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.
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!