We love growing an abundance of squash! Squash is one of the most versatile summer garden vegetables, as it can be made sweet, savory, pickled, baked, sauteed, fried, and worked with any number of ways.
Aside from starting with a healthy foundation of well-prepared soil, here are some of our top tips for growing happy, healthy squash plants in Texas.
1. Timing and Succession Planting. While squash is an easy plant to direct sow and sometimes does better that way, you can get a head start on the season by starting some seeds indoors. Getting your plants in early can also help them get going before all the bugs come out to play. You can also stagger your plantings throughout the summer months, direct sowing new squash plants in succession every 3-4 weeks. Pest pressure is worst when it's hottest, so early and late plantings can help avoid issues and ensure you get a good harvest.
2. Choosing the Right Location. Squash plants love the heat and sun. They also need adequate space to produce a good yield, so read up on the variety you're planting. Some squash varieties are smaller, bush-type plants that can even do well in containers. However many squash plants are vines that require a sturdy trellis or space to ramble all over the ground.
3. Monitoring for Pests and Being Proactive. Squash is susceptible to various pests, such as squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and the dreaded squash vine borer. Checking for evidence and taking preventative measures early on can help a great deal. Some gardeners also cover their newly planted squash with lightweight row cover to keep the vine borer moths from laying eggs at the base of the plants that are just getting established. Then once the plant has both male and female flowers, the row covers should be removed so the bees can help pollinate them. Growing squash plants in succession, as mentioned above, is another strategy to work around the vine-borer lifecycle and ensure you still get squash.
4. Watering. Water consistently near the base of the plant, trying not to splash water from the soil to the leaves, as this can invite disease. Mulching will help with this as well. If you water overhead, water in the morning so the water has time to evaporate off the leaves before the evening. Otherwise excessive moisture and warm weather can lead to powdery mildew, which is a common issue that affects the leaves of squash plants.
Incorporating Squash into your Edible Ecosystem
Squash's big leaves can make a nice ground cover that protects the soil and conserves moisture. Squash plants can also grow up a trellis or fence, making a privacy hedge or providing shade for more sun-sensitive plants. Thinking about this plant's characteristics can help you choose the best spot for it in your garden, allowing it to serve multiple functions in your garden ecosystem.
Here are some plants that make good companions for squash:
Leafy greens do well with vining squash since they appreciate a bit of shade.
A common companion planting that has been practiced for centuries is squash, corn, and beans. It's called the three sister's technique and combines plants with certain characteristics that benefit each other. Beans help fix nitrogen in the soil. Pole beans in particular work well here because they can climb up the supportive stalks of the tall-growing corn (or sunflowers/okra/amaranth). Plants like sunflowers and amaranth also attract birds and pollinators in addition to supporting the beans. Squash's large leaves make a dense groundcover, protecting the soil in the summer heat and helping its companions grow. Wait until the corn/okra/sunflower/amaranth plants are about a foot tall, then start the beans, then start the squash. This allows each plant to get established and grow well together.
Heat-loving flowering plants that are easy to grow from seed and attract pollinators: bee balm, basil, cosmos
Summer vs Winter Squash
There are two main categories of squash: summer squash and winter squash. Both types are grown at roughly the same time, only they take different lengths of time to reach maturity. Summer squash (such as zucchini, crookneck, straightneck, and pattypan squash, among others) can be harvested at around 50 to 70 days and must be eaten pretty soon after harvesting or kept in the fridge. Winter squash (such as acorn and butternut) are those that are hard-shelled and are typically harvested at around 75 to 120 days. They can also be stored for several months if kept in a cool, dark area.
Male vs Female Flowers
Male squash blossoms have a single stamen in their centers and they are the first flowers to appear on the vines. Male flowers are usually the first to appear so the plant can start attracting pollinators, and female blooms start showing up a few days or weeks later.
Female squash blossoms have a four-part pistol in their centers and a large ovary just behind the blossom, which is what swells to become the fruit.
Since squash can readily cross pollinate from one plant to the next, it is recommended to keep different squash varieties a good distance apart from each other. Cross-pollination will not affect your squash plants the year you plant them, but it is something to consider if you are interested in saving seeds for the following year and being confident that they are true to seed. If different squash varieties are planted too close together, the seeds you save may grow into strange hybrid plants with characteristics of both squash types. That can be fun and fascinating too -- just a good idea to know.
Squash blossoms are also edible.
You don‘t want to harvest all the squash blossoms bc you need them for the bees and to fruit. However, once your plants really get going, you should have enough blossoms to experiment with as well. Squash blossoms are tasty stir fried with garlic and onions, added to quesadillas and soups, or stuffed and deep fried.
Our favorite squash variety: Tatume Squash
While all squash can be used in a myriad of ways, tatume squash is perhaps the most versatile because it can be eaten at any stage of its lifecycle. It can be harvested young and eaten as a summer squash or it can be left to fully mature on the vine and harvested as a winter squash.
In our experience, it seems more resistant to the squash vine borer than many other squash varieties. It's not that these pests don't find the plants -- they do. But tatume squash is so fast growing and produces so many trailing vines that even if one part gets ravaged by pests, the rest of the plant often continues to survive and thrive. You can bury the vines in different areas to help them root.
It is a prolific grower. A single squash plant, if treated well and given plenty of space, should give you dozens of squash. Unless you have a massive family or plans to start a market garden selling squash, you will likely only need 1 or 2 plants. That said, you can also experiment by planting squash seeds in different places around your yard. If you end up with an abundance, there are many ways to preserve your squash so you have it year-round. Sharing with neighbors is always nice too.