How to Grow Squash

I love growing squash. It’s an incredibly generous vegetable: easy to grow, fun to harvest, and full of variety. In our garden, the zucchini plants have already produced several beautiful dark green zucchini, even before we’ve harvested the last of our cool-season cabbage.

One of our first zucchini of the season, harvested in mid-April. I grew this variety from seed, a hybrid seed from Johnny’s Selected Seeds called Dunja. It’s extremely resistant to powdery mildew, having survived that week of intense and unusual (for SoCal) rain we had in April.

Summer Squash & Winter Squash

I used to think that winter squash was squash you plant in the winter. Wrong! I’m glad I learned last year because winter squash is amazing! There are basically two types of squash: summer and winter.

  • Summer squash (e.g., zucchini, patty pan, scallop) is squash you harvest when the squash is young, and the skin is tender. It typically grows along a spine, but that spine isn’t as long as the vines of winter squash.
  • Winter squash (e.g., acorn, delicata, hubbard, pumpkins, spaghetti) is squash that you harvest when the skin is tough. It grows on long vines, and you can typically store the squash for weeks to months–sometimes through the whole winter.

Be sure to give both types of squash plenty of water and fertilizer (they are heavy feeders and are highly comprised of water). Also, consider growing both types of squash vertically to save space.

I’ve given this scallop squash a pole to support its growth upward. Notice I’ve also trimmed the lower leaves to promote air flow and reduce opportunities for disease to set in.

Grow Vertically

I don’t know who thought of growing winter squash vertically, but they’re a genius. It’s important to keep in mind that summer and winter squash are different in terms of their vining habits. Don’t try and grow zucchini up and over a squash arch; it has shorter and stockier spines that are better suited to a single pole (see the image above) or a tomato cage. As the spine grows, support it by gently tying it to a vertical pole. To create an even better growing environment, trim the leaves close to the ground to promote air flow and reduce chances for damp powdery mildew to take over. When you trim the leaves, cut them really close to the spine where the branch is solid and not hollow.

This is a winter squash (red kuri) that is ready to grow up our squash arch. It’s been a couple weeks since I took this photo and the squash has made it up a couple feet already. In the background you can see zucchini growing!

Increase Production

I used to get this squishy, kind of gross-looking squash on my plants and I researched forever looking for a disease or pest that was causing what I called “sad fruit.” Eventually I learned that these squash were the result of lack of pollination. What? Aren’t the bees doing that? I don’t know. We have two–count them two–entire hives on our property. I don’t bee keep–they volunteered to live here and we welcome them. They buzz around, loving our sage and borage and roses and petunias. But I guess they’re too busy to pollinate squash. So now I do it, by hand. And you will probably need to do the same if you want a lot of good squash and very little “sad fruit.”

This is some “sad fruit.” It has not been pollinated so I trim it off ASAP. That way, the plant knows it needs to produce more. If you touch the squash, you’ll find it has a icky squishy feel. Pollinated squash is firm.
This is the same scallop squash variety, with a pollinated (and firm) fruit.

So how do you hand pollinate your squash? That part’s easy. I use a small, long paint brush (for acrylic painting) but you could use a q-tip. You simply take pollen from the stamen of a male flower and deposit it in the center of a female flower. Male flowers occur at the end of long stems. Female flowers occur at the end of a squash fruit. You won’t always have male and female blossoms open and available at the same time, which is frustrating but often solved by having more than one squash plant. I’ve also been known to walk over to a neighbor’s and ask for a male squash flower. It’s an odd request, but no one’s ever rejected my request!

That’s it on squash for now. Let me know how your squash are doing, what varieties you like, and what you’re excited to grow this year. I can’t wait to see our Starry Night Acorn and Red Kuri winter squashes. I’m also looking forward to seeing Benning’s Green Tint and Jaune et Verte scallop squash!