Summer squash is easy to grow and prolific. A couple of plants provide plenty for a family to eat all summer long. Learn how to grow summer squash and provide your friends and neighbors with fresh produce too!
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Squash are separated into two main groups – summer and winter.
Summer squash (mostly Cucurbita pepo) are harvested immature before skin has time to harden and used fresh. Skin is easily pierced with fingernail. (Think zucchini and yellow squash.)
Winter squash (Curcubita maxima, C. mixta, C. moshata, and some C.pepo) are allowed to mature on the vine and can be stored for several months. The skin is thicker and tough to pierce. (Think butternut and spaghetti.) This post describes how to grow winter squash.
5 Tips for Growing Summer Squash
1. Plant several types of summer squash
Popular varieties of summer squash range from white to dark green and yellow, striped, solid, round, long, and disc-shaped. Although they are similar, some differences exist in flavor, texture, and use.
- Patty pan squash has a tougher texture and holds up better in soups and stews.
- Zucchini is medium textured, and some cylindrical squash (such as Lebanese) have a more tender texture.
- Other types of squash are excellent stuffed or have larger than average blossoms which are also edible.
- There are also disease-resistant cultivars worth trying.
Plant a variety of cultivars to keep things interesting in the garden and the kitchen.
Lebanese squash – Mild tasting; short-season variety (50 days); tender; good baked or fried.
Yellow squash – There are as many varieties of this type are there are of the color yellow. Firm flesh. Good grilled, roasted, or baked. Early variety (45 days). Prolific and good for small spaces or containers.
Luffa is a delicious variety of summer squash when harvested young (before insides become fibrous).
Black beauty zucchini – Very easy to grow; has good flavor.
Looking for more summer squash varieties to try? This post shares 8 of my favorite.
2. Plant squash at the right time for your climate
Summer squash varieties grow best directly sown from seed or very young transplants. If you use transplants, handle carefully to avoid damaging roots.
If starting seeds indoors, sow seeds 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost. Seeds sprout in 3 -10 days. Plant transplants outside when they are very young for best results. Squash seeds are available on Seedsnow.com.
Check local planting guides for your planting dates. It will be after your last frost date; squash prefer warm soil (70-90°F).
In the low desert of Arizona, planting dates are mid-February through March and again from mid-August into September to take advantage of monsoon moisture. (Start seeds indoors January – February and July – August.)
3. Plant and care for growing squash correctly
Choose a location that gets plenty of sun. (Afternoon shade is preferred in hot summer areas.)
Plant summer squash seeds 1/2 – 1 inch deep in well-draining soil that has been amended with compost.
If using square foot gardening, allow 1-2 squares for each plant depending on the variety. I like to plant squash on the ends or corners of the beds, to allow them extra room.
For hill planting, plant six seeds ¾ to 1 inch deep in hills spaced 3-6 feet apart. Thin to 2-3 plants per hill.
For row planting, follow the spacing guidelines on the back of your seed packet. Generally space plants 12-24″ apart.
Water squash deeply and often. Squash plants require plenty of water. Mulch area well to prevent moisture loss. Squash plants grow well with an oya (olla).
Fertilize summer squash when the first blooms appear. I use this fertilizer from Amazon.
If female fruits are withering and not getting pollinated, you may need to hand-pollinate. To hand-pollinate, transfer pollen from the male stamen to the female pistil.
Tips for Hand-Pollination
- Blossoms open first thing in the morning; check plants daily for new blossoms.
- You can remove the male blossom; pick off or pull back the petals and rub the stamen against the pistil of the female blossom to transfer the pollen.
- Or keep the male flower attached and use a cotton swab or paint brush to transfer the pollen from the male flower to the female flower.
4. Check summer squash plants daily for pests and disease
Squash plants are susceptible to pests and diseases. Daily vigilance can prevent small problems from getting out of control.
Check undersides of leaves for squash bug eggs, and dispose of leaves. Pick off adults by hand. Other effective treatments for squash bugs include: row covers, crop rotation, vertical gardening, board traps, and planting resistant varieties.
If powdery mildew is present, pick and dispose of (not in compost) affected leaves. Use a baking soda solution, milk solution, or sulfur spray to prevent and treat powdery mildew. I use a hose-end sprayer (dilute according to directions) once a week until no new powdery mildew appears. Pull severely infected plants; they will not produce well.
Spray infestations of whiteflies or aphids with water. Sticky traps can also be helpful for aphids. Pick and destroy heavily infested leaves.
Read here for more tips to prevent pests and diseases organically in the garden.
5. Harvest summer squash early and often
- Squash grows quickly. What is small one day is often ready to harvest the next day.
- Summer squash tastes best when small and tender.
- Harvest squash by cutting through the stem, not the main vine, with a sharp knife when fruits are 4-6 inches long.
- The seeds and skin will become tougher as they get larger.
Picking the fruit often also encourages production.
- Summer squash will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
Freeze-drying summer squash is a simple way to preserve extra harvests. Learn more about freeze-drying in this blog post.