Cucumbers are easy to grow in a home garden except for one problem. They are especially susceptible to one disease. Perhaps you’ve seen it in your own garden. You have planted a row of seeds and they have sprouted nicely and have grown into long vines that have spread out over the garden and turned themselves into a big cucumber patch. You are beginning to anticipate having a bountiful harvest of cucumbers for salads and maybe even pickles. But then one evening when you are walking through the garden you notice that one cucumber plant has wilted. Your first thought is that maybe one of the kids, or maybe even the dog, might have been running through the garden and maybe they broke the plant off at the base of the stem. So you get down on your knees and check things out. Nope. The stem is intact. Then you think that maybe the plant needs water, but if that is so then why aren’t all the other cucumber plants surrounding it wilted too? Then you notice a few little striped or spotted bugs flying around, especially near the blossoms of the plant, and then you realize what has happened. All those little bugs are cucumber beetles. They have infected your cucumber plants with a disease called cucumber wilt.
What can you do to control it?
Cucumber wilt is a bacterial disease that is carried by the cucumber beetle. If you find an infected plant in your garden the best thing to do is just to pull it out of the ground and burn it. At this stage, after one plant has wilted, the cucumber beetles have no doubt had a chance to spread through all the other plants in your garden. If you have a really healthy garden you might still be safe because many of your plants could be strong enough to resist the disease and still produce a crop. If this seems to be the case, then the easiest thing to do is just to do nothing. But if your garden is the least bit stressed or out of balance and you can see cucumber beetles zooming around everywhere then the wilt will probably spread and kill almost all the cucumber plants. The next thing you can do is to try to kill as many of the cucumber beetles as possible. Insecticides containing rotenone or pyrethrins are probably the easiest and safest solution and they do work, but it will still be a continuing battle to save the rest of your plants long enough to get a harvest.
Planning ahead and use floating row covers.
There is a simple way to raise cucumbers without having to worry about cucumber beetles and cucumber wilt.
Just put a barrier over your plants so that the beetles will never have a chance to touch them. The easiest way to do this is to use floating row covers. Floating row covers are big sheets of spun-bonded polypropylene fabric that are light enough and thin enough to lay over the plants. Enough light and rain can pass through the fabric so the cucumber plants can grow until they are ready to blossom without ever being molested by a cucumber beetle or by being sprayed with and insecticide. When the blossoms appear, just remove the cover so that pollination can take place. If there are any cucumber beetles around when you remove the cover it will probably take them some time to find the plants and then some more time to do any real damage. By then you will be picking cucumbers.
Tips for using floating row covers.
You should put the row covers on the same day you plant your cucumber seeds. Don’t let the seeds sprout uncovered because the beetles might find the tiny seedlings then and all will be lost. You should also place the covers so that they have room to puff up after the plants start to grow under them. Don’t put them on tight. Make sure to seal the edges completely with dirt all the way around. This is the only way. Don’t use rocks or garden staples because these things still leave openings where a bug can crawl through.