Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé via photopin cc

Growing Squash in Your Garden

Squash is a very versatile plant with many popular varieties. It has a lot to offer: small types you can grow in the kitchen, vining varieties, summer and winter varieties, and more. These plants are not difficult to grow but they demand a certain amount of care and specific conditions to thrive.

Optimal Conditions

Squash and pumpkins prefer rich soil, plenty of sun and warmth and moderate amounts of water. They can even be capable of growing in pure compost. However, keep in mind they aren’t heavy feeders like, say, corn is. Most squash varieties will do great in ordinary garden soil.

It’s important to remember that squash needs warmth and even the slightest freeze can damage it. This is why it’s best to be planted after the danger of frost is past and the soil has warmed up. One of the best ways to plant a few hills of squash is to include some manure or compost into each hill. After this, plant 2 or 3 plants around each hill. It’s also possible to plant only one plant per hill. Generally speaking, you should space smaller plants at 4 feet apart in the rows and the bigger viney types should be spaced about 7 feet apart. Put the hills about 3 ½ feet between the rows for smaller varieties and 6 to 8 feet apart for the larger ones.

These plants enjoy full sun. Shade will slow their maturity time so it’s important to plant them in full sun. Plant in partial shade if your region and the squash variety give you enough time for plants to mature, or in case the sun is very strong and can actually damage the plants. Some gardeners prefer to plant squash in the shade of corn, but this isn’t the best strategy because squash actually prefers full sun. In fact, big, viney squash varieties will grow up the corn and knock it over if you plant it near the corn.

When working with big, viney varieties, it’s best to throw a couple of shovelsful of soil up on the roving vines at nodes in a few places. This will encourage the plants to form auxiliary root systems. It’s not the best idea to plant big squash varieties at the edge of the garden and let them spread on the law. The vines simply can’t root in sod. Big varieties grow better with overhead irrigation than drip irrigation, because with drip irrigation and with no summer rain, most of the surface of the ground is too dry.

Starting Squash Plants

Many plant growers choose to start their squash and pumpkins from transplants instead direct seeding. This is a good way to go, but it may lead to ruining the big squash varieties. Big viney varieties have huge, vigorous taproots that head down to the center of the earth as soon as the seed germinates. If seed is started in a pot, the taproot runs out of pot while the top of the seedling has barely broken the surface. This means that the root is damaged or broken off during transplanting.

That’s why you have slow germinating, slow growing squash plants to be the only ones with an intact root system after transplanting. If you choose seed from the best plants, big, viney variety after starting plants in pots, you as actually selecting for the plants that germinated the most slowly. Which means that you choose the wimpiest, not the strongest and the best plants.

You need to understand that big, viney plants started from transplants will never have a vigorous root system as the ones you can get from plants started using direct seeding. This is why direct seeding is the best option for big, viney varieties of squash.

If you wish to grow half-bush varieties, the seedling’s root system is a bush or half-bush. These varieties can be started directly from seed but it’s also possible to start them using pots and transplanting. Summer squash varieties are usually of the bush or half bush type. The bushing is associated with prolific flowering and refruiting, which is important for summer squash varieties. If you start these varieties directly from seeds in pots (be it in a greenhouse or under growing lights indoors), you can get an early start of the season.

Pests, Weeds and Disease

  • To Control Weeds: Make sure to weed very early in the season and forget about it later, after the vines run out into the space between the rows. If you have spaced the squash appropriately, you will have enough of squash and pumpkin patch that shades out and prevents most weeds from growing.
  • Pests and Disease: Make sure that your squash and pumpkin patch is relatively isolated from others to minimize pest and disease problems. You may have some problems with cucumber beetles and powdery mildew in the fall, but it should not be serious.

Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé via photopin cc

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