North Florida Watermelon Producers: Manage Plant Bugs Now

Web AdminWatermelon

By Clint Thompson

Plant bugs are making their way into some watermelon fields in the North Florida region. Producers need to take action to avoid having a small population explode into a much larger one, according to Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Regional Specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida.

Plant bug management
Adult squash bug (Picture provided by Dr. John Capinera, UF/IFAS)

“There’s spots where we’re starting to get a little bit of that reported which is specifically the squash bug,” Hochmuth said. “They overwinter in the woods, trees, hedge rows and things like that around the fields. I think honestly that the population could be a little lower overall this year because of the hard winter that we had. I don’t think I would hang my hat on that. In the last few years, we’ve probably had more reports and more serious problems.

“Over the last two weeks they’ve emerged. A few of the scouts and the farmers have reported that they’ve got populations and are concerned about it. They always start on the perimeter as they move into the field. If there is some way of strategically getting the perimeter sprayed and only the perimeter, then that’s a big help. In some cases, that’s not logistically possible, so they end up needing to spray the whole field.”

Plant bugs are in the stink bug family. They are a piercing, sucking insect. Under real high populations, they prefer to get on the stem attachment of the watermelon fruit and cause wilting and stress in the plant. It requires high populations to reach that level of impact, however.

It speaks to the level of urgency that growers should have in managing these insects now and not letting them get out of control.

“If you have a reasonably high population at the beginning once you get through the generations, then you can have hundreds of these squash bugs, adults and nymphs, that can be problematic towards the end of the season,” Hochmuth said. “By the time we get to that point, we don’t have a real good way of controlling them, because they’re hunkered down underneath the vines. They’re protected from getting a good spray program to them.”