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Growing Squash and Pumpkins

By: Lynn Jones - Updated: 16 Jul 2018 | comments*Discuss
Squash Summer Winter Cucurbit Pumpkin

The sweet, spicy aroma of pumpkin pie cooking in the oven is a welcome sign of autumn. Growing your own squash and pumpkins is a special treat - especially for children, who can't wait to harvest big, colourful pumpkins!

This article covers how to plant summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins. See "Squash, Cucumbers, and the Cucurbits" for an overview of squash.

Summer and Winter Squash

Squash is classified as either summer or winter squash, which includes pumpkins.

Summer squash has a thinner skin and is quicker to mature than winter squash: some varieties can be picked as early as 50 days after planting. Most summer squash have a compact bush-like growing habit, with vines that spread from only one to three feet (31-91 cm). Types of summer squash include zucchini (courgettes), marrow, yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and scallop.

Winter squash are large and slow growing: their fruit may take from 80 to 120 days to be ready for harvest. In general, the larger the fruit, the longer the time to harvest. The long, sprawling vines of winter squash and pumpkins may spread from three to 15 feet (91 cm to 4.6 m). Winter squash include buttercups, butternuts, acorns, delicatas, Hubbards, and pumpkins.

Growing Requirements

All squash are warm-weather plants that are vulnerable to frost. Squash seeds will germinate in temperatures from 60° F to 100° F (16°- 38° C), but they prefer a temperature of 70° F (21° C) or higher. Plant squash two weeks after last frost.

Squash are heavy feeders: they need a soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.8 to 6.8. They benefit from lots of compost, as well as deep, consistent watering.


The possibility of cross-pollination deters many beginning gardeners from planting squash and pumpkins. They fear that by planting different types of squash near each other, they'll end up with mutant vegetables that look like something from another planet.

The truth be told, you only need to worry about cross-pollination of squash if you save seeds to plant the next year. Squash may require as much as 500 feet between varieties to prevent cross-pollination, so it's not practical for most home gardeners to save squash seeds. Buy new seed next year, and put your mind at ease.

If you do save seed, schedule your planting so that only one variety of Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita maxima flowers at the same time: this solves the problem. Seeds saved from a mixed planting would produce unpredictable and probably inedible results.

Planting Summer Squash

Squash is usually planted in hills. Hills provide warmer soil and better drainage than planting in rows. The distance between hills depends on how long the vines are of the variety you're planting. For summer squash, space hills 3-4' (91-122 cm) apart.

To make a summer squash hill, dig a hole about one foot (31 cm) across and one foot (31 cm) deep, and fill it half full of compost. Mix the compost and soil and form it into a small mound.

Plant four to five seeds one-half to one inch (1.25-2.5 cm) deep, 4-6" (10-15 cm) apart in a ring on top of the hill. When the seedlings are 2-3" (5-8 cm) tall, thin them to the two strongest plants per hill. (If you didn't thin them, you'd end up with lots of foliage, but no squash.) Water the hill thoroughly after planting and keep well watered.

If planting summer squash in rows, sow seeds 4" (10 cm) apart, with 4-5' (1.2-1.5 m) between rows. Thin to one plant every 12-24" (31-61 cm).

Varieties of summer squash include 'Black Beauty' zucchini (50-55 days), 'Yellow Crookneck' (58-65 days), and 'Golden Scallopini' (55-65 days).

Planting Winter Squash

To plant winter squash, follow the directions above for making squash hills, but make the hills larger - about 18" (46 cm) across - and space them 4-8' (1.2-2.4 m) apart. In general, the larger the squash, the larger the vine, and the farther apart the hills should be.

If planting winter squash in rows, sow seeds 6-12" (15-31 cm) apart with 4-8' (1.2-2.4 m) between rows. Thin to one plant every 18-36" (46-91 cm).

Good winter squash varieties include tasty 'Buttercup' (95-105 days), old standby 'Table Queen' acorn (80 days), dependable 'Waltham Butternut' (85 days), versatile 'Small Sugar' pumpkin (95 days), pasta-alternative 'Spaghetti Squash' (88 days), and sweet kid-favourite 'Delicata' (90-100 days).

Try fresh summer squash sliced and sautéed with onion or sweet winter squash baked and served with butter and cinnamon. Grow and enjoy these versatile fruits of the vine: you won't be disappointed!

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[Add a Comment]
@Freemind - They will happily grow on a teepee type arrangement. They are fine growing up high, you can stablise them if you thing they need it. If slugs are a problem for floor growth which can be, lift your squashes off the ground and onto tiles or bricks to keep them dry. But watch out as these things grow like bonkers in a warm sunny spot.
Robyn - 17-Jul-18 @ 11:35 AM
Was given some onion squash seeds. Have four successful plants 3 of which have squash growing on them. I put up sticks because they were creeping over other plants and choking them. The biggest squash is ground level, others are up high against sticks. Where do they grow best? Ground or up high? I know they'll get big like pumpkin and concerned their weight could break plant stem...
Freemind - 16-Jul-18 @ 7:53 AM
Hello. Will Spaghetti Squash and Sweet Baby Pumpkins cross pollinate? I have something that looks like a squash on my pumpkin vine! Also it has little circles all over it! Any ideas?? Thanks.......
Iron Horse Cowboy - 8-Aug-16 @ 5:38 PM
I have planted a few butternut squash on my newly acquired allotment and they are going mad!I have loads of squash forming on each plant (over a dozen on each). Should I thin out the fruits to just a few, to help them grow. I have already cut the ends off the creepers to halt their progress. Thanks for any advice
Rehbok - 28-Jul-16 @ 10:12 AM
All my butternut squash plants (grown from seed) are male. Plants are on pots in a south facing garden in Glasgow. what can I do to ? -is there a way to make some of them female ? would appreciate advice Regards
Jas - 29-Aug-15 @ 3:07 PM
BRUNOAH - 21-Jul-15 @ 7:44 AM
From Zimbabwe and need to know about growing butternuts before i start the project
BRUNOAH - 21-Jul-15 @ 7:40 AM
my butternut squash is in a tub and growing well how do i look after it please
roset - 8-Jul-15 @ 3:50 PM
I am growing butternut squash in my patio tub the squash gets to bout one 1inch and falls off it seems mine is a climbing one and do I cut top down and any leave's to let sun get to squash thank you as first ever tried growing these
Pauleen - 16-Aug-14 @ 2:02 PM
I am growing small squashes in patio tubs when the small fruits get to about 1 inch wide they start to drop off can you help please
sunshine - 13-Jul-14 @ 5:42 PM
The flowers on my butternut squash keep snapping off at the base of the flowers. Can someone tell my why this is happening?
Avondale47 - 18-Aug-13 @ 9:30 AM
I live in Spain and have grown a squash plant, but it only has 1 squash on it. It is the right shape,size of a rugby ball and has ridges in it and is dark green, showing no signs of going light brown. If I pick it (so the local wildlife don't get it) will it still ripen to the right colour?
lemontree - 1-Sep-12 @ 5:14 PM
I live in Spain and I do not have a garden, but a warm/hot roof terrace.Can squash grow in containers?
Mas - 29-Dec-11 @ 1:23 PM
Some of my butternut squashes are round insteat of long.Will they still be good or will they just have seeds inside?
carot - 12-Sep-11 @ 6:33 PM
I have 5 Butternut squash plants in various locations in the garden, some in the ground and some in tubs. All the plants are very healthy and have lots of buds and flowers, but they all seem to be male. Each plant has only 1 squash forming. Should I cut off some of the male flowers?Many thanks
Susu - 7-Aug-11 @ 12:35 PM
I have been told that you can grow Butternut squash on the compost heap.I have two plants grown from seed which will soon be ready to go out.Do I literally plant them into the compost/manureor should I mix soil into the growing hole first?
carrot - 26-May-11 @ 3:40 PM
I will do that. This is a nice website.
Ryan Vetter - 24-Mar-11 @ 10:30 PM
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