Joseph Masabni, Assistant Professor and Extension Horticulturist; and Patrick Lillard, Extension Assistant, The Texas A&M System
Squash is a popular warm-season garden vegetable. Squash will grow well in all areas of Texas. Squash plants take up a lot of space, but because they are prolific producers it takes only a few plants to feed a family and all their neighbors.
Squash is one of the plants grown in the traditional Native American vegetable growing technique called the Three Sisters. The other two plants in the Three Sisters are beans and corn. Each plant had its role in this companion planting tradition. Corn served as a structure for the vining beans to grow up. Squash served as a ground cover to prevent weeds from growing. Beans provided natural fertilizer for all.
Like most veining vegetables, squash grows best in sandy, fertile soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
Remove all rocks and trash from the soil. Work it up several weeks before planting, but only when the soil is dry enough not to stick to garden tools.
Squash grows best in soils that have lots of organic matter. If possible, spread 2 to 3 inches of organic material such as compost, leaves, or rotted hay over the planting area. Then till to mix this organic material into the top 8 to 10 inches of soil.
Squash does not grow well in cool weather. Plant in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. For a good fall crop, plant early so squash will mature before the first killing frost.
Plant squash in hills 18 to 48 inches apart on rows 3 to 8 feet apart. The vining types, such as Hubbard or acorn, need more room than the bush types (Fig. 1.)
When seeding squash, plant five or six seeds about 1 inch deep in each hill (Fig. 2.) Water after planting the seed. After the seeds come up, thin them to three squash plants per hill (Fig. 3.)
Figure 1. Plant squash on rows 3 to 8 feet apart.
Figure 2. Plant five or six seeds in each hill.
Figure 3. When plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin to three plants per hill.
Add 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, for each 100 square feet of garden area. If you plan to grow only a few plants, use 2 to 3 tablespoons of fertilizer for each hill. Scatter the fertilizer evenly over a 2-foot by 2-foot area. Work it into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil.
Water the plants enough to keep them from wilting. If the weather is really dry, squash plants should be watered at least once a week. Sandy soils need to be watered more often than heavy clay soils.
Care during the season
Keep squash plants free of weeds. Hoe around the plants to remove small weeds. When hoeing, be careful not to damage the roots (Fig. 4.) Hand pull the weeds close to the plants.
When the first blooms appear, place about 2 tablespoons of garden fertilizer around each hill. Do not let the fertilizer touch the plants. Water the plants after fertilizing.
Figure 4. Hoe carefully near squash plants so you will not hurt the roots. Hoe no deeper than 1 inch.
Squash can get many diseases, especially when harvesting begins. Spray with an approved fungicide to help control most diseases. Ask your county Extension agent what fungicide to use, and follow all directions on the container.
Harvest yellow and green (summer) squash when the fruit and seeds are small. Always harvest mature squash so the plants will keep producing. Harvest winter (hard rind) squash when they are full sized, the skin is hard, and the bottom of the fruit is cream to orange colored. A light frost will not damage fruits of winter squash. Squash is best when cut, not pulled, from the vine.
Fresh squash adds color and variety to meals. Green and yellow squash are fair sources of Vitamins A and C. Winter squash is a good source of Vitamin A and has fair amounts of Vitamin C. Squash can be served in many ways from fried dishes to casseroles. Winter squash is often baked. Cook all types of squash only until tender to keep the vitamin content.
Green and yellow squash can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week. Winter squash can be stored for several months.
Old squash vines should be added to the compost pile or worked into the soil well before the spring planting season.
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By Amanda Moon.
One of my favorite vegetable plants to both grow and eat is squash.
This is a warm season crop (spring, summer, and fall) that comes in a multitude of colors and shapes. The two main groups are summer squash and winter squash.
Summer squash is generally planted after the last frost of spring. The Texas A&M gardening calendar suggests planting from mid-March through the first week of May.
For a fall crop, squash can be replanted from the second week of July until the first week of September.
Summer squash is harvested young, while the fruit is still tender and the seeds inside are immature. If you allow the fruit to mature and harden, it becomes almost inedible.
Recommended yellow summer squash varieties for our Central Texas region are Dixie, Early Prolific, Early Summer, and multipic. Recommended zucchini varieties are Aristocrat, President, Zuccini green and Zuccini grey.
Winter squash can be planted from mid-March to May and again from the second half of June until August 1.
Winter squash differs from their summer cousins because you have to allow them to grow to full size and become hard and dense. Winter squash has a longer crop time.
Both winter and summer squash should be harvested before the first frost or freeze of the fall.
Like all vegetables, squash needs a sunny, well- drained location to thrive. Working lots of organic matter such as compost with a balanced slow release organic fertilizer into the squash bed will insure success. We mix blood meal, bone meal, and cottonseed meal into the bed at planting time.
Remember, squash is a vine and can take up a lot of room. It only takes a few plants to feed a large family.
Plant your squash in hills that are 3 to 4 feet apart. Three to four seedlings per hill will make a good showing.
Pests to look out for are squash bugs and squash vine borers. The borers are particularly devastating: they bore through the stem of the plant and it then wilts and dies. Organic Spinosad and B.T. sprays are effective on these borers when used on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately squash is also susceptible to a leaf disease called powdery mildew. This leaf disease is mostly cured by careful watering. Wet leaves at night will certainly bring on mildew.
Water early and allow the leaves to dry before nightfall. If the problem persists, a spray of Serenade organic fungicide will help to slow the spread of this disease.
Good luck, and happy squash gardening!
If you have a gardening question, send it to me via email: [email protected] (Please put ‘Ask Chris Winslow’ in the subject line.) Or mail your letter or postcard to: Ask Chris Winslow. It’s About Thyme: 11726 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748
Squash Your Gardening Fears!
By Janice Brown
Can we just talk squash here for a moment? I just love squash! I love growing it. I love eating it. I love everything about it. Squash grows relatively well here in Texas, but there are two problems that can be a pain with growing this vegetable, so we will also talk about pests & diseases here too.
Squash comes in many different varieties such as the yellow summer squashes, zucchini, acorn, spaghetti, patty pan, cushaw , and butternut. Pumpkins are also a part of the squash family and can be grown in much the same way as its smaller siblings. Those of you who are a little further north have a better chance at growing pumpkins than those of us who are closer to the coast because you are less susceptible to powdery mildew.
Understanding and Preventing Pests
The two problems that plague squash are powdery mildew and squash vine borers. One is a disease and the other an insect. Powdery mildew is a fungus that begins as a white powdery growth on the tops and bottoms of leaves and turns leaves yellow soon after. It spreads rapidly, so at first sign, start treating. The good thing is organic copper fungicides work really well on getting the disease under control. Since we had such a warm, dry winter, mustard greens in many of the gardens I manage had powdery mildew. I used Bonide Copper Fungicide and it worked well. The best thing to do is just get a good organic fungicide and begin a regular spraying routine after planting to prevent the disease from forming.
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The next issue is the loath worthy squash vine borer. This nemesis of mine comes in a small package, but does big damage. It looks like a small wasp, with a red body and black wings. It does its damage by laying eggs on the squash plant stem. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the base of the stems of the plant and begin to eat the tissue in the stem. The result is that your plants look healthy and are full of squash one day and the next day they’re dead and you don’t know why. If you look closely at the stems and see a tiny hole with what looks like sawdust around it, it’s a squash vine borer.
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There are several ways to combat this pest. First, I suggest covering plants with row covers until stems get hard enough that the larvae can’t bore into them. This also prevents the adult from laying eggs on the stem. However, this also keeps pollinator insects from getting in to pollinate the flowers from which the squash develops. So you can hand pollinate by taking a cotton swab and using it to rub the center of each flower to collect and transfer the pollen. This is what bees usually do for us as they gather nectar.
Other methods of control include:
- Vigilantly keeping watch for tiny holes with brown “sawdust” around them. As soon as you see one, shine a flashlight under the stem to illuminate the borer on the inside. Once you’ve located it, stick a pin right through that little bugger! I know this seems cruel, but once you’ve seen the damage it can do you’ll be more than okay with this.
- Cutting larvae out by slitting stems with a knife and stabbing the borer. Bury the slit/damaged stem in the ground and hopefully it will root and you won’t lose the plant. This works best with vining plants.
- Wrapping the stems with strips of nylon stockings, to prevent the larvae from getting in them.
- Trapping the adult moths with yellow sticky traps. They’re attracted to yellow.
- Getting rid of finished vines and tilling the soil in the fall and spring to get rid of overwintering pupae because these can hatch and damage next year’s crop.
- Planting squash in a different location each year, so that if some pupae do overwinter in the soil, they won’t find the new plants.
- Planting extra squash. Some for you and some for the bores. There are only so many eggs they can lay and they shouldn’t be able to damage all of your plants.
- Planting really early (March) and then again really late (August) to get harvests while they’re not as active.
Squash can grow in two ways, on vines and on upright plants, usually referred to as bushing squash. For small gardens, bush types are better because they don’t need as much space. Vines can quickly take over, but if borers damage vines, it’s easier to bury parts of vines to regenerate growth.
Plant seeds or transplants in March and April after danger of freezes are over. Mix a good well-balanced fertilizer into soil prior to planting. All squash need good drainage, so planting in a raised bed or hilling up soil is a must. To hill, mound up a hill about 6inches high and plant 2-3 seeds in a group about 3-4 feet apart. Once plants start to grow, you will thin groups to one healthy plant. As soon as blooms occur fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer. For example, a 7-0-0. Keep fertilized from then on with the balanced fertilizer every 2-3 weeks.
Note the harvest size on packages when planting to determine how big fruit should be for harvesting. Most summer squash is ready at 4-6 inches zucchini at 6-8. Different varieties will be different sizes, but make sure to pick any variety, before they start to get hard. The smaller, the tenderer so don’t worry about picking too early.
On the Grow is a garden coaching service launched by Janice Brown to teach people how to be successful gardeners in the sometimes difficult, Gulf Coast climate. On the Grow provides garden education for the home gardener, children in outdoor classrooms, neighbors in community gardens, and employees in workplace gardens. Whether you want a new idea for a girls’ night out, a new way to engage children in nature, or want to implement a fresh wellness program in your company, On the Grow is here for you. Your coach will take you step by step teaching you the basics, while presenting you with a fresh perspective by helping you experience the healing benefits of gardening. Our mission at On the Grow is to help everyone experience the joy of a garden and build a greater connection to Mother Earth. Connect with One The Grow on Facebook and Twitter!
By Erin McIntyre
Squashes earn their space in the garden, both by producing abundantly throughout the summer and also by storing well, tucked away until they can be made into savory dishes long after the snow flies.
Gardeners have their pick of dozens of different kinds of squashes — patty pans, crooknecks, acorn squash, even warty pumpkins. How does one choose the perfect squash to plant in the garden? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for, says Carol O’Meara, a self-described squash enthusiast and extension agent for Colorado State University.
Looking for fast results and for a go-to producer that will keep you busy all summer? That’s what summer squash is all about. Are you patient and willing to grow a vining plant that takes months to produce a long-lasting squash ready in the fall? Then it’s winter squash you want. Many gardeners opt to plant both, to satisfy a desire for delicious squash through the heat of summer and a reward that lasts after the garden frosts.
Both winter and summer squashes are planted in the spring, though summer squashes — such as zucchini — are eaten throughout the summer. Winter squashes are eaten in fall and winter, after they fully mature.
“Summer squash is typically eaten as an immature fruit,” O’Meara says. “The skin is still really buttery soft and there is little to no seed developing in the fruit.”
Because gardeners are continually picking these fruits, it encourages the plant to produce more, she explains, leading to summer squashes’ reputation for yielding bumper crops.
Winter squashes, on the other hand, spend all season maturing. They have a rind that hardens to protect the seeds within, nestled in flesh meant to nurture the next generation of plants. While summer squashes can produce edible fruits within 60 days of planting, winter squashes can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to harvest.
“We want that seed cavity to mature, we want that rind to harden and most importantly, we want all that flesh that’s really meant to support the seeds themselves,” O’Meara explains. “We want that for our own purposes because it’s the sweet flesh we’re after.”
Most winter squashes benefit from being cured for a few weeks after harvest, and will have sweeter flesh as a result. However, O’Meara cautions that rule does not apply to acorn squash, which becomes stringy and should be eaten soon after harvest.
While summer squashes are perfect for grilling, casseroles, and sautéing, winter squashes have dense, vitamin-rich flesh perfect for blending into soups and roasting. They serve different purposes, O’Meara says.
“I love that immediacy in the summer — the summer squashes lend themselves to so many kinds of cooking,” she says.
But she associates more of an emotional connection to winter squashes. “Winter squash is Thanksgiving to me,” she says.
Whether you’re looking for summer or winter squash to plant in your garden, these varieties will perform well in most zones.
Butterscotch Butternut Squash
This winter squash is “absolutely phenomenal,” O’Meara says, and grows robustly but in a more compact habit than traditional butternut squashes.
“It still vines, yes, but it’s not one of those that’s taking over the back 40,” she says.
The plant produces petite squashes, perfect for two people to enjoy.
These are incredibly versatile and a good staple for folks who are limiting carbohydrates in their diets, because the flesh mimics the texture of pasta, O’Meara notes.
“There are so many recipes out there you can do with a spaghetti squash,” she says. “Chicken Parmesan baked into spaghetti squash halves is delicious and it’s a great weeknight dinner.”
This earthy winter squash has a nutty flavor profile, and it’s not sweet like some other winter squashes.
“It’s a Japanese pumpkin, essentially, and it is so incredible in soups or in risottos,” recommends O’Meara.
O’Meara describes this torpedo-shaped squash as a “crowd pleaser” with incredible sweetness that roasts well.
“People who say they don’t like squash like Delicata,” she says.
These excellent keepers will store up to six months, and have a reputation for their impressive size.
“They’re essentially the size of a mid-sized hippo,” O’Meara says, noting that some can be in the 20-pound range. Hubbard squash is useful for preserving, but there are miniature varieties that are well suited for those without freezer space.
O’Meara was impressed by two varieties she grew in 2015 — the Costata Romanesco and Bossa Nova zucchinis. Costata Romanesco has distinctive ribbing on its green fruits and features a nutty flavor. Bossa Nova produces dark and light green mottled fruits, which have a sweet, mild taste.