Light requirements: Full sun.
Planting: Space 24 to 72 inches apart, depending on type. (Read the stick tag that comes with the plant for specific spacing recommendations.)
Soil requirements: All squash types need well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Work at least 3 inches of compost or other organic matter into soil prior to planting. Create raised beds if soil tends to be heavy and poorly draining.
Water requirements: Keep soil consistently moist throughout the growing season. Before vines begin to run, mulch soil lightly to reduce water evaporation. Once vines spread, leaves shade soil and act as living mulch.
Frost-fighting plan: Squash plants are sensitive to frost and are damaged by even a light frost (28º F to 32º F). It’s a good idea to protect newly planted seedlings from late spring frosts by covering plants with straw or a frost blanket. Do not let frost settle on late-season fruits of summer or winter squash. Frost-kissed winter squash won’t store well.
Common issues: Watch out for squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles. If pest problems start early in the season, grow plants beneath floating row covers. Squash can experience blossom end rot, where the end of developing fruits starts to rot. Powdery mildew often appears on leaves in late summer.
Harvesting: For best flavor, pick summer squash like crookneck and zucchini when fruits are small. Winter squash, like acorn, hubbard and butternut, should ripen as fully as possible on the vine, but gather all fruits before frost. Cut squash from vines, leaving an intact stem attached to squash. Having a stem section (one-half to 1 inch) is the secret to successful storage, both short- and long-term.
Storage: Refrigerate summer squash in a loosely closed plastic bag. It will stay at peak freshness and nutrition up to 5 days, and remain useable for up to 14 days (although it may become soft). Winter squash can be stored for varying lengths of time, from a couple weeks to several months. Hubbard and butternut store longest. Research best storage conditions for the type of winter squash you grow.
Growing squash is easier than you might think. Plant a buttery Yellow Crookneck, delicately flavoured Golden Scallop Pattypan, and a Black Beauty zucchini, and by time peak season rolls around, you could be picking several squash a day — more than enough to eat, freeze, and gift to friends and neighbors.
There is no hurry to harvest nutrient-rich “winter” squash like Acorn, Buttercup, and Butternut, which ripen to full maturity before they are picked. These varieties grow through the summer, but when stored properly, keep well into the colder months.
Quick Guide to Growing Squash
- Plant summer squash when all chances of frost have passed; winter squash can be planted in mid-summer.
- Give squash plants room to sprawl by planting them 3 to 6 feet apart. Grow them in an area that gets 6 or more hours of sun and has rich, well-drained soil.
- Give your native soil a nutrient boost by mixing in several inches aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Squash rely on consistent moisture but avoid wetting the leaves; 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly is best.
- Make the most of your food growing efforts by keeping plants fed with a continuous-release plant food.
- Feel free to harvest baby summer squash once they’re large enough to eat, or wait until they reach full size (usually 6 to 8 inches long).