Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cucumber Beetles

Of all the pests I receive in my garden, the one I see each year – without fail – is the cucumber beetle. To keep my cucumber plants healthy and productive it is important for me to know when the beetles arrive, what they do to my garden, and how to remove them.

How do you know if your garden has cucumber beetles?
Who owns two antennae behind a damaged cucumber flower?
A Cucumber Beetle enjoying a cucumber flower

Here in the South, these beetles can come in many sizes,  colors and patterns. The dominant color is black with white stripes followed by a green variety that possesses black spots. In the past I have seen some that are nearly neon, though more rare cucumber beetles can sometimes be hard to catch – let alone to take a picture of.

To find the beetles, start by looking at your flowers – and more specifically in your flowers. If there are cucumber beetles in there you will see them coming out and flying away.

A Green Spotted Cucumber Beetle
Why care about cucumber beetles?

A Cucumber Beetle on a Flower

Cucumber beetles destroy both male and female cucumber flowers. In addition, if left in the garden they act as vectors for disease and can cause otherwise healthy plants to become diseased. Though most of the references I have read have only noted that cucumber beetles cause bacteria wilt, I have often suspected cucumber beetles of spreading some form of cucumber mosaic as well.

Cucumber Beetle damage to a flower.
How does one get rid of these pests?
A close-up of a cucumber beetle that wouldn't hold still.
Because cucumber beetles tend to be very skiddish around people (with good reason) it helps to eradicate them early in the morning. Around dawn, when many friends I know are still feeling sluggish and tired – so are the cucumber beetles. They are a lot slower and, when coaxed out of a cucumber flower, tend to drop on the ground rather than fly away. Simply place the palm of your hand below the cucumber beetle and he (or she) will simply drop down into your palm where you can determine its fate.
A mating pair of Cucumber Beetles safe in a flower.
Though cucumber beetles are annoying, when compared with other garden pests (such as the notorious squash-vine borer) they are extremely manageable. By keeping my garden free of cucumber beetles I am not only helping myself but all the gardeners around me.

Oh - the brutality! I guess they were not so safe after all.


  1. Dear Jay, it's nice to leave a comment in your blog. I haven't left one for ages!!! I've never seen the cucumber beetle on my carosello vines and hope not to see it in future. This year the powdery mildew was the big problem and I had too many vines to look after. Next year I'll grow only three plants so I can fight better against the powdery mildew. Hope to hear from you soon.

    1. Dear Giuseppe,

      Of the Carosello varieties you grew this year, did any do better than others? And likewise - which did worse?

      I have found that the Painted Serpent (Striped Armenian) is much more resistant to powdery mildew and mosaic virus than the Tortarello Abruzzese Chiaro (regular Armenian) is.

    2. The best was one of the two "Tondo di Manduria", the Mandurian family carosello with darker green stripes. The disappointment was from the Bianco Leccese. But the truth is that I didnt't look after my carosello vines as in the past: six to ten of them on my balconies are too many. Next year I'll grow only three of them. Less quantity, more quality!!!

  2. I also tend to have powdery mildew and not the beetles but I companion plant to help keep them at bay. I have been planting radishes and letting them go to flower now and I don't seem to get any beetles. Of course I am unsure if we would get them here in the North.

    1. Dear Donna,
      I do not think you would get the beetles up North. Two varieties of cucumber that seem to resist powdery mildew that I have grown have been the Painted Serpent and Arkansas Little Leaf. Arkansas Little leaf is such a fun regular cucumber variety to grow - just because the plants are so stout. (=

      I have tried the radishes before though it seems that if I have enough cucumber or melons the beetles are sure to find me. I suppose it has to do with how educated local gardeners are and how well they take care of their gardens.

  3. Here in my Virginia garden, I see the spotted cucumber beetle more often, and many times on other plants, too.

    1. Dear Ray,

      Thanks for your response!

      I saw the spotted cucumber beetle a lot in California as well. They must live on some form of native vegetation there, because at times I would see them in large populations near the coast.


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