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The Pickleworm: Scourge of Central Florida

Being in the nursery and landscaping business in Spring Hill, Florida is wonderful. Living in Florida is wonderful. The year-round sunshine, the beaches, and best of all: no snow! Unfortunately for us Floridians, there are certain pests that enjoy the Sunshine State as much as we do. One such pest is the dreaded Pickleworm.

​The name sounds innocent enough. Perhaps it reminds you of a whimsical character in a children’s book. Unfortunately, Diaphania nitidalis (better known as the pickleworm), is a very serious agricultural pest.

Year round pests in Florida

Much like those of us who live in Florida, pickleworms don’t like cold weather. These pests are mostly found in southeastern states, but have been spotted as far as Illinois, Iowa, and even parts of New York. The life-cycle of a pickleworm is remarkably short. Most of these insects only live for around 30 days. Depending on location, there can be up to four generations of pickleworms per year. There are only two locations where pickleworms are found all year round: Texas and Florida. Lucky us!

Pickleworm Damage

Pickleworms feast on both wild and cultivated cucurbit species; pumpkins, cucumbers, cantaloupe and squash are all preferred by the pest. The pickleworm’s absolute favorite food, however, is the summer squash. Every year, large amounts of damage to summer squash crops can be attributed to the pickleworm.

​Damage to crops caused by the pickleworm can be observed by the lack of flowers and new leaves on the plant. These are the first parts of the plant to be eaten. Damaged vines and leaves can become riddled with holes and cease to continue growing. Pickleworm larvae also eat the fruit, and have been known to burrow deep into the flesh leaving a trail of white frass in their wake. Yuck! Once these pests are able to burrow into the fruit, the damage done usually results in rotting.

So What Can We Do?!

Fear not my fellow feisty Floridians!​ We can defeat the pickleworm and his dastardly plan for world domination. First and foremost, we can opt for certain varieties of plants that have proven to be resistant to these pests. Inquiring minds have discovered that the butternut and Golden Hubbard varieties of squash tend to be much less susceptible to pickleworm infestation. If given the opportunity, it may be in your best interest to choose one of these instead of the summer variety.

If prevention has failed and you find yourself face to face with a pickleworm, you may want to consider “Bt pest control.” Spraying your crops with Bacillus Turingienis (Bt for short) can be a great strategy. The active ingredient in Bt is a crystal protein which serves to paralyze the insect’s digestive tract. The pickleworm will subsequently stop eating and starve to death. Bacillus Turingienis has also been essential in the fight against the West Nile Virus and the pesky mosquitoes that spread it.

You might also consider adding floating row covers to your crops at night. Pickleworms are most active after dark, so this strategy will substantially decrease the likelihood of infestation. Please remember to remove the covers during the day so that the bees can get to your crops.

Drop By and Say Hello

If you’re in the Spring Hill, FL area and have questions about the pickleworm or any other subject pertaining to your Florida garden, please drop by and say hello. We also specialize in landscape design and sod installation. You can also give us a call at 352-799-3200. We would love to hear from you today!