The Q&A Archives: How to control pickleworms

Question: This past summer I had a bad infestation of pickleworms on my cucumbers and squash. What's the best way to control them organically? Linda Taylor Ocala, FL

Answer: Spraying Bt or beneficial nematodes is your best solution, says John Capinera, vegetable crop specialist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Pickleworm is a serious problem on cucurbits in home gardens here, especially on summer squash. The adult overwinters in south Florida and migrates north in spring, laying eggs on the developing cucurbit blossoms in early June. The eggs hatch in a few days and the larvae feed for two weeks first on the blossom, then by burrowing into the young fruit, says CapinerA. Pickleworms reduce the yield of crops and make fruits inedible. There are three to five generations a year in Florida, so as long as you're growing cucurbits, you'll probably have a pickleworm threat, says CapinerA. To control an infestation, spray Bt or beneficial nematodes in the early evening on susceptible plants, starting in June and continuing weekly. The nematodes do a particularly good job because they survive for a few days inside the flowers where the pickleworms is active, he explains. Row covers can prevent some early damage but have to be removed once flowers open. Spraying should then begin, Capinera adds.

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