Summer squash is one of those fruits that can be grown by beginner and expert gardeners alike. On one hand, the plant is easy to grow, which makes it a great plant for beginners. On the other, the plant yields a lot of harvests, which makes growing summer squash a rewarding experience including even for expert gardeners.
Here, we will give you a guide on how to grow summer squash. We cover the entire process, from growing from seed to harvesting and storing. We also include a brief introduction to summer squash, cultivar options, as well as growing tips to help you further. With no further ado, let’s start.
About Summer Squash
Before you grow summer squash, it is a good idea to know what it is first. Summer squash is one of two types of squash or Cucurbits, the other being winter squash. Unlike winter squash, summer squash is harvested earlier, producing fruits with soft and edible skin. Being a warm-season crop, summer squash enjoys warmer temperatures and cannot tolerate frost.
Besides being very productive (a single summer squash plant can feed a family of four), summer squash also grows quite fast. For most cultivars, the whole process from planting to harvesting take between 45 and 60 days. So in just about 7 weeks of planting, you will be able to enjoy yields of fresh, homegrown summer squash from your garden.
Cultivars to Grow
There are many cultivars to choose from when you grow summer squash. The most common cultivars are pattypan, yellow, zucchini, black beauty, eight ball, and grey. Each cultivar has a unique taste, shape, and fruit color. Since you probably need a few plants, growing different cultivars is a good idea to add more variety to your kitchen.
1. Pattypan squash
Pattypan squash is the old cultivar. It produces flying saucer-like fruits with scalloped edges. The color of the fruits varies greatly, from bright yellow, dark green to white.
2. Yellow squash
This cultivar produces elongated fruits with buttery yellow color. Some yellow squash also has crooked necks.
3. Zucchini squash
Zucchini squash cultivar produces fruits with a club-like shape. The skin of the fruit is green, albeit the shades vary differently between plants. There are also zucchini squash plants that produce bright yellow or even striped fruits as well.
4. Black beauty
Like the fruits and want good-looking ones? Consider black beauty, then. This cultivar produces fruits with an elongated and elegant shape with a gorgeous dark green skin.
5. Eight ball
As the name suggests, the eight ball cultivar produces small and round fruits that look similar to billiard balls. The plant is small in size as well, growing up to around 3 feet wide.
Unlike the other cultivars, grey is a semi-bush. It is also heat-resistant, making it a good option if you live in a region with hot temperatures. Grey produces stout and speckled fruits with greyish color.
There are also still more other cultivars like Calabash, Fortune, Parador, Sunburst, and Zephyr. Each cultivar produces fruits with unique taste. So if you want to have more ingredients in your kitchen, planting different cultivars in the garden will be a good idea. Since how you grow summer squash is the same, you can apply the guide for all variants.
Grow Summer Squash: Seeding
1. Finding the right place
Before you begin to grow summer squash, the first thing you need to do is to find the right place to plant the seed. So, what kind of place allows summer squash to grow best? Summer squash grows best in alkaline soil with a pH range of 6 to 6.5 although the plant tolerates less acidic soil.
The designated planting spot should also have well-drained soil, full sun exposure, as well as protection against the wind to ensure good pollinations. To help the seeds grow, you can also add well-rotted manure or garden compost before planting and then add some organic fertilizer after you plant the seeds.
2. Planting the seed
First and foremost, determine which cultivar(s) you want to grow in your garden. Also, are they bush types or vine types? If they are vine types, they will need more room so they can spread out. You can grow summer squashdirectly in the ground. Alternatively, you can grow them much earlier indoors and then transplant when ready.
Here’s how to plant indoors:
- Check your calendar for the predicted last spring frost. Planting indoors should be done much earlier than in the ground, about 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost in your region.
- To grow summer squash indoors, use peat pots filled with potting mix. Plant a seed for each pot. Plant the seed approximately 1/2 inch deep.
- The seeds should germinate in about 8 days.
- After the temperature of the soil has reached at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you can transplant the seedlings in the garden. Depending on the temperature, hardening off may or may not be needed.
- If you want to harden the seeds off just place the pots outside for a short time for a week or two. Then, increase the length of the outdoor time gradually. Plant the seedlings after the last spring frost has passed.
- Transplant the seedlings in the garden in rows or hills, about 2 to 3 feet apart between seedlings.
And here’s how to plant directly in the ground:
- Before you grow summer squash in the ground, be sure that the last spring frost has passed.
- Plant summer squash seeds 1 inch deep in the soil, drop 2 seeds per site so at least each site has one seed germinate.
- If you are planting bush-type summer squash, plant in rows or hills. Give the plants 2 to 3 feet space in-between.
- If you are planting vine type summer squash, plant in rows with 3 feet space in-between. Plant the seeds 2 inches apart.
- Water the seeds thoroughly after planting. You can add a layer of organic matter or mulch to help keep the soil moisture level.
- Thin the seedlings so they are at least 2 feet apart from each other.
Grow Summer Squash: Caring
While summer squash is easy to grow, you can’t just plant, let them be and wait for the best yields. Summer squash still needs the right amount of water, light, and heat, and fertilizer if you want the best yields. Crop rotation, too. We explain all these below to help you care for your summer squash.
- How much water do you need to grow summer squash? About an inch per week. Summer squash loves water and needs a lot of watering during peak season as the temperature increases. Do the regular watering in the morning. Water the base of the plant before the day starts to heat. If necessary, water the plant again in the afternoon.
- A summer squash plant will give you a sign when it needs additional watering. If during the day the leaves of a plant look droopy, go grab your watering pot or hose and water the plant immediately. Water the plant even if the soil around the plant appears moist. Droopy leaves is a tell-tale sign that the plant needs more watering.
- When you water summer squash, be sure to do it deeply and not shallowly. During hot days, you might notice that the plants wilt. This is not something to worry about provided that you water the plants deeply and regularly. They will liven up again when the day starts to get cooler.
- Avoid watering the plant at night. Watering at night may cause root rot and mold. However, afternoon watering may be necessary during hot times as the plant needs extra water to survive. Mold is unlikely to form during these particular hot times so no need to worry about it.
2. Light and heat
- To grow summer squash optimally, you need to grow them in a spot where the plant can get full sun exposure. Since the full sun and wet leaves are not a good combination, you should water the plant in the morning. Also, water directly at the base of the plant and avoid wetting the leaves.
- If you water during the heat of the day and wet the leaves, it can stress out the plant or worse, cause leaf burn. As such, try not to water the plant during these hot times. If you must, do it carefully using a soaker hose, avoiding wetting the leaves.
During the growing season, side-dress the plants with compost tea every 2 or 3 weeks. 5-10-10 is a good fertilizer to grow summer squash. Not every fertilizer is good for summer squash, however. Fertilizers with high nitrogen content should be avoided. For more yields and vigorous growth, fertilize occasionally once the harvest starts.
4. Crop rotation
Crop rotation is necessary to replenish nutrients in the soil and diminish the risk of pest infestations and diseases. If you want to grow summer squash, don’t plant it in a spot where you recently planted cucumber or melons. Why? Because summer squash, cucumber, and melons have some common pests and diseases. Find another spot instead.
Mulching is beneficial and can help you grow summer squash optimally. If you mulch around the plants, it will discourage weeds from growing, protect the plants’ shallow roots, and retain moisture. So if you are having a problem with any of these three or just want to prevent problems beforehand, just mulch around the plants.
Grow Summer Squash: Harvesting and Storing
- Harvest varies depending on the cultivar. On average, it takes about 60 days for summer squash to be harvest-ready. For more accuracy, check the information on the seed packets, take note of the date range for harvest, and mark your calendar.
- Summer squash fruits taste their best when you harvested early. Not to mention early picking can result in larger yields, too.
- To harvest, prepare a sharp knife and cut the fruit from the vine. A harvested fruit should have at least an inch of stem on it.
- The fruits demand a lot of moisture and nutrients from the plants. In case you miss a fruit or two, just remove the overripe fruits immediately to reduce these demands.
- Harvest all of the fruits before the first fall frost comes.
- You can store summer squash fruits unwashed inside the refrigerator. The fruits can last up to 10 days when stored in the refrigerator.
Diseases and Pests
When you grow summer squash, you need to keep an eye on pests and diseases. Both can cause problems and hinder your plants from growing optimally. The most common pests and diseases for summer squash are squash vine borers, mold, and blossom end rot. Fortunately, these can be prevented and/or cured easily.
1. Squash vine borers
These pets get inside the summer squash plant, causing the stems and vines to wilt and even break off. The sign of an infestation is yellowing shoots or vines. Check your plants regularly and remove the affected parts. Dispose of these affected parts away from the garden.
2. Blossom end rot
If you see a dark-colored or slimy end on the fruit, the plant may have blossom end rot. To remedy, water the affected plant deeply and mulch over the soil surface. Keep the moisture level even. Avoid over-fertilization which can worsen the disease
Mold develops when the plants are either placed too close together, overwatered, or both. So, grow summer squash with enough room between plants and water them regularly and consistently but never overwater them.
Some Tips to Help You Grow Summer Squash
- If you want to keep things simple, sow the seeds directly in your garden. Just be sure to do so after the last frost and give enough space in-between plants.
- Grow different summer squash cultivars in your garden. Why? Because summer squash is easy to grow and you will have different varieties of ingredients to cook.
- Check the plants regularly. If there is a problem like under-watering, pests, or diseases, you can solve it immediately.
- Water summer squash plants deeply once in a week. Apply an inch of water at a minimum.
Quite simple, right? When you grow summer squash properly, you will be able to enjoy lots and lots of yields from your garden. A summer squash plant is very productive considering that a single plant can feed a family of four. If you have more plants, you will be able to share even more with neighbors and friends. Happy gardening!