Squash (and zucchini, a variety of squash) is a favorite in the spring and summer vegetable garden. So if you’re new to gardening or just struggling to successfully grow squash and zucchini, then this guide to growing squash is just what you need. I’ll tackle popular varieties of squash, how to grow them, common pests and diseases, and even how to preserve squash for use later. Let’s get started!
Why grow squash and zucchini?
I absolutely love growing squash and zucchini in our home vegetable garden. These vegetables are so versatile since they’re able to be used in side dishes, baked goods, soups, relishes, etc,
Squash and zucchini are also relatively easy to grow, and this includes starting them from seed directly in the garden, which is the method I choose almost every year. These low lying plants do get quite large, but they’re super easy to maintain, and can produce abundantly! (That’s good for you, and probably good for your neighbors.)
Summer vs. winter squash
There are two distinct families of squash for home gardeners to be aware of. Some squash varieties such as crookneck yellow squash and all zucchini are considered summer squash varieties. These grow in the warmer months of spring and summer and will finish up production before the fall.
However, there are also winter squash varieties such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata which are all larger, thicker skinned squash that should be planted in summer for a fall/early winter harvest. (This all depends on which zone you’re growing in, so be sure to check with your local extension office or the seed package itself.)
Popular varieties of squash and zucchini
There are some classic varieties of squash and zucchini that have been tried and true for years, but also some fun varieties if you’re looking to try something new and exciting!
Summer Squash Varieties:
- Black Beauty Zucchini– This is a popular zucchini variety with dark green skin. Easy to grow and delicious!
- Italian Striped Zucchini- As the name implies, this type has an Italian heritage and beautiful stripes along the zucchini.
- Crookneck Summer Squash– Another classic yellow squash common in summer gardens.
- Sunburst Squash– The fun shape of pattypan (or scalloped) squash with bright yellow skin.
- Delicata Squash– A sweet winter squash that tastes much like a sweet potato. Bake this one up with butter and brown sugar!
- Spaghetti Squash- Bright yellow, large, and perfect for anyone who enjoys swapping out a vegetable for pasta!
- Blue Hubbard Squash– Fun, bluish shaped fruit dominate the vines of this plant. Very sweet and stores well.
- Pink Banana Squash– Want to try something new? Try this jumbo pink banana squash, which can get up to 4 feet long! Sweet fruit with a lovely pink/orange skin.
Where to grow squash and zucchini
Squash varieties need at least 6 hours of sun to be most productive, so choose a spot in your yard or garden that fits this bill. Squash plants, whether summer or winter varieties, also require well-draining soil rich in organic matter. So be sure to add some fresh compost to your soil before planting.
As I’ll mention later, you also want to avoid growing squash in the same place year after year. This is especially true if you’ve had issues with squash vine borers or squash bugs in the past.
How to plant squash
- If growing from seed, be sure to plant 2-3 seeds per spot, in case of low germination.
- Squash are generally recommended to be grown on hills. Simply hill soil up in the place you’ve chosen for your squash plants. Squash hills don’t have to be tall, but several inches above the rest of the garden is sufficient.
- Place seeds in the top of the hill, cover with soil, and water well. Seeds should germinate within a week. If all seeds planted germinate, then thin the seedlings by removing one or two.
- If planting from seedlings purchased from the store or started indoors, be sure to first harden off the seedlings. Then, carefully plant the seedlings in your hills, taking care not to damage the roots. Water plants to help them establish.
Caring for squash plants
I find squash to be some of the lowest maintenance plants in the spring and summer vegetable garden. With good soil, they will flourish and produce well.
Keep soil around the squash plants damp, but they’re also fine to dry out a bit between waterings. For summer varieties especially, their wide leaves will help to shade the soil, helping the soil to not dry out too quickly. Mulching around the plants can also help to keep the soil moist.
Fertilizing squash and zucchini
Use a general, good quality fertilizer once the plants are established, choosing one that is lower in nitrogen. A high nitrogen fertilizer can encourage lots of green leaves and not as many blooms.
Pruning squash and zucchini
While pruning squash may not seem like something you’d need to do, pruning squash and zucchini will encourage air flow. As with pruning other bushy plants, like tomatoes (See my guide to pruning tomatoes), pruning can help reduce the chance of powdery mildew. See this great video from MiGardener for a guide to pruning squash and zucchini.
How to harvest squash and zucchini
Now the fun part, harvesting your squash! No matter the variety, winter or summer, how do you know when your squash is ready to be harvested?
For summer squash and zucchini, you’ll know by the size. Large summer squash and zucchini generally do not taste as great. In fact, if you happen to forget to check your plants and come outside to a 2-foot zucchini, then I always recommend zucchini bread! So harvest your squash and zucchini when they’re 6-10 inches long, depending on the variety.
Use a sharp paring knife to cut the squash away from the plant at the stem. Pulling or twisting the fruit off may result in dislodging the entire plant or breaking the stem off, exposing the inside of the squash. If this happens, just plan to use that squash as soon as possible.
For winter squash, which many typically grow on vines, read the seed package for how many days until harvest. You can also pay attention to the color of the fruit itself. Don’t harvest squash that hasn’t yet reached its proper coloring. For a full guide on harvesting and curing winter squash, check out this article from Savvy Gardening.
Storing and preserving squash
For summer squash and zucchini, they can be store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Be watchful for soft spots, especially on zucchini and try to use them within a week of harvesting.
For preserving squash and zucchini, I personally like to freeze it for use later. See my instructions for how to freeze zucchini (also works for squash). Canning and pickling squash and zucchini is a fun way to preserve them as well. Feasting at Home has an easy recipe for quick pickled squash. Check it out!
Winter squash varieties can typically be stored much longer if properly cured. Thinner skinned varieties, such as delicata, don’t tolerate long term storage as well as others. See the Savvy Gardening article above for full instructions on how to cure winter squash before storing.
Common squash pests and diseases
Alas, squash are not completely worry free. There are some pests and a few diseases that tend to gravitate toward these prolific producers. I do tend to stay away from chemical pesticides, and instead choose to handle pests with natural methods. My book Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden is a complete guide to handling pests in the vegetable garden without the use of chemical pesticides.
Squash and zucchini pests
- Vine Squash Borers– These pests have been my personal nemesis for a few years, but the last two season have been so much better. This is mainly due to crop rotation and watching for eggs. The moths of this pest lay eggs near the base of squash plants. The eggs then hatch and the worm bores into the stem and eats its way up the plant. A healthy looking squash plant will suddenly look as though it hasn’t been watered in a week. See my full post on preventing squash vine borers.
- Squash bugs– The name is fitting for these pests that enjoy squash, zucchini, and cucumber plants. Be on the lookout for these pests and their eggs on the underside of leaves. See this full guide on the Farmer’s Almanac site.
- Powdery Mildew– This condition appears on the leaves and looks like a fine white powder. Find out how to combat and prevent powdery mildew in my article here.
- Downy Mildew– Though not an actual mildew like powdery mildew, downy mildew produces grayish spores on the underside of leaves. Pruning and good air flow can be preventatives for downy mildew.
FAQ’s on growing squash
Can squash and zucchini grow in containers? Yes, the summer varieties especially can be grown in containers. Be sure to use rich soil and to choose a container large enough for the size of the plants.
What other plants grow well with squash? The classic Three Sisters, the combination of corn, beans (which grow up the corn stalk), and squash or zucchini is a long-time favorite of gardeners.
I’d love to know your favorite variety of squash and zucchini to grow in the garden, as well as any tips you may have. Comment below and share your ideas!