Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Suckers and Borers

The title of this post may sound like a horror movie, but only the latter part of it actually could be. What causes a vigorous squash plant to turn into the dead mess below in just one week?
A: Squash vine borers, a.k.a The Bane of My Existence. If your squash wilt like this, look for orange-ish frass (looks similar to the cheap roe they use on california rolls at lesser sushi restaurants) near the base. Wherever the frass is, the borer is between that point and where the vine meets the dirt. Slit the vine with a knife, pick it (or them) out, and kill it. In the picture below, you can see frass, the slit, and at the top of the slit, a borer.
Here is a smaller borer we picked out and smooshed. They are pretty disgusting.
I had borers in almost all my vines. They say you can mound moist dirt over the slit and the vine may heal (though I'd just pull up a plant that looks as bad as the one above). They also say you can pile moist dirt over healthy stems and they may root at that point. I did both to be on the safe side. I also started more seeds so I can replace the plants if necessary. Supposedly in the deep south, there can be two borer seasons a year, so I may not be able to outsmart them by planting a second set of squash - we'll see!
Luckily suckers are not nearly as nefarious as borers! I'm pretty sure everyone who reads my blog knows how to spot a tomato sucker, but I had no idea when I started gardening, so here's a picture just in case. It's the tiny stem growing in the "v" between the main upright stem and the good sized branch on the right:
Suckers aren't bad if you have unlimited room to grow sprawling, gigantic plants. I don't, so I prune them out.

The thing about suckers is that they aren't just another branch; they're more like another entire tomato plant growing out of the side of your main plant! They are easy to spot at this stage, tougher later - though you can remove them anytime. Tomato plants are actually very forgiving about pruning. I control the height of mine as well as prohibiting suckers.

You can root your suckers in water if you want more plants - I usually let them get about 6 inches long before I cut them off the plant for that purpose.

One caveat about suckers: on some tomato plants, such as yellow pear, the stem on which blooms and babies will form comes from this same area or very close. It's easy to tell the difference, but I don't want you to prune out all your bloom stems by accident!

8 comments:

Susie said...

Hey Ginger, yeah my squash pretty much look like that. Question is, how do we prevent that from happening?

Janet said...

Man, those borers create a mess! Good luck with the second crop. I just watched a show on PBS on gardening that rooted the suckers on tomatoes for a fall crop. Pretty cool.

AnnF said...

That's exactly why I'm using row cover this year. :) SVB are evil!

Heather said...

Hi Ginger- I don't get a borer on my squash but I get an awful squash bug that looks like it has armor. Gross and double gross, I feel your pain. Perfect picture of the tomato sucker,btw.

TC said...

From "Good Bug Bad Bug" by Jessica Walliser: "Wrap a strip of aluminum foil around the plant base early in the season, to prevent adults from laying eggs on the stem. Nestle the foil just below the soil surface, reaching up to lowermost leaf (some folks do the same thing with a piece of nylon stocking or strip of cotton sheet).

I pinch out the suckers on my tomatoes too.

gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

Sorry to see your squash plant. I don't think I've seen borers here. My pumpkin vine looks horrible though. Something else is attacking it.
Good advice on the suckers. I never remember to pull them off even though whenever my grandfather would visit he'd pull them off for me. For some reason now tomato plants always make me think of him.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Man I had squash vine borers. Nasty beasties. I just commented back about the vaction thing on my blog. At the risk of repeating myself, you will be staying very close to where we were. Our resort was the Grand Occidental Flamenco Xcaret next to the Xcaret park. Go to the park if you get the chance. They have fire ball hockey. I'm not kidding.

Ginger said...

Susie- Ann and TC have good ideas! Of course, if you use a row cover, you'll have to self-polinate, but that wouldn't be too arduous for a small-scale home gardener.

Janet- I'll report back about the second crop! The majority of my first crop has rebounded after their "surgery," so I might have A LOT of squash soon!

Ann- great tip, thanks! I assume you are pollinating by hand?

Heather- well, at least you have such a gigantic garden that hopefully the squash bugs CAN'T get everything!!

TC- I am totally going to try that with my second crop. what a great tip!

Catherine- I think it's really nice when plants remind us of loved ones, either because we grew them together or they gave them to us.

Debbi- I can't believe I'm going to be so close to where you were!! We were planning to go to the park - glad to hear it's as cool as it looks!