Growing your own squash can be really fun (and delicious), but it also comes with a number of challenges. The first is just figuring out what you’re actually growing. Zucchini, for instance, is really just squash, as are pumpkins, and all squash are actually gourds. We call gourds that are harvested when their flesh is still tender summer squash. Winter squash is grown in the summer but left on the plant long enough to develop a hard skin. You following?

The second challenge is determining how you should grow it. Squash plants (gourds?) can be vining, semi-vining, or bush. The type of plant you’re growing will determine where you should plant it in your garden and what type of support structure you’ll need.

The third challenge is pests like squash bugs and squash vine borers, but that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s get into trellising squash.

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WHAT TYPE OF SQUASH ARE YOU GROWING: VINING OR BUSH?

Both summer squash and winter squash plants grow in two different ways. First, there are bush types of squash, which have larger leaves and thicker stems. These plants need about 2 to 4 feet of space all to themselves in the garden to spread wide, depending on which variety you’re growing. Bush types do not need a trellis to climb. That being said, it’s still a good idea to have some kind of system to hold the leaves of these plants off the ground (more on that later).

Then, there are vining types, which either need to climb a vertical structure or sprawl long over the garden space. Traditional row gardens grow vining types in the ground without trellises; you have to make sure to give plants plenty of room if you’re growing this way, so it’s not ideal for smaller spaces. I don’t recommend trying this in a raised bed because the vines can quickly take over the bed and smother the other plants trying to grow in the space.

Another thing to consider with vining types is fruit size. It’s easy to trellis plants with smaller fruits, such as acorn, spaghetti or butternut squash. But if you are wanting to grow large pumpkins, I recommend growing them on the edge of a raised bed so that the vines can trail over the side and have room to spread outward. Your plants will enjoy the benefits of growing in a raised bed (think better drainage and nutrient-rich soil), even if they miss the pluses of vertical growing.

THE BENEFITS OF VERTICAL GARDENING

Using trellises to support vining types and even giving bush types some kind of vertical support has a number of benefits.

Healthier Plants

Vertical gardening leads to healthy plants with little effort on your part. First, it keeps leaves off the soil. This helps to prevent pests and soil-borne diseases. It also keeps the leaves drier, which can prevent fungal disease. Lastly, it ensures every plant has access to sunlight and good airflow.

Easier Harvesting

Using stakes or trellises to hold plants upright makes for easier tending and harvesting. You don’t have to stick your hand into a tangled jumble of vines to try to pick fruit; instead, you’ll have cleaner fruit that’s easy to spot and access.

Much Less Space

Growing vertically saves space, which is especially important in small gardens. You can grow a large plant up its own trellis instead of turning over all your ground space to just one plant.

The Verdict: Bush types of squash don’t necessarily need extra support, but vining types benefit from having a strong trellis to climb. If you have a smaller garden, growing more vertically can also save you a ton of space.

TYPES OF SQUASH THAT NEED A TRELLIS

There are thousands of squash and zucchini varieties out there. Make sure to read the seed packet before you buy to check if you’re getting a vining variety or bush variety. Most summer squashes are bush varieties.

Winter and Summer Squash Varieties That Need a Trellis

Here are some of the best varieties that benefit from a trellis:

Winter and Summer Squash Varieties That Do NOT Need a Trellis

These plants are either bush varieties or vining varieties that produce large fruits:

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HOW TO TRELLIS SQUASH

I recommend metal trellises for vertical gardening. They’re much sturdier than wood trellises, so you don’t have to worry about your squash trellis falling over the second the fruits start forming. You can choose from a panel, obelisk, or arch trellis for your vegetable garden.

You’ll want to install your strong trellis before planting your vining squash seeds. Follow these steps to trellis your squash:

Step One

Direct sow squash seeds right along the base of the trellis.

Step Two

For the first few weeks, you’ll need to help vines of young plants attach to the trellis. Use jute twine or something similar to loosely tie the vines to the support structure. Don’t make your knots too tight, or you might damage the plant.

Step Three

Continue tying the tips of the vines as they grow longer. Plants should be able to attach themselves to the trellis using their little tendrils once they’re more established.

Step Four

If you’re growing a winter squash plant with heavier fruits (like full-size butternut squash), be prepared to support them. Otherwise the developing fruit can put strain on the squash vines or even cause them to tear away from the trellis. There are lots of creative ways to support heavier fruits, but my preference is to just cut up strips of old pantyhose to use as fruit slings. Whatever you’re using, you’ll want to tie supports around baby fruits as soon as they begin swelling.

Need a trellis for your squash plants?

HOW TO SUPPORT BUSH TYPES OF SQUASH

You can actually use the base of a trellis to support bush types, as well. Bush types don’t have tendrils to help them grab on, but you can use twine to tie the short stems to the trellis.

Another great way to hold the plants off the ground is with metal posts. (Plan ahead and install the posts before you plant your squash so that you don’t damage the root system.) Using posts and twine may not look as attractive, but you can still prevent a lot of pest and disease issues. You can also grow your plants closer together while still keeping them healthy.

One last way to support bush types is with a tomato cage. This is an easy way to hold the leaves off the soil and give your plants a little extra support.

TOP TIP TO KEEP SQUASH PLANTS HEALTHY

Whether you’re growing baby butternuts up a trellis or crooknecks over the side of a raised bed, there’s one critical thing to do to keep your squash plants as healthy as possible: prune. 

Once a week, remove any damaged or yellowed leaves from your plants. Prune some of those older, lower leaves near the base of the plant. This increases air circulation, which can go a long way in preventing fungal diseases like powdery mildew.

Pruning also frees up some of the plants’ energy to focus on new leaves, flowers, and fruits. For bush types, pruning this way also keeps your plants from taking up too much space in raised beds. Focus on pruning only those hollow stems that aren’t involved in fruit production, and make sure to cut them right at the base of the plant. 

Pro tip:

Some squash plants are covered in little spikes that can irritate the skin and cause rashes. Wear long sleeves and gloves when you’re pruning and tying up your squash plants. 

I hope this helps you support your squash plants in the best way! You can find more tips to grow summer squash and winter squash. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!