Growing squash in a garden requires a little bit of know-how and plenty of room, but when done right, you and the neighbors will be eating a lot of squash with relatively few plants. There are several varieties of summer squash that include yellow squash like Crook Neck and Straight Neck and varieties of Zucchini like Cousa and Striped Romanesco and many others.
You will want to wait to plant your squash once the threat of frost is gone. Check for your last spring frost date in your area before planting. You can also check your first fall frost date there, because if you are in zones 5 or warmer, you can plant a crop of squash 12 weeks before your first fall frost date. Doing this helps you avoid the potential for many insects that are known to attack squash when planted in early spring.
Because squash plants grow to be 3 to 6 feet wide, plant according to spacing on the label or pot. Sew your seeds on raised mounds or raised rows and in about 7 or 8 weeks you will start harvesting your prized squash for dinner. Sewing multiple seeds and then thinning them out and transplanting them is sometimes a good option.
Summer squash like a nutrient rich soil consisting of composted manure and organic matter like shredded leaves that will help this massive plant develop a vast root system. Like the rest of the garden, squash prefers a soil pH of 6 to 6.7. Soil conditioner and peat moss are other good options when amending heavy clay soils. Check out why we amend different soils.
Squash are different than many other plants due to the fact that they have male and female flowers. Male flowers will show up 1 or 2 weeks ahead of the female flowers. Female flowers are the only ones to set fruit while the male flowers produce the pollen to cross-pollinate it. The female flower is distinguishable, as it will be the one with the fruit attached to it. The male flower will be attached directly to the stem, where it will fall off the plant once it is done.
Watering is crucial as these plants like to stay well hydrated but don’t like to stay soaking wet. Soaker hoses are certainly a better option than overhead watering as this will prevent foliar diseases. Overhead watering can also chase off the bees that are critical for cross pollination as well as wash away pollen.1 inch of water a week is recommended. Rain gauges are great to have, as they can tell you when supplemental water is needed when there is an absence of rain.
A slow release granular fertilizer works well for those people with limited time. This fertilizer will continue to feed for 3 months and it includes micronutrients that may have been depleted from gardens of years past. For those people with a little more time, water soluble fertilizers like Miracle Gro will feed your plants every 2 weeks and will help produce large yields. For those Organic gardeners, fish fertilizer works great as well.
Like any plant with male and female flowers, there is the problem of cross-pollination. If there is an absence of cross-pollinators (bees, bugs and wind) then there naturally is an absence of fruit. This will usually only happen on unhealthy plants in a nutrient deficient soil. Squash vine borers and cucumber beetles can be a real problem later in the season for mature squash plants. Keeping plants healthy will be your best defense against these insects and others, as many insects are more likely to attack floundering plants.
Crop rotation is crucial for a healthy garden. Crop rotation means that you plant each type of crop in a different place in the garden than you did the year before. Doing this helps prevent nutrient deficiencies in your plants and fruit, as certain crops use more of certain nutrients than others.
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