. Time will tell. Stay tuned for updates on our battle against the vine borers!
Kathleen Henderson is the yankee behind the homestead. Follow along as we grow real food and three boys while renovating a 20-acre farm in northern Virginia. Do you love homegrown food, Paleo-ish recipes, and natural living? You’re in good company! Let’s grow together…