A Guide to Growing Winter Squash
Closely related to pumpkins, their plump cousins, winter squash produce smaller, tastier crops, grown for their sweet, nutty flavor. They are also more decorative, developing interesting colors and shapes.
How to Grow
Winter squash requires long, hot summers to ripen fully and prefers a sunny, sheltered spot. They grow best in moist, fertile soil, improved with lots of rich, well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost. Sow seed indoors during mid-spring into small pots to prevent disturbing the roots when planting out. Harden off seedlings once the risk of frost has passed, and plant out 3–5 feet apart. Water in and mulch well, and cover with cloches or fabric if the weather is still chilly. Water plants regularly, particularly in hot, dry weather, and feed with a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.
Squash are trailing plants that take up a lot of space but can be trained over supports, such as cane wigwams or trellis. Tie in trained stems regularly to help support the heavy fruit. Squash are ready to harvest in late summer when the fruit develops a hard skin and the stem starts to crack. If you want larger fruit, thin them out, leaving two or three per plant. Like pumpkins, winter squash can be stored for many weeks after harvesting if they have been “cured” first. Leave them on the plants as long as possible but harvest before the first frost. ’Turk’s Turban’ squashes are among the most distinctive and attractive. They can be enjoyed as decoration until used for cooking.
Planting Out Winter Squash
You can safely plant squash seedlings outside when the risk of frost has passed. This will keep them from becoming pot-bound or growing too large to handle easily. Squash germinate and grow quickly, so don’t sow them too early.
Be sure to water the seedlings before removing the pots so they slip out easily, and plant the seedlings at their original depth. Water well, and add a mulch of organic matter to feed them and to retain moisture. Sprinkle slug pellets lightly on top of the mulch as an added precaution.
Varieties of Winter Squash to Try
On smaller plots, make good use of space by choosing varieties that are attractive and can double as ornamentals, such as ‘Crown Prince’, ‘Festival’, ‘Harlequin’ and ‘Turk’s Turban’. ‘Butternut’ and 'Spaghetti' are also wonderful regular varieties to try.
Watch Out for These Pests
Squash, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins are related and are affected by the same pests and diseases. Red spider mites can attack plants during hot summers, sucking sap, discoloring leaves and seriously weakening plants. Spray plants with an appropriate insecticide when symptoms first appear.