Squash leaves, cucumber leaves drying out

Question from Laurie:
I heard you speak at the Bernardo Gardeners club this afternoon and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation. I’m not a member, but a friend of mine invited me to come. My question to you is this: What would make our cucumber and squash leaves shrivel and dry up? They started out beautifully green and healthy and as a matter of fact, a squash is growing in our compost pile and its leaves are a luscious deep green. Are the ones with dry leaves in the garden needing more nitrogen in the soil?

Answer from Pat:
Thanks so much for your comment on my talk today. Glad you enjoyed it! Squash and cucumbers are both cucurbits and thus are subject to many of the same diseases and pests. Probably the most common cause of squash leaves shriveling and drying up is from powdery mildew. This disease is caused by weather that is cool and overcast or foggy but can also happen in dry weather. One plant infects another with fungal strands like hairs and spores that travel on the air from plant to plant. When mildew hits the leaves they go white and wilt, dry, and shrivel, sometimes dying. Severe infection can even kill some plants. Others may continue bearing since new leaves continually grow but the plant will not be as productive. Also the appearance of the plant is not pleasant. The best answer to the problem is to always choose and plant disease-resistant varieties, especially mildew-resistant varieties. See the video on mildew I made on this website and it will explain what to do. Serenade™ is an organic biological spray that will control the problem as also will a spray that coats the plant like a Christmas-tree spray creating a barrier against pest and diseases. (Moisture-In-5™ is one kind Cloud Cover™ is another.)

A second possible reason for squash and cucumber leaves drying up and shriveling is nematodes, but I have found most healthy plants to be largely resistant to nematodes. They can usually carry on despite the nematodes. See my video on nematodes for explanation of soil solarization and also planting nematode attracting marigolds. Adding beneficial nematodes to the soil can help cut down on nematode damage, but the best solution is building up the organic content of the soil and growing strong pest and disease-resistant hybrids and keeping the soil moist. Good home-made compost helps kill nematodes since it often contains beneficial ones.

Another problem can be bacterial wilt of cucumbers. This can best be controlled by controlling cucumber beetles and some other pests that attack squash plants. Pests can build up in the soil just like diseases so always rotate plants. Use a layer of earthworm castings over the roots to help the plants to fight off pests. Also try spraying the plants with a barrier such as Moisture-In-5™that I demonstrated on the video on controlling mildew. A film covering the leaves will prevent pest damage and also diseases. The white mildew disappears immediately when you spray the leaves.

Crop rotation helps to fight off both pests and diseases that build up in the soil. Grow crops year round, and always amend the soil with fresh organic compost before planting as well as adequate fertilizer. Hand pick pests, use yellow sticky traps as well as earthworm castings, but best of all grow the superior disease-resistant plants from seeds, not the plants you buy in the nursery that are from cheap seeds and often sick already before you buy them. Seeds of cucumbers and squash are super easy to grow from seeds. Why bother growing them from plants, though if I can find a good cucumber in the nursery I’ve sometimes grown them from transplants but they weren’t as good. Squash—well it’s just plain ridiculous to buy the plants. Same for melons.

The reason your squash vine in the compost pile is not sick is because the soil is so healthy full of beneficial fungi and beneficial nematodes that are killing all the bad things!

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  1. Thank you so much for your personal answer to my question. I’ll take this wonderful information and keep it for future reference. There certainly is a lot to think about and act upon in your response.

    • Thank you for your reply. One of the most telling parts of your question was when you said the squash plant in your compost is green and healthy. I am glad to add this note since it adds so much to the understanding of your solutions. In fact I was thinking of it this morning when I awoke and wondering if I should write you this additional note:

      All good homemade compost piles contain in them the very beneficial fungi that are bottled in the product Serenade™ and other types as well. The benefits of home grown compost are way beyond the fact that it amends the soil and puts organic matter back into the soil. As I point out again and again in my organic book, compost also puts beneficial fungi and other biological organisms into the ground and these fungi and other organisms actually kill the pest fungi and organisms and protect your plants. Compost literally teams with good things. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, on the other hand, kill all these natural disease-fighting mechanisms, so this is why it’s important to stay organic all the way through, not just partially. People who make compost and add it to their garden soil, but then turn around and fertilize with a product containing sulfate of ammonia or urea for example are defeating many of the benefits of compost. So always read product labels to see what’s contained in the bagged and boxed or bottled products you purchase.

      • Gosh, Pat, you are a goldmine of wonderful information. Thank you so much for your suggestions and further insights. I’m going to get some Serenade and your organic book. I suppose the best book with which to start, is your first one? If you have any suggestions as to which book would be a good first book, let me know. Where is Serenade available?

        Just as an aside, our 31 year-old-son has been working on an organic ranch just outside of Barstow. He was there from November of last year to August of this summer. He went as a participant in the “wwoofer” program (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming) and enjoyed it very much. He is very interested in organic farming and is learning as much about it as he can. His other passion is working with stained glass (a wonderful art, but one that is not self-sustaining since it is a luxury and not a necessity of life.) I’ve attached a picture of the stained glass he made for the earth-dome he helped work on at the ranch, which will house a few volunteers that come to spend some time there.

        • The book you need is “Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening Month by Month.” It’s available right here on this website. If they’re temporarily out of it, have them order it. It’s a big seller. Stores sometimes run out.

          Thanks so much for sharing your news of your son’s interest and work in organic gardening and farming. It’s a fine thing this movement is spreading worldwide. Also we love the photo you sent and hope to post that on our site also.

          • Thanks for the information about your book. My friend who had invited me to your talk at the RB Swim and Tennis Club last Thursday showed me her copy. (she bought the book on Thursday) It is beautiful. We even used it to help me propagate a bromeliad pup from the mother. She had given me the plant in January and we just completed the transplant on Sunday!!

            Here is one more picture of our son’s newest creation…..a friend of ours commissioned him to do this one.

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