There’s nothing like freshly-grown squash from the summer garden, and if you have a raised garden beds, you’re in luck – all varieties of squash are easy to grow in these conditions. Here’s everything you need to know about how to grow squash in a raised bed.
How to set up a raised bed
Before you plant squash in a raised bed, let’s consider how to prepare your raised garden for planting squash or any other spring or summer vegetable or herb. (Don’t have a raised bed yet? Get my instructions for how to build a simple raised bed in just a few hours!)
Soil is the key component no matter what you’re growing. Fill your garden bed with a good quality soil and even consider using my DIY Garden Soil recipe to fill your raised bed much more cheaply and efficiently than buying bags and bags of soil. The goal is to have well-draining, nutrient rich soil for your plant to thrive in. If you have that, then the gardening just might be the easy part.
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If your raised bed already has soil in it from seasons past, add a generous amount of organic matter to fertilize the soil in the raised beds – this will work wonders for your plants! Adding fresh compost after each season helps to invigorate the soil and is not a step you should skip between plantings.
And if you haven’t in the last year or so, I recommend having a soil test done, so you’ll know if your existing soil is lacking anything. This will help you to amend your soil efficiently. (Check out my Youtube video all about why having your soil tested is important.)
So fill your raised bed with good quality, well-drained soil or top off your existing soil with fresh organic matter, then you’re ready for planting squash!
Popular Varieties of squash to grow in raised beds
There are so many different varieties of squash to choose from, straight neck, crookneck, butternut, delicata, and more! Choosing the kind of squash to grow in your raised bed vegetable garden really depends on what you enjoy eating and what you’d like to try growing.
Each summer, I grow the classic crookneck summer squash, as well as delicata squash, and this past year, I tried a new variety of Tahitian Melon Squash which looked like a large butternut with a long curved neck. They were delicious! Here are some recommendations of popular squash varieties broken down by type:
- Yellow Crookneck Squash: A summertime classic squash with curved necks and bright yellow flesh.
- Lemon Squash: These squash literally look like lemons as they grow and develop. These are wonderful for smaller raised beds.
- Scallop Squash: These yellow summer squash have a scalloped edge and are round and flat. They’re great if you’re looking to try something new but still have all of that traditional squash flavor.
Larger Summer Vining Varieties:
- Tahitian Melon Squash: A large variety that is best planted in the corner of a raised bed so it can flow out onto the ground.
- Delicata Squash: Medium sized squash variety with stripes running down the length of the fruit. The taste is similar to a butternut, and it can be easily grown.
- Butternut Squash: A classic squash best planted in summer to be harvested in fall, the butternut has a delicious flavor that is perfect when roasted. This variety, along with the melon squash is great for longer term storage.
Planting squash from seeds
No matter what you’re planting from seed, always begin by purchasing seed from a reputable seed company such as True Leaf Market, Baker Creek Seed, or your favorite seed company. Never purchased directly from a seed company before? See my post on the Best Seed Companies. Many mail out free catalogs each January complete with helpful tips and articles.
To get started planting squash from seed, first make sure you are timing out your planting correctly. Check the back of the seed package and see when it recommends starting seed both indoors and directly sown outdoors. No matter your zone, squash should not be grown outdoors until the last frost date has passed and the soil is warmed up and workable.
Seeds can be started indoor in trays several weeks before this last frost date if you’d like to get a jump on the growing season. I’ve grown squash both from seedlings started indoors and from direct seeding outdoors, and the only difference I’ve seen is the time it takes to harvest squash (this is quicker for seedlings started indoors). However, don’t start your seedlings too early. Squash tends to be a fast growing plant, and you don’t want your squash to outgrow its seed starting cup.
Squash seeds can also be directly sown in raised beds once the last frost date has passed. Traditionally, squash have been grown on “hills” made in the rows of the garden, but in a raised bed, I plant them even with the soil and at the corner of the bed. This keeps them from taking up more space than is necessary in the garden bed, since part of the plant will extend over the edge.
Planting squash from seedlings
If you happened to grab a few squash seedlings from your local garden center or master gardener plant sale, then you’ll want to get them in your raised bed as soon as you can. For many seedlings coming from greenhouses (or your house), they will need to be hardened off before going into the raised bed. Hardening off plants is literally thickening up the stem of the plant gradually be exposing it to the outdoor temperatures and conditions gradually.
See my full post about how to harden off seedlings here. This is an important step you don’t want to skip.
Once seedlings are hardened off, you’ll want to plant your squash in fertile soil in the full sun. Squash plants enjoy warm temperatures and at least six hours of sunlight per day. The same is true for zucchini plants, which can follow all of the guidelines laid out here for planting squash. Once your seedlings are in place, it’s time to water them in.
Watering squash in raised beds
Keeping squash that are growing in raised beds consistently watered is a great way to produce healthy, high yield plants. In the early stages of your plants growth, this is essential for root systems to grow and thrive. And if you’ve planted squash seeds directly, then the water is necessary to help the germination process.
Once your squash plants are established, the general rule of thumb for watering squash plants grown in raised beds is to give them about 1-2 inches of water every week. Setting up a system for watering can be very helpful for gardeners. It frees up time that we would generally be standing at the raised bed and watering. Some watering systems that give the best results for raised beds are:
- Garden in Minutes Gardening Grids (my go-to!): This system is super simple to install, affordable, and from a US company!
- Soaker hoses: I use these in my row garden efficiently, but I do prefer the flat kind, not the tubes (they’re a pain).
For more watering system options, check out my full post on Watering Systems for the Home Garden where I discuss multiple options, including old-fashioned sprinklers and watering cans.
Feeding squash plants in raised beds
Though you may be growing your squash in raised beds and have full control over the soil, you’ll still want to feed your plants to keep them producing. Squash plants are heavy feeders and this means it takes a lot of effort for them to produce the female flowers, male flowers, and then finally after pollination, the fruit!
If you’ve ever grown squash before, then you know that just one plant can produce an abundance of squash, so feeding your plant is important.
The best way to feed your squash plants is to use a good quality organic fertilizer distributed around the base of the plant. I enjoy using Espoma’s Garden Tone for my squash plants, and since it’s granular, it’s easy to apply to the soil and water in.
Many of these good quality organic fertilizers can contain some form of composted chicken manure, and something about this drives my dogs a little crazy, and they try to eat it. You may want to keep an eye on your pups after you’ve put out plant food just to be on the safe side.
Caring for Squash Plants in Raised Beds
Squash really are a fairly low maintenance plant especially when compared to their summertime companion, the tomato. Squash plants that are watered and fed pretty much grow themselves, but there are a few things you can do to keep your plant growing at its best.
- Prune off excess foliage: This is important especially if you’re struggling to contain fungal diseases or mildew, see the information below about common squash growing problems. Pruning off some of the stems and leaves will open your plant up to more air flow, which will help reduce the spread.
- Vertical garden: Many squash varieties can be grown vertically, including delicata and even the Tahitian melon squash… if you have an additional support system. Taking your plants up with a sturdy trellis helps the plant to take up less space in a raised bed, which is always a good thing. I’ve even seen some people grow yellow squash and zucchini vertically with the help of a tomato cage. I haven’t tried this myself,but it’s an option!
- Hand Pollination: If your squash plant just doesn’t seem to be producing enough fruit, you can use a q-tip or a bloom itself to hand pollinate. This involves taking the pollen from the male flower and painting or brushing it onto the center of the female flower. It’s easy to tell the difference between male and female flowers, and there are several good Youtube videos that show this process.
When to harvest squash in raised beds
How to know when your squash is ready to harvest? Well, this depends on the variety of squash you’re growing at home. A few easy ways to tell are to check the seed packet or plant tag to see how many days approximately to harvest, and you can also look at the color of the squash to determine if it’s ready to harvest. Here’s an easy guide:
- Bush Variety Summer Squash: For the classic yellow squash, they can be harvested with a sharp knife as soon as they reach a good size. Their color develops early, and many people prefer these squash small, before the seeds inside the fruit grow too large.
- Vining variety squash: This includes your delicata and melon squashes. Typically when these fruit go from having a green hue (unripe) to a nice light orange or tan, they’re ready. Be sure to check your seed package or plant tag for specific details about the squash variety you’re growing.
No matter what variety you’re harvesting, always use a clean, sharp knife or pruners to remove the fruit from the plant.
Common squash pests
Just like every other vegetable you may grow in home gardens, pests will abound. Squashes are susceptible to a variety of common pests, like squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. Here’s how to handle each of these without the use of harsh chemical pesticides.
- Squash vine borer can quickly take over a squash plant as the Vine borer moth lays eggs on the base of the plant. The eggs hatch and the borers feed on the root, causing wilting and plant death. Prevention is key when it comes to squash vine borers and includes early planting, wiping down the plant stems every other day or so, checking plants for eggs, and covering squash plants with row covers. (See my full post on preventing squash vine borers.)
- Cucumber beetle: Another pest squash gardeners should watch out for is the cucumber beetle known for its striped yellow body. Cucumber beetle larvae feed on squash roots killing young plants within days if left uncontrolled.
- Squash bugs: These pests tend to hide in cracks or crevices during the day and lay their eggs near the leaves at night making them difficult to spot during regular inspections. Recognizing common signs such as discolored foliage due to feeding and dead stems helps prevent squash bugs from ravaging your squash crop.
As with many pests in the garden, you are the best preventative. Being out in the garden, even for just 10 minutes a day, will give you the upper hand on most pests. For natural pest control methods (such as using the enzyme BT for vine borer issues) grab a copy of my book Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden as a reference for what methods work for what pests.
Moving back towards more natural pest prevention methods is important for the ecosystem of your backyard (you don’t want to kill pollinators and other beneficial bugs in the process) especially if you’re feeding your family or have children who may freely eat from the plants in the raised bed.
Common squash diseases
What plant diseases do you need to be on the lookout for on your squash plants?
- Powdery mildew: Squash plants are prone to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can have a detrimental impact on their bounty and beauty. Powdery mildew forms on the leaves as white powder or fuzz-like patches, and it can leave plants weakened and vulnerable to other diseases. Early detection is essential for treating powdery mildew in squash, so vigilant gardeners should be sure to regularly inspect their plants for signs of this common problem. (See my full post on how to treat powdery mildew.)
- Downy Mildew and Bacterial Wilt: These common squash diseases can generally be successfully addressed with the help of proper prevention methods such as crop rotation and selection of disease-resistant varieties. So if these have been a problem for you in the past, consider resistant varieties, and avoid planting your squash in the same place in your raised bed each year.
Now that you know how to set up a raised garden bed and plant squash, I hope you have fun with it! It’s really rewarding to grow your own food. And there’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh, homegrown squash. If you try it, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about what kind of squash you’re growing in your raised bed garden this year!