If you have never planted squash before in your garden, I highly encourage you to consider it for this season. Personally, I have never met a squash I didn’t like, but even if traditional zucchini isn’t your thing, there are a vast variety of squash that are worth planting in your garden. Planting squash is said to make you a great neighbor because most have a bountiful crop all season long that must be disbursed.
If you have never grown squash before, I recommend trying a green zucchini or yellow squash, both are easy to cook with and have a quite mild flavor. I recently fell in love with and will be planting Delicata Squash, a winter squash, which has a sweet orange meat (like sweet potato) that can be cooked with the rind on. I will also be trying my hand at growing Patty Pan Squash, a summer favorite usually found at the farmers market.
Now that I have your mouth watering, hopefully your green thumb is throbbing as well. Remember before planting your garden to have a location prepared that has good access to water and is in an area that will receive full sun. Raised beds or planting directly into the ground are both acceptable options, but you will need to consider that healthy squash plants take up a lot of space. Read your seed packets for accurate spacing, but you should plan on spacing your plants 12 inches apart in rows three to five feet apart, and at a seed depth of two to three inches deep.
While you can start your seeds indoors, squash can be highly susceptible to transplant shock, you will likely have more success by direct seeding in the garden after Mother’s Day here in Ohio, or after your areas last frost date. Squash plants and tomatoes need lots of calcium, so an easy trick at planting is to plant an antacid tablet an inch or so deeper than your seed which will help meet your plants calcium requirements.
Throughout the growing season, always water your squash plants at the ground level, directly at the base of your plants. Cucurbits are highly susceptible to Downy and Powdery Mildew and focused watering with lower leaf defoliation aka pruning (once your plants have reached maturity) will help prevent these diseases. Fertilizing your squash should be done with good bed preparation but can be side-dressed once plants have reached three to four inches tall.
To ensure fruiting, make sure you are planting pollinator-attracting flowers throughout your garden, as squash plants have imperfect flowers (some male and some female) and need help with pollination. You can also hand pollinate your plants using the male flower, a paintbrush or a cotton swab, this video is a nice example:
If you have done your job right, and depending on the variety, you should be harvesting in 60 days after planting and four to eight days after pollination. When harvesting, its best to harvest first thing in the morning with gloves. You can expect healthy plants to typically produce at least one squash every other day. If you don’t harvest regularly, the fruit will harden and the plant will set fewer fruits, but overgrown fruit can still be used for zucchini bread! So find a couple of recipes and enjoy summer, fall or winter of delicious and nutritious squash, and if you find yourself with a surplus, one of my favorite obscure holidays is “Sneak a Zucchini Day” on August 8th.
Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources
OSU Extension, Seneca County