Get Rid of Cucumber Beetles

Most experienced gardeners have had a skirmish or two with cucumber beetles. Not only do they appear immediately when temperatures warm up, but there are also two common species in North America to worry about. As a gardener, you should know your enemies and have a plan for how to get rid of cucumber beetles should they arrive with plans to turn your garden into a smorgasbord.

Learn to recognize cucumber beetles

These bright yellow-green pests aren't difficult to spot. One species has twelve black spots on its back and the other has three black stripes. Both species have antennae and measure approximately one-quarter inch long. Sturdy wings allow them to move quickly through your garden and help them to avoid capture. Cucumber beetles are sometimes confused with ladybugs that are a different color, but are a similar shape and size.

Cucumber beetle diet

Although the name of cucumber beetles implies their food preference, these insects don't necessarily discriminate in gardens with other green leafy vegetables. As soon as they appear when the weather turns warm, they're so hungry that they'll eat whatever they can get. After their initial hunger is satiated, cucumber beetles turn to their favorite vine plants including squash, watermelons and pumpkins in addition to cucumbers.

How cucumber beetles damage plants

Hungry adults chew holes though the leaves of any new plant growth without discrimination. If left unchecked, damage to new growth and roots can be sizeable because they lay their eggs at the base of plants, giving their larvae easy access to root systems and eventually plant stems. Cucumber beetles are also responsible for spreading another garden problem, bacterial wilt. This fungus will also destroy your garden if these beetles aren't controlled.

Get rid of cucumber beetles

There are several effective methods to get rid of cucumber beetles and keep them from spreading in your garden:

  • Beneficial insects: Organic gardeners usually prefer to try natural remedies before resulting to chemicals. One way is to plant flowers or other plants around your vegetables that attract beneficial insects that prey on cucumber beetles. Other insects like soldier beetles, ladybugs, assassin bugs and lacewings will get the job done too.
  • Insect barrier cloth: Another organic method is to cover your plants with insect barrier cloth to protect them from cucumber beetle invasion. The downside of this method is that the cloth also blocks pollinators. Barrier cloth requires planning, because it works best if you remove it early in the morning for a couple of hours and then replace it again for protection.
  • Cucumber beetle traps: These traps can be purchased at most garden centers. At the first sign that cucumber beetles have found your garden, place one of these traps at crop height. It's recommended that one trap be used for every 400 square feet of garden, or closer if you think their population is out of control.
  • Organic pesticides: Turn neem oil and insecticidal soap into an effective cucumber beetle spray. After the plants are treated, organic pesticides actually smother the beetles after they are coated.
  • Buy cucumber beetle resistant plants: Another way to get rid of cucumber beetles is to not plant a variety that they like to eat. Check with a horticultural specialist at your local garden center for suggestions.

It's important to remember that cucumber beetles don't die over the winter. Instead, they move into leaf litter and hedgerows for their dormant period. If you don't take pre-emptive steps to get rid of cucumber beetles early in the season, you're guaranteed to lose crops to these insatiable garden enemies.

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