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Master Gardener Sue Morris: Watch for the striped cucumber beetle to protect plants from deadly infection

The striped cucumber beetle attacks cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkin. It carries bacteria, and infected plants cannot be saved.

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Keep your eyes open for the striped cucumber beetle.

This insect is a pest in home gardens and attacks cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins. These bugs generally occur in low numbers from year to year but occasionally are very abundant and damaging to plants.

The critters can be recognized by their one-fifth-inch long, oblong body, yellowish green wing covers and three longitudinal black stripes. The insect also has a black head and antennae as well as an orangish prothorax — the first area behind the head.

Cucumber planted in a pot on a driveway in Willmar, July 2022
A cucumber planted in a pot is shown in a Willmar driveway in this July 2022 photo.
Donna Middleton / West Central Tribune

There are two other similar looking insects. One is the spotted cucumber beetle — which has 12 black spots in its wing covers.

The western corn rootworm is also yellow green with three black stripes but has a darker colored prothorax. This one may be found feeding on cucurbits blossoms but it is not a pest on the squash family plants.

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The striped cucumber beetles are injurious because they can infect cucurbits with bacterial wilt. They harbor these bacteria in their bodies and infect feeding wounds with contaminated feces.

Once a plant is infected it cannot be saved. Whenever these critters are seen, get out the Garden Guard or a product which contains Sevin and start dusting.

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Another problem with vining crops is the squash vine borer.

You know you have trouble when you see wilting of leaves on a vine crop. This is the symptom after eggs have been laid on the stem and bore in feeding on the tissue. It cuts off moisture and nutrients to the remaining stem.

If caught early enough, you can slit the stem and remove the worm. Then bury the stem at this point and hopefully it will root and continue to grow. This perhaps can be avoided by thoroughly dusting the stems of these plants at the time you are dusting for the striped cucumber beetles.

You might have found areas of what appears to be foam around the stems of plants. This is a product of the spittlebug and does no damage to the plant. It is just unsightly.

You may never have seen the actual spittlebug, just the result. They produce a liquid that they whip up into a mass of bubbles and then they hide in it.

This is where the insect gets its name. This is one insect that doesn’t eat or damage the plants.

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Master Gardener Sue Morris has been writing this column since 1991 for Kandiyohi County newspapers. Morris has been certified through the University of Minnesota as a gardening and horticulture expert since 1983. She lives in Kandiyohi County.

Master Gardener Sue Morris has been writing a column since 1991 for Kandiyohi County newspapers. Morris has been certified through the University of Minnesota as a gardening and horticulture expert since 1983. She lives in Kandiyohi County.
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