Botanical name: Cucurbita
Plant type: Vegetable
USDA Hardiness Zones: Varies
Sun exposure: Full Sun
Soil type: Loamy
Squash is a seasonal vegetable. It is very susceptible to frost and heat damage, but with proper care it will produce a bumper crop with very few plants.
There are many varieties of summer squash to choose from, including zucchini. The main difference between winter and summer varieties is their harvest time; the longer growing period gives winter squash a tougher, inedible skin. Here are their various botanical names: Cucurbita pepo (Summer squash/Zucchini), C. maxima (True winter), C. pepo (Acorn, delicata, spaghetti) , C. moschata (butternut).
- Start seeds indoors 2 to 4 weeks before last spring frost in peat pots.
- Do not seed or tranplant seeds outside until the soil temperature is 55 to 60º F for successful germination. Usually, you can seed any time from one week after the last spring frost to midsummer. You may be able to have two crops per season if you time it right.
- The outside planting site needs to receive full sun; the soil should be moist and well-drained, but not soggy
- Work compost or aged manure into the soil before planting for a rich soil base.
- To germinate outside, use cloche or frame protection in cold climates for the first few weeks.
- When you transplant, take care not to damage the root ball.
- Plant seeds one inch deep and 2 to 3 feet apart.
- Most summer squashes now come in bush varieties, but winter squash is a vine plant and needs more space. They will need to be thinned in early stages of development.
- Mulch plants to protect shallow roots, discourage weeds, and retain moisture.
- Plants love lots of compost and will produce better if well fed. When the first blooms appear, apply a small amount of fertilizer as a side dress application and water thoroughly.
- After harvest begins, fertilize occasionally for vigorous growth and lots of fruits.
- For all type of squash, frequent and consistent watering is recommended. Water most diligently when fruits form and throughout their growth period.
- To know when to water, use the finger method. Put your finger in the soil and if it's dry beyond the first joint, it needs watering.
- If your fruits are misshapen, they might not have received enough water or fertilization.
- If your zucchini blooms flowers but never bears actual zucchini, or it bears fruit that stops growing when it's very small, then it's a pollination issue. Most squashes have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. To produce fruit, pollen from male flowers must be physically transferred to the female flowers by bees. If you do not have enough bees, you can manually pollinate with a Q-tip—or, add nearby plants that attract bees!
- Cucumber Beetle (link to pest page)
- Squash Bug (link to pest page)
- Squash Vine Borer (link to pest page)
- Blossom End Rot: If the blossom ends of your squash turn black and rot, then your squash have blossom-end rot. This condition is caused by uneven soil moisture levels, often wide fluctuations between wet and dry soil. It can also be caused by calcium levels. To correct the problem, water deeply and apply a thick mulch over the soil surface to keep evaporation at a minimum. Keep the soil evenly moist like a wrung out sponge, not wet and not completely dried out.
- Stink Bug: If your squash looks distorted with dippled area, the stink bugs overwintered in your yard. You need to spray or dust with approved insecticides and hand pick in the morning. Clean up nearby weeds and garden debris at the end of the season to avoid this problem.
- Aphids (link to pest page)
- Harvest summer squash when small and tender for best flavor. Most varieties average 60 days to maturity, and are ready as soon as a week after flowering.
- Check plants everyday for new produce.
- Cut the gourds off the vine rather than breaking them off.
- Fresh summer squash can be stored in the refrigerator for up to ten days.
- Harvest winter squash when rind is hard and deep in color, usually late September through October.
- Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dark place until needed. It will last for most of the winter. If you have a cool bedroom, stashing them under the bed works well. They like a temperature of about 50 to 65 degrees F.
- Freezing Summer squash: Wash it, cut off the ends, and slice or cube the squash. Blanch for three minutes, then immediately immerse in cold water and drain. Pack in freezer containers and freeze.
- Freezing Winter squash: Cook as you normally would, then mash. Pack in freezer containers.
- Pull up those vines and compost them after you've picked everything or after a frost has killed them. Then till the soil to stir up the insects a bit.
- ‘Goldbar’ (yellow summer)
- ‘Cocozelle’ (zucchini) dark green, slender
- ‘Butterbush’ (butternut)
‘Cream of the Crop’ (acorn hybrid, prize winning)
Wit & Wisdom
Squash flowers make a tasty treat when fried in a light batter.