Jim Jasinski, Department of Extension; Celeste Welty, Department of Entomology
While most growers have focused on managing cucumber beetles and squash bugs to this point in the season, now it’s time to be vigilant for a common late season pest, aphids. While there can be several species of aphids that invade pumpkin and squash fields in mid to late summer, the melon aphid is likely most common. Regardless of the species in your field, aphid biology and management are similar.
Like squash bugs, aphids have sucking mouth parts. Aphids feed on the underside of leaves where tremendously large populations can build up quickly even with natural enemies (ladybugs, green lacewing larvae, parasitoid wasps, syrphid fly larvae, etc.) in the field, especially under hot and dry conditions. A by-product of their feeding is called honeydew, and when high aphid
populations exist, this sticky liquid can drip onto foliage and fruit creating a perfect condition for black sooty mold to grow on the surface of fruit which will need to be washed off prior to sale.
While aphids can create the environment for sooty mold, they can actively vector viruses to pumpkin and squash plants. A survey conducted in the late 1990’s by OSU researchers concluded that Watermelon Mosaic Virus was the most common type of virus found in Ohio pumpkin fields. Viruses in general may not be a serious threat to older plants where the fruit mature, but for younger plants with immature and developing fruit, distorted and strappy leaves, bumpy mosaic colored fruit or no fruit may result. While it is possible to treat pumpkin and squash plants for aphids, if an aphid feeds on a plant for just a second and then picks up a lethal dose of insecticide, the virus may already be vectored to that plant. As a practical matter, virus transmission cannot be stopped using insecticides alone. Timing of planting is perhaps more effective, with earlier planting leading to potentially less virus incidence because fewer aphids are present as the crop matures.
If scouting reveals aphid populations building in a field, even in the presence of natural enemies, treatment may be warranted if honeydew and black sooty mold are seen. While pyrethroids are relatively inexpensive to apply, they are devastating against most natural enemies and will likely cause an even more severe outbreak of aphids soon after application. The following products are non-pyrethroid alternatives, and their relative price compared to pyrethroids ($) are listed. Recent systemic materials such as Beleaf ($$$) and Fulfill ($$$) target sucking pests and should be less disruptive to natural enemies. Other products such as Assail ($$), Sivanto ($$$), Harvanta ($$$$), and Exirel ($$$$$) are also likely to have high efficacy and less disruptive to non-target pests. A full list of recommended insecticides and their PHI’s can be found in the Midwest Vegetable Growers Guide (https://mwveguide.org).