Butternut squash is one of the most delicious winter squash. It has sweet nutty taste. This winter squash is also rich in vitamin and other nutrients. Many people cook it into various recipes. Some others use it as a replacement of potatoes in a recipe. In consequence, it is no wonder that many gardeners grow a butternut squash plant in their backyard.
What is Butternut Squash Plant?
Cucurbita moschata or butternut squash is botanically a fruit. However, it is used as a vegetable. This vegetable comes from America and now it is planted in various countries. Similar to other winter squash species, this plant has a trailing habit. Its vines can grow between 0.9 and 4.5 m long.
Basically, there are three types of butternut squash plant.
1. Bush varieties
The bush varieties grow about 0.9 m long and 0.9 m wide. It is compact and perfect for a small backyard. However, it produces smaller and less tasty squash. To improve its flavor, you had better consume it at about a week after the harvest. One of the popular varieties of bush butternut squash plant is Burpee’s butterbush which fruits weighing about 0.7 kg.
2. Semi bush varieties
This variety grows slightly longer and wider than the bush varieties. Semi bush varieties produce midsize butternut squash and its weight is about 1.5 kg. There are many varieties of semi bush butternut squash that you can plant. Some of them are betternut, ponca, and early butternut.
3. Vine varieties
The vine varieties have normal size plant. They yield flavorful and big fruits. The biggest ones can reach 2 kg in weight. This type of butternut squash plant will also give you more fruits to harvest.
Different butternut squash varieties require different growing season. In general, this vegetable plant takes about 110 to 120 days to mature. However, you can choose early season varieties if you need to. They need 85 days to reach maturity. On the other hand, mid-season varieties can be your best option. They will be ready for harvest in 95 days.
Butternut squash is usually harvested in between late summer and fall. The fruits have pear-like shape, but elongated at the neck. Their skin is beige and the flesh is orange. Meanwhile, the seeds are concentrated at the bottom part and look like pumpkin seeds.
How Many Butternut Squash per Plant
A butternut squash plant will bloom when it is mature. And similar to other species of winter squash, this plant blooms yellow male and female flowers separately. The male ones bloom on the main stem. You will likely see them bloom a week before the female ones. On the otehr hand, female flowers bloom on the side stems. Each of them has a bulb at the bottom.
When the female flowers are pollinated by bees, they will develop fruits. If you are successful in growing this plant and there are plenty bees to help the pollination process, you can get many fruits from it. Some gardeners get 5 fruits from one butternut squash plant and others get 10 fruits. However, in average, you will get 4 or 5 butternut squash from one plant.
It is common for this plant to produce many fruits. But, some of them do not develop fully. As a result, they fall off from the plant. On the other hand, some gardeners pinch off young fruits before they fully developed. It is done so that the plant produces larger and better fruits.
When to Plant Butternut Squash
Since this winter squash needs between 80 days and 120 frost free days to be harvest ready, you need to start the seeds at the right time. Gardeners in USDA zone 9 usually perform direct sowing in May or a few weeks after the last spring frost. It is because butternut squash seeds germinate in temperature of 18oC and above.
However, in northern area, the best time to sow the seeds is in early summer or June. Moreover, if you want to start early due to the shorter growing season in your area, you can start the seeds indoors 4 weeks before the last frost day. And because butternut squash seedlings cannot withstand transplanting well, you had better use peat pots to germinate them.
Basic Requirements to Grow Butternut Squash Plant
A butternut squash plant will thrive if it grows in the right environment. And this kind of environment must meet these requirements.
The best place to grow butternut squash is on a sunny spot. This plant will thrive when it gets 6 hours of direct sun every day during its growing season. If the plant doesn’t get enough sun, its fruit production will be affected.
This vegetable plant is very sensitive to frost since it prefers to grow in warm temperature. It can tolerate temperature of 18oC to 32oC. Therefore, it is important for you to consider the weather and the temperature when growing a butternut squash plant. If you live in cooler areas, you can keep the soil warm using plastic mulch.
It is essential to provide consistent moisture for this plant. Keeping the soil moist will help butternut squash to grow healthily. It will also lower the risk of mildew and also various foliar diseases. But, it is important to not overwatering the plant and cause the soil to become soggy. Wet soil can cause damage on the root.
A butternut squash plant needs to grow in soil with good drainage and rich in organic matter. For better result, it is better for you to grow this plant on a small hill. Moreover, you need to add compost or other type of fertilizer in the soil of this hill.
The soil in which the plant grows must be slightly acidic to neutral. In consequence, you must check the pH level of the soil beforehand before growing this plant. If the pH level of the soil is between 6 and 7.5, you can continue the process of growing a butternut squash plant.
Growing Butternut Squash Plant from Seeds
This particular winter squash is only propagated from seeds. If you never grow any butternut squash before, you can follow these steps.
1. Choosing and preparing planting site
The first thing to do in growing this plant is choosing the location to plant it. The planting site you choose must be sunny. A growing location near a wall can be a great option. At this spot, this vegetable plant will be more protected from rain and wind. Moreover, you need to make sure that this location is large enough for this vining plant to grow.
After finding the right location, you can start working the soil. First, dig a hole about 45 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter. Then, loosen the soil and mix it with compost or slow release fertilizer. After that, create a hill on this hole.
You can also grow a butternut squash plant in a container. For best result, choose a 19 L container, or about 45 cm in diameter, for the plant to grow. Fill in this container with high quality potting soil. In addition, you must prepare a trellis because the vines must be trained to grow on it. Later on, when it is fruiting, you also need to have fruit slings to support the fruits
2. Planting the seeds
After the hill is ready, you can sow butternut squash seeds directly. Plant the seeds about 2.5 deep and 10 cm apart so that you grow 5 or 6 seeds in one hill. After that, you need to moist the soil regularly. In 10 days or so, you will see those seed sprouting small leaves. When the seedlings is about 15 cm tall, thin them so that you have three healthiest plants on one hill.
As an alternative, you can start the seeds indoors on a seedling tray or seedling pots. If you choose the latter, you can opt for biodegradable pots. Therefore, you can minimize transplanting shock. The best time to transplant the seedlings is in late May or early June. Prior to transplanting, it is a must for you to harden the seedlings off for about a week.
A butternut squash plant must be watered regularly. During the hottest days in summer, you must provide enough water for the plant. Moreover, you had better mulch the soil around your seedlings when they are about 10 cm tall. It will maintain the moisture of the soil and keep weeds away.
During the long growing season of butternut squash, you must fertilize it a couple of times. You may need to do it more often if you grow this plant in a container. During the early stage, the plant needs fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. When it starts flowering, usually in the 15th week, the plant requires fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.
Your butternut squash will be ready to harvest when its skin is hard and tan. To check the hardness of the skin, you can pierce the skin using your thumbnail. It is also important for you to consider the growing season of butternut squash variety that you grow.
This winter squash must be harvested before the first frost arrives. It is because butternut squash that is exposed to frost will rot quickly. Another way to prevent quick rot is leaving several centimeters of stem attached to the fruits.
Dealing with Bugs and Diseases
There are some bugs that are attracted to a butternut squash plant. Some of them are flea beetles, squash bugs, seed corn maggots, striped cucumber beetles, and squash vine borers. In consequence, you have to check your plant periodically for those bugs. If you see any bugs on it, you can apply organic pesticide in the evening. Therefore, it won’t disturb the bees which are pollinating the flowers.
This winter squash is also prone to some diseases, such as powdery mildew, black rot, altenaria leaf spot, gummy blight, and septoria leaf spot. If your plant suffers from one of these diseases, there is nothing you can do but removing it from your garden so that it will not infect others.
There are some challenges that may arise from growing a butternut squash plant. In order to face it, you can check these tips below.
1. 3 years crop rotation
Crop rotation is an important practice in growing this winter squash. It is because growing butternut squash on the same spot for 2 or 3 years in a row can make the plant more prone to diseases.
Therefore, it is recommended to grow this vegetable plant on different planting sites every year. If you want to plant it on the same spot, you must do it after three years. At this time, fungi or viruses that affected the previous butternut squash plant may have gone from the soil.
2. Choose a suitable variety
The varieties of butternut squash are differentiated in several types. Some of them are early season, mid-season and late season butternut squash. As a result, you can choose one that matches the length of the growing season in your region.
In addition, there are normal-size, bush, and semi bush varieties. Therefore, you can pick one which will not invade your backyard. It is also important for you to choose butternut squash varieties that are resistant to most diseases and offer the best taste.
3. Pinch off young fruits
Seeing your butternut squash plant bears many fruits will surely make you feel happy. But, too many fruits are not always good. It is better for you to pinch some of those fruits, especially those that develop late. Therefore, the plant can focus on ripening the bigger fruits. In addition, you may also need to pinch off flowers that bloom late.
4. Hand pollination
This kind of pollination is not always needed. But, if your butternut squash flowers do not attract enough bees, you had better do it so that you can get some fruits from this winter squash plant. Hand pollination is very easy to do. You only need to brush the male flowers on the female flowers. Before you do it, don’t forget to remove the male flower petals first.
A butternut squash plant will be an excellent addition in your garden. It allows you to harvest crops in your garden when other plants are already harvested in the summer. Moreover, butternut squash can be stored for 3 to 6 months so that you can have some extra food during the winter.