I like to check in periodically with the OSU Master Gardener Plant Clinic to see what kind of plant problems people are having.

I like to check in periodically with the OSU Master Gardener Plant Clinic to see what kind of plant problems people are having.

Marsha Waite, coordinator of the clinic, said our roller-coaster temperatures of spring produced especially prolific populations of earwigs and aphids. And now, as squash and pumpkins are blooming, squash bugs are causing people grief.

The pests overwinter under tree bark, deep mulch, garden litter, stacks of pots left outdoors, woodpiles and any place they can find shelter. Note to self: Keep a clean garden!

You might see squash bugs mating on squash or pumpkin plants. Squash bugs are dark brown or black and about 5/8-inch long. They are host-specific, meaning they live only on squash and pumpkins. They emit a stinky smell when disturbed or crushed.

Females lay 1/16-inch, rust-colored eggs in clusters under leaves, on stems and even on structures near plants, explained Waite. A female will lay about 250 eggs in her lifetime. As the nymphs hatch, they look like tiny gray spiders and start to feed on the plant. They have a long proboscis, which they insert into the plant to suck the juices. As they feed, they insert toxins into the plant tissue, causing the area to turn brown or black. With lots of nymphs and adults feeding on it, a plant can wilt and die in a relatively short time. To make matters worse, if the insect has fed on a sick plant and then goes to a healthy one, they will spread the virus.

Squash bugs produce two generations a year. The young from those original overwintering bugs mature in six weeks, and then begin to mate. Squash bugs have a very hard shell, so spraying the adults doesn't do much good.

Instead, arm yourself with some masking tape, a zip-close plastic bag and perhaps a shop vac and a knee-high nylon stocking. Here's how to use those weapons. Wrap some masking tape, sticky side out, around your fingers and simply pick up any bugs you can see. Get egg clusters, too, if you see them on the underside of leaves or on stems. As you get a lot of bugs on the tape, drop it into the plastic bag and close it so they can't escape. If you find a population that has gotten out of hand, attach the nylon knee-high to the vacuum's nozzle and quickly suck them up. Again, dispose of them right away.

Waite advises planting resistant cultivars so you won't have such a problem in the first place. Try butternut, early summer crookneck, lemon squash, Improved Green Hubbard, Royal acorn and Sweet Cheese. Check your seed catalog and/or seed packet for information.

You may be able to help a problem that is already underway by spraying with insecticidal soap, neem or pyrethrin, but you will have to repeat the spray every few days. Tachinid flies and parasitic wasps are natural predators of the squash bug, so planting flowers that attract them might help keep the pest population lower, Waite suggested.

While a floating row cover may be helpful to keep insects from attacking your plants before they bloom, be sure to remove it when blossoms appear to give pollinators access. This idea works to help keep cucumber beetles at bay, too.

For help with this or other plant problems, stop by the Plant Clinic at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays, or call 541-776-7371. No charge. But please bring your bugs in a closed jar or plastic bag!

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.