Squash is one of the most frequently grown and cultivated plants in vegetable gardens. The main reason why growing squash is so popular among gardeners is that the crop is generally easy to grow. It is also capable of establishing itself in various parts and regions of the US.
An Overview of Growing Squash Plants
Squash plant is one of the easiest plants to grow. It is a productive annual plant that also looks beautiful in any vegetable garden. What’s great about squash, especially if you grow one at home, is that it is not only a substantial producer of the crop but also comes in different varieties – most of which are very easy to grow.
Regardless of what squash variety you decide to grow, you will be delighted to know that you will not have problems caring for it. In most cases, you only need to provide your squash plants with plenty of sun and well-drained soil for it to produce and grow well.
Whether you grow winter or summer squash plants, the vegetable garden requirements will be the same. This makes it necessary to look for a suitable spot for them and create the ideal soil pH level regardless of the type you decided to grow.
Quick Facts About Squash
- Botanical name: Genus cucurbita
- Plant family: Cucurbitaceae
- Size upon maturity: Around ten inches when it is ready for harvest
- Soil type and pH level: Sandy and fertile; well-drained soil; 6.0 to 6.5 pH level, which is a bit acidic
- Sunlight exposure: Full and direct sunlight – at least 6 hours
- Water requirements: 1 to 2 inches water per week
- Bloom time: Around 35 to 45 days after planting depending on your chosen variety and the temperature
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 2 to 11
Squash Plant Varieties
There are different types and varieties of squash that are appropriate to grow in your own garden. You can divide its varieties into two, namely the summer squash varieties and the winter squash varieties:
Summer squash refers to varieties that tend to grow rapidly, often in around sixty days. You can also harvest them the entire summer when they are still young. They usually have thin and tender skin.
One thing to note about the plant summer squash, though, is that despite being soft, delicious, and edible, it seems to be incapable of storing well. Once picked, you have to eat them. The most common types of squash plants under this classification are the following:
- Pattypan or scalloped
- Gray or dark green zucchini plants
- Yellow squash or crookneck
- Straight neck
Compared to summer squashes, the winter squash variety tends to have slower growth. You can harvest winter squashes only after around 80 to 110 days. Upon maturity, this squash holds a rich shade or color prior to harvest.
You will also notice that the skins of winter squashes are more protective and thicker, which means that they tend to last longer once stored. Among the most common varieties under this classification are the following:
- Cushaw delicious
Bush Squash Vs Vining Squash Varieties
Aside from the summer and winter squash, you can also find bush and vining plants. Here is a brief overview of each one:
You can expect the bush variety to be really compact, making it perfect to grow in pots or containers. The reason behind its compactness is its inability to produce big amounts of fruit. The most popular bush type squash varieties are acorn squash and yellow squash.
It is also important to note that the compact bush variety is more suitable to grow in a container considering the fact that they are incapable of producing side vines, also the reason why it is more compact. Despite that, this plant is still capable of producing substantial amounts of fruit.
What the plant is capable of is producing fruits simultaneously. If that is the case, it is highly likely for the entire harvest to be drastically affected in case something is wrong with the plant, like when it is infested by pests.
If you intend to grow a vining type, then take note that it is more suitable for growing in a pot or container. Note, though, that additional support may be necessary. The reason is the ability of this particular variety to grow plenty of leaves and side vines.
With those things, there may be a need for more space compared to the bush variety. If possible, use a trellis designed to add a vertical room, so you can improve the growing space in that area.
You may also grow zucchini variety as it tends to show vining tendencies, so there is a high chance for them to benefit greatly from a tomato cage or trellis.
Phases of Growth
When growing squash, take note that its growth can be divided into a few stages or phases. The usual ones are the following:
Germination is considered the first phase/stage of growth. It is the time when you can see the seed starting to sprout its roots. Provided they are growing in the appropriate conditions, expect the germination phase to take only around 3 to 4 days.
The seed can be expected to deliver roots and will begin having a plant stem while producing leaves. It would be ideal to find true leaves that are tinier versions of the usual squash leaves.
Growth of leaves and vines
As your squash continues to grow, expect it to start forming new stems and leaves. It is during this stage that you have to search for issues, like pest infestation, root rot, and powdery mildew. This is so you can resolve them right away.
Production of flowers and fruits
This last stage before you begin harvesting is the time when you will notice the plants starting to form both female flowers and male flowers. Through the pollinators, it is highly likely for squash plants to grow behind blossoms.
You will also notice its flowers drying up eventually and falling away, thereby stimulating the growth of fruits. If you decided to use a trellis, you have to give extra support to the growing plant, making it possible for the vine to last for a long time.
When Should You Plant Squash?
Classified as warm-weather plants, both winter and summer squashes need to be planted at the right time. In that case, you have to wait until you notice the soil temperature warming up to a minimum of 60 degrees F before you directly seed them. This can give you an assurance that the squash seeds will not rot prior to them sprouting.
Another option is sowing seeds in or inside a heated greenhouse around two to four weeks before the predicted or specified last frost date. This guideline is applicable when planning to grow transplants, too. Avoid setting out until the climate warms to around 60 to 70 degrees F.
Where to Plant and Cultivate Squash?
Squash is one of those plants that come in various sizes, flavors, shapes, and colorful patterns. With that said, this plant can definitely make your garden look more diverse and attractive. Note, though, that it also consumes plenty of space.
This is the reason why it is also an incredible idea to grow it in pots and containers. It allows you to enjoy the bountiful production of this crop without worrying too much about space. It is a good idea to use pots and containers as it gives you full control over the soil quality while preventing pests from feeding on them.
Also, when choosing a particular space for planting, keep in mind that it needs full sun, good air circulation, and warm weather to reach maturity. It also tends to achieve better growth when they are in zones 3 to 10. For short growing seasons, pick a bush variety guaranteed to mature quickly.
It is also crucial to learn the ideal space requirements when growing squash. Generally, it requires plenty of room for it to spread out. The amount of space needed, though, will be dependent on whether the variety you are growing is bush or vining.
For bush varieties, it is advisable to space each row at around four to six feet apart. Each plant should then be spaced at around fifteen to twenty inches apart.
If you are growing the vining variety, the required space for each row is around six to twelve feet apart. Each plant also needs to have a space of around twelve to fifteen inches in between.
In case you decide to cultivate them in hills, which a lot of gardeners actually love to do, space hills at around six to eight feet apart. You are allowed to space vining squash closer to each other, but it may cause difficulties in locating them because of all the growing leaves.
Creating the Most Appropriate Conditions for Growth
To increase the chances of your squash plants growing successfully, you have to make sure that you pick a spot where it receives full sun while having only a few weeds. It is ideal to plant them on flat ground.
The spot you have chosen in your garden also needs to have well-draining soil. Avoid planting under fences or trees or close to lawn sprinklers. Test the soil to determine if it is at the correct pH level, too.
The ideal pH range for squash plants is around 6.0 to 6.5 since they like the soil to be a bit acidic. Test the soil and correct or adjust accordingly. As much as possible, use a pH soil test for this.
If needed, you should correct or amend the soil pH level to make the squash plants grow well. Use well-decomposed compost or rich organic matter to amend garden soil. Also, take note that squash tends to thrive really well when it is in well-draining and nutrient-rich soil.
It would be best to layer a high-quality raised garden bed soil, compost, potting mix, and worm castings, so you can develop a healthy mix of soil rich in nutrients for your pots and containers.
How to Plant and Grow Squash?
To plant and cultivate squash, you can sow seeds directly into a garden. You may also start them indoors. In most cases, you can plant summer and winter squash in hills at a depth of around one inch.
Sow squash seeds only once the danger of frost already finished. It should also be after the soil reaches the ideal warmth. It would be best to limit to around four to five seeds for every hill.
You should then thin this down to around two to three plants per hill upon seeing that the seedlings already have real leaves. Also, it is ideal to keep the rows and hills of summer squash at around three to four feet apart. As for the winter squash, you need to space it at around four to five feet each and five to seven feet in between each row.
As for the hills, they should have a spacing of around three feet. You may also start squash indoors at around three to four weeks before the actual planting date. A wise advice is to begin seeds in peat pots.
However, ensure that the squash seedlings have no root disturbances at the time when you need to transplant them. You are allowed to plant around three to four seeds for every pot or container.
You should then thin them to around two plants afterward. Harden them off before planting in your garden so you can minimize the risk of them being shocked due to the transplant process.
Also, transplant only after the passing of all possible dangers that may be encountered due to frost. It is also a good idea to mulch to retain the right amount of moisture while lowering the risk of weeds.
How to Grow and Plant Squash in a Pot or Container?
Squash roots are not in favor of being transplanted. That said, you should sow seeds directly into a pot or container. Plant and cultivate seeds during the middle of spring, specifically after noticing the soil warming up. This should be around a couple of weeks after the frost.
To gain an advantage on your plantings, it is advisable to plant seeds indoors in a biodegradable container or pot around three to four weeks prior to the last frost. Using biodegradable pots makes it possible for you to directly plant and cultivate the entire pot into the soil, thereby ensuring that the roots stay intact.
Also, ensure that the container or pot has more than enough drainage holes. The pot or container should also be large enough and should be filled with rich potting mix. Water it regularly.
One more thing that you should do is to let the squash plants overflow from the container or pot in case there is still sufficient space to let them spread. The good news about these plants being in squash containers is that they can give you control over the quality of garden soil.
You also have an assurance that the seeds will remain warm early in the season than when you plant them directly on the ground.
How to Pollinate Squash?
One advantage of your decision to grow squash is that it has squash blossoms known for the power to attract pollinators. They can produce blooms or flowers in orange or yellow that also come in two types – male and female.
Expect male flowers to be responsible for producing pollen while the female flowers isare responsible for fruit production. There are actual special squash bee pollinators that visit a lot of squash species in North and Central America.
Note, though, that there are also other beneficial insects that have general feeding habits, like honey bees, who can visit your crops. However, hand-pollinating the squash may be necessary in case your area does not boast a huge bee population. It is also crucial if you intend to grow squash indoors.
You can do this process by taking a female and male flower then brushing the two together. Male flowers come with a straight stem as well as a stamen filled with pollen. As for the female flowers, their look can be somewhat likened to small cucumbers that grow beneath the flower.
There is also an orange stigma, which you can see in the middle, the specific part where you have to brush the anther of the male flower as a means of pollinating the female flower.
Caring for Squash
Once you have already planted squash, it is time to focus on its care requirements. If that is the case, you should start giving your squash plants proper care and attention based on these factors:
It would be ideal to plant and grow squash in well-drained and humus-rich soil. Make it a point to work organic compost in the soil, specifically during the autumn season, specifically before the actual planting.
Alternatively, you are allowed to spread compost in the garden bed the entire growing season. You may also grow bush varieties in a pot or container.
Light and Temperature
It would also be a great idea to put the pot and container where you grow the squash in a place where it can receive full sunlight directly. It should be a sunny spot, which allows your plant to receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight directly. This can help the plants grow at their best.
There is also a high chance for it to thrive well when they are in warm temperatures. The ideal temperature is usually at least 70 degrees. It is also advisable to warm the soil temperature to a minimum of 60 degrees F before sowing seeds; otherwise, you can’t expect the seeds to grow through proper germination.
Avoid making the plant get surrounded by an extremely low temperature. The reason is that this may lead to delayed or stunted growth.
It is also advisable to give your squash a sufficient amount of water. Ideally, this type of plant needs to receive around one inch of water weekly. You have to give your plants adequate hydration, especially at the time when they are still fruiting and budding.
Retain water in the garden soil with the help of around two to three inches of organic mulch surrounding the established plants’ base as you grow squash in a pot. Make sure that you spend time watering the plant, too. It should help in warding off and avoiding fungal diseases.
The best time to water your plants is in the morning, making it possible for them to receive more than enough sun to dry for a lot of hours. You also have to water during the morning, giving the plant a lot, so the sun can completely dry the foliage.
Squash is a popular heavy feeder, making it necessary to put on plenty of compost in the specific soil where you planted it. By doing that, your squash plants will definitely be able to do well. It is also possible to use compost tea for feeding squash every two weeks or so during the entire growing season.
The perfect time to harvest squash is actually dependent on the variety you decided to grow. If you are growing summer squash, like yellow squash and zucchini, for instance, you have to harvest them once they are already around 5 to 7 inches long.
Expect them to continue growing up to the time when you can already harvest them. Note that they are inherently capable of growing until you can readily harvest them. However, you should still avoid making them grow too long as very large ones also tend to have less flavor.
As for the winter squashes, expect them to be ready for harvest once they start possessing solid and deep colors. Regardless of the variety, you are allowed to cut them sensitively and delicately from the plant. The cutting should be around a couple of inches of stem, which also needs to have its end remaining.
How to Store Squash
In terms of storage, you can do so by putting this plant in a dark and warm space. The ideal places for storing are pantry shelves, cabinets, and root cellars.
If you intend to store squash for a prolonged period, you have to turn them regularly so you can prevent them from having bruises and soft spots. Stored properly, this crop can last for around 2 to 4 months.
Pests and Diseases
When growing squash, you should also be watchful of the possible pests and diseases that may afflict them as they are growing. You have to specifically keep an eye on the following:
This is a fungal disease that tends to attack the plant’s foliage especially when the environment is damp and cool. In most cases, powdery mildew appears during the fall. It causes the leaf surfaces to have a dusty gray shade. You may control this disease with the help of a high-quality fungicide.
You can often see squash bugs causing a problem on mature plants. The infected plants may experience significant damage to their foliage. These squash pests also tend to strip off the leaves of your plants.
You can easily control the bugs if they are still in their nymph stage. However, once they reach the adult stage, controlling them would be almost impossible. Still, there are ways to trap them – one of which is to put cardboard around the affected plants.
Expect them to hide there during the daytime, which is a good way to trap and destroy them. You should also introduce beneficial insects that will help lessen the number of squash bugs affecting your crops.
Squash Vine Borers
A squash vine borer refers to a clear-winged moth, capable of laying eggs close to the squash vine’s base. These squash borers often affect different varieties of squash, especially the yellow zucchini.
Prevent squash vine borers from infecting your plant by planting varieties that are not prone to it, like butternut squash. Avoid summer squash varieties, especially zucchini, because they are not that resistant to these borers.
It also helps to practice crop rotation, which requires you to avoid planting squash in garden beds where you have grown melons and cucumbers the past year. Setting traps can also help – one of which is a yellow bowl or bucket with water.
Put this around your plant to attract adult vine borers. They are often attracted to yellow, so expect them to fly to the bucket of water, causing them to drown. You may also use yellow sticky traps.
Whether it is the striped or the spotted type, cucumber beetles can cause a problem as they tend to attack seedlings right after they emerged from the ground or soil. They may damage a significant number of squashes, causing them to get stunted or killed.
There is also a tendency for overwintering beetles to carry around the disease called bacterial wilt. They may spread this disease to the plants upon feeding. You can control these beetles with the aid of a safe and effective insecticide.
Blossom end rot
There is also what we call the blossom end rot. You can prevent this problem by keeping the soil where you are planting rich in calcium. Test the soil and make some appropriate amendments to keep its calcium level high.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the secret to growing squash?
The secret to growing squash is choosing the right variety based on the area or environment where you intend to grow it. You also have to plant it at the appropriate time depending on the season when you plan to harvest squash.
Provide it with the kind of environment that it is asking for, like a place with full of direct sunlight and well-nourished soil. This is the key to growing squash successfully.
Does squash need to climb?
Yes, they may need to climb, especially if you can’t provide plenty of space in your garden. In that case, you may also train squash to grow vertically. This is possible with the help of any kind of support, like a trellis.
How long does it take to grow a squash?
This depends on the variety but the usual period for squash growth is around 60 days. This is often the average period it takes to achieve mature squash that can produce fruits approximately a week after it produces flowers.