Okay, I have a confession to make. The title of this post is a little misleading. It looks like I’m going to teach you how to grow two things, when it reality, I’m only going to teach you how to grow one thing—one super delicious thing.
That’s because summer squash is actually a group of gourds that includes both zucchini and yellow squash.
These are gourds that we harvest while their flesh is still tender instead of letting them grow longer and giving them time to develop a thicker skin (which is how we would grow winter squash).
Summer squashes are super fun to grow in a home garden here in Texas. Let’s look at how to find success growing these tender little gourds.
First things first, here’s something good to know:
SUMMER SQUASH PLANTS GROW TWO DIFFERENT WAYS
Like tomatoes, summer squash plants can be either bush or vining. Bush types produce large leaves and thick stems and need about 2 feet of space all to themselves in the garden to spread wide.
Vining types have thinner stems and need to either climb up something or sprawl long over the garden space. It’s best to grow this type of vining plant up a trellis or plant them on the edge of a raised bed so that they can drape over the side and not smother other plants trying to grow in the space. I’ll talk more about how to trellis zucchini in a bit.
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OUR FAVORITE TYPES OF SUMMER SQUASH PLANTS TO GROW
There are so many different types of zucchinis and summer squashes to grow. Some of my favorites include:
- Black Beauty Summer Squash – This bush zucchini grows about 2′ tall and 3′ to 4′ wide, and produces plentiful fruits that are both buttery and sweet.
- Patty Pan Summer Squash – This is a colorful blend of bush types, each of which produce the cutest little fruits with scalloped edges. These might be too adorable to eat. You’ll harvest when each fruit is about 2″ wide.
- Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash – The yummy fruits of this yellow type are basically young versions of those warty gourds you use in decor for fall.
- Round Zucchini Summer Squash – This type produces tasty little zucchini spheres with really attractive stripes down the sides.
- Sunstrip Summer Squash – This is your standard yellow straightneck variety, but with beautiful white striping down the sides.
- Organic Climbing Zucchini – This new plant from Renee’s garden is on trial in my garden this year! This plant is a true vertical climber and will produce tasty nutty flavored zucchini’s.
If you’re container gardening, look for compact vines or bush varieties of zucchini like this Astia container zucchini.
WHEN TO GROW SUMMER SQUASH
Squash is a warm-season plant that grows really well here in Central Texas during our spring and fall thanks to our relatively warm climate. These plants thrive when temperatures range from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The right time to grow squash for spring is once all danger of frost has passed. For those of us in the Austin area, our last frost date is around mid-March. If you plant any earlier than that, even if you’re certain we won’t experience more frost, you risk the soil temperature being a little too cool for squash seeds to sprout well.
Squash planted in early spring will thrive in our warm weather until late spring or early summer, when our blazing Texas temps arrive. Plants might survive in the heat, but they’ll drop their blossoms instead of producing more fruit. They’ll most likely feel really stressed out and just attract pests to your garden—and you don’t want that!
We have a second opportunity to grow summer squash in the fall, from about September to early November. Squash plants germinate really well in the warm soil of late summer and then bask in the sunny autumn days. Remove squash from your garden before our first freeze.
WHERE TO GROW SUMMER SQUASH
Your top location priority is to choose a site that gets full sun. Squash plants require at least 6 hours of sun but will be much more productive with 8 or more hours a day.
Growing summer squash in a raised bed
Even though squash plants are fairly large, I prefer to grow them in a raised garden bed filled with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Fruiting plants like zucchini thrive with the extra depth for their roots and the good drainage that a raised bed provides.
I like to put squash plants in the corner of my beds so they can drape over the sides.
Growing summer squash in the ground
Some gardeners prefer to grow squash outside of their raised beds. These plants don’t love the heavy clay soil we tend to have in Texas backyards, so you’d need to loosen and amend the soil with some sand and compost before planting.
Growing summer squash in a container
If you’re working with a small space, you can also grow summer squash in large containers. Each plant will need its own pot or container to have enough space to grow to its full potential.
If you’d like to try growing them in a container, look for a pot that’s at least 18 inches across and 12 inches deep. If you’re growing a vining type, make sure your container has enough room for some kind of support structure.
Check out this post for tips on how to find container gardening success. Your biggest task will be keeping the soil well-watered since containers dry out faster than raised beds and in-ground gardens. Using a Growoya will help save you time and water by watering the plants right at their roots.
CAN YOU TRELLIS ZUCCHINI?
You can absolutely grow vining types up a trellis.
While bush types and plants with more compact vines don’t necessarily need a structure to climb, I still recommend using some kind of system to hold the leaves of these plants off the ground.
Let’s look at how to support each type.
Supporting vining types
If you’re interested in growing zucchini up a trellis, look for zucchini seeds for vining varieties.
You’ll need a strong trellis for vertical gardening. Follow these steps.
Step One to Trellis Zucchini
Plant your squash seeds near the trellis.
Step Two to Trellis Zucchini
For the first few weeks, you’ll need to help the zucchini vines attach to the trellis. I use jute twine to tie the vines loosely to the support structure. You don’t want to tie too tighly and risk damaging the plant.
Step Three to Trellis Zucchini
Continue tying the tips of the vines as they grow longer. Once it’s established, the plant should be able to then take it from there and attach itself to the trellis using tendrils.
Supporting bush types
You can actually grow a bush type up the base of a trellis by tying the stems up. The plant won’t help you out the way a vining plant would by grabbing on to the support structure with little tendrils, but that’s okay. If you don’t have a trellis, you can use a strong stake. (Make sure to install the stake before you plant to avoid damaging roots.)
Prune lower leaves regularly and tie remaining leaves to the trellis or stake. This method doesn’t look very attractive, but it’s effective at prevening lots of pest and disease issues. It also allows you to grow your plants closer together while keeping them healthy.
Another atlternative to keep the leaves of a bush type off the soil is to use a tomato cage for a little extra support.
HOW TO PLANT SUMMER SQUASH
Zucchini seedlings really dislike being moved, so you’ll wait till all chance of frost has passed and then start them by seed right where they’ll grow. If you grab those little squash starts you see at the local nursery, be very careful as you transfer them to the garden. Try to not to disturb the roots as your are planting into the prepared spot in your garden.
Before you sow seeds, the first step is to spread a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of fresh compost over the garden space. You have the option of also adding some mycorrhizae to the planting area to help your squash grow nice, strong roots faster.
When you’re planting your squash, make sure to leave enough space between the seeds for them to grow. If you overcrowd your plants, they may become more susceptible to pests and diseases, plus they won’t have enough room to reach their full potential. I typically space my seeds about 12″ apart. (This spacing assumes you’ll prune lower stems and tie them up regularly.)
Sow squash seeds about ½” to 1″ deep.
Make sure your support structure is installed now.
If you’re growing bush varieties, then come back in a couple weeks and plant more seeds. This way, you’ll get a more continuous squash harvest in a couple months.
Water the planting area. Keep the soil moist while you’re waiting on the squash seeds to germinate.
HOW TO CARE FOR SUMMER SQUASH PLANTS
Squash plants love warmth, but they’re not cut out for summer heat. If temps are spiking over 95 degrees while you still have squash producing in your garden, consider using a floating row cover or shade cloth to protect them and prevent them from dropping their blossoms.
Other than providing shade when needed, your tending tasks for squash will include watering, fertilizing, pruning, and making sure the flowers are getting pollinated.
How to water summer squash
Squash plants need to be watered regularly throughout the growing season to keep them healthy and their fruits full of flavor. Check the soil moisture frequently with your fingertips. If the top layer of soil feels dry, it’s time to water the planting area.
On extra-hot days, you may see your squash plant’s leaves look a bit wilty. Make sure the plant has enough water and consider providing some afternoon shade.
You’ll most likely need to water your squash plants every day during our warmer, drier months. You can water by hand in the early morning. We recommend using a long watering wand so that you can get right to the base of the plants. Water deeply to encourage the roots to reach down, not stay shallow, to find water. Also, avoid splashing water on the leaves, as wet leaves can invite fungal disease and mildew growth.
Another watering method is to install drip irrigation prior to planting, with a timer at your spigot to give your plants a deep drink at regular intervals. Garden in Minutes is a great DIY kit for installing drip irrigation in your garden.
Once your squash plants are established in your garden, they’ll need about an inch of water each week for high yields.
How to fertilize summer squash plants
Squash plants are heavy feeders. Adding organic matter like compost or worm castings at the time of planting is a great way to give your plants lots of nutrients when they’re just starting out.
After that, you’ll focus on giving them fertilizer high in phosporus and potassium to help them support and form flowers and fruit.
My go-to fertilizer for fruiting plants is MicroLife’s Maximum Blooms. This fertilizer is liquid, so you’ll just add the fertilizer to a watering can with water and give the base of your plants a good soaking with the solution. I begin applying this as soon as my plants start flowering, and then I repeat every 2 to 4 weeks.
How to Prune Squash plants
Pruning is a key way to keep squash plants healthy.
Each week, remove any damaged or yellowed leaves from your plants. As squash plants grow up their stake or garden trellis, prune away some of the older, lower leaves near the base to increase air circulation in the garden and give the plant more energy to focus on new leaves, flowers, and fruits.
It’s really just those top leaves that are important to the plant’s ability to get energy from the sun, so don’t be afraid to remove older leaves from the bottom.
Since the stems of bush types are hollow, make sure to cut them right at the base.
Squash plants can have little spikes on them that can irritate the skin and cause rashes. I recommend wearing long sleeves and gloves while tending.
How to pollinate summer squash flowers by hand
This tending task is only necessary if you notice that your plant is forming fruits that struggle to form or just whither away. This happens because they’re not being pollinated. We can usually rely on bees and butterflies to do the pollinating for us, but you might need to step in if your area sprays heavily for pests and isn’t very inviting to our pollinators.
First, let’s talk about the two types of flowers you’ll find on your squash plants.
Fruits grow from zucchini flowers that have a curve at their base. This is the baby fruit that will grow and ripen if things go according to nature’s plan. Female flowers also feature a central stigma, which looks like a little cluster of tentacles.
Male flowers won’t have a curve at their base because they can’t form fruits themselves. In the middle of the bloom, the male has one little protusion (the stamen). One male flower can pollinate lots of female flowers.
Here’s how to ensure each little baby fruit gets pollinated before it’s too late.
First, find a male flower and use a Q-tip or small paint brush to rub some pollen from the central stamen.
Then, find a female flower. Brush the pollen you collected from the male onto the female’s stigma.
You could also just pluck the male flower, remove all the petals, and then rub it inside the female flowers.
COMMON SUMMER SQUASH GROWING PROBLEMS
Unfortunately, squash plants are prone to pest problems and disease.
Here’s the best way to prevent a number of potential issues when you’re growing this plant.
Squash Vine Borers
This pesky pest is actually a moth but the adults look like red and black wasp-like bugs. The problem is actually their larvae, which look like grubs and burrow through the stems of your plants. If they eat their way through, they can cause sudden squash death. By the time you see what looks like saw dust on the stems of your plants, it can already be too late.
To prevent squash vine borer problems, cover your plants with garden mesh until they need to be pollinated to prevent the adults from laying eggs in your garden. You could also just keep your plants covered at all times and pollinate them by hand.
Other ways to deal with the squash vine borer include using pheromone traps and digging out the borers from the vines.
For best results I suggest doing daily egg checks. The eggs are small reddish brown dots the size of a pencil tip and will be located at the base of the plant and on the back of stems and leaves. You can scrape off the eggs from the stems and leaves or use double sided sticky tape to remove the eggs.
These beetles can be yellow and black or orange and black. They feed on leaves and stems, which can significantly stunt your plants, and can also spread disease.
The best way to prevent them is, again, to keep your plants covered. Hand pick any beetles you see and toss them into soapy water. Apply Neem oil to the leaves of your plants weekly until the problem is resolved.
This is pretty common here in our warm climate. Fungal diseases like powdery mildew thrive in heat and humidty.
For best results, focus on prevention. Pruning leaves reguarly can go a long way in preventing this disease or, at the very least, slowing its spread. The same goes for tying up stems or trellising climbing varieties to keep their leaves off the soil. Your goal is to give each plant access to good airflow.
Again, avoid spraying the leaves of the plant if you’re using a watering can or soaker hose. Wet leaves, especially in a warm environment, can mean bad news.
You’ll know your plants are effected by powdery mildew when they suddenly look like they’ve got white powder on their leaves.
Remove diseased leaves immediately. You can slow the spread of disease to other leaves by spraying your plants with a mix of about 4 cups of water to 1/2 Tablespoon of vinegar. You’ll spray both sides of the leaves once a week.
These are those really ugly dark grey bugs that look like narrower stink bugs. They’re armored and can also release a stinky smell.
I’ve seen unprotected squash plants overrun with these guys. You’ll want to check your plants regularly for their brown eggs, which will be under the leaves in groups. Remove eggs and knock any adults you find into soapy water.
Again, you can prevent an infestation by covering your garden and checking on your plants regularly. If needed, treat with Neem oil.
If you notice tiny orange, light green, black, or whitish bugs on the bottom of your leaves, you’ve probably got an aphid issue. They’re feeding on the sap in the leaves of your plants.
My first line of defense is to spray the leaves with water to try to knock the aphids off and disrupt their reproductive cycle. Check back every day to see if they return.
My second line of defense is to spray leaves with soapy water (mix Castile soap and water in a spray bottle) or insecticidal soap.
HOW TO HARVEST SUMMER SQUASH
Growing squash in your vegetable garden means you’re in for a bountiful harvest. A single plant can often produce enough for two to three people.
Most squash varieties are ready for their first harvest about 50 days after planting.
Summer squash is edible at any size. I don’t recommend leaving produce on the plant with the intent of ending up with large fruit. Summer squash is sweeter and more tender when it’s still young. Plus, these guys can grow monstrous seemingly overnight.
Check the back of your seed packet to see how large fruits should be when they’re harvested. You’ll see something like “best picked at 6″–8″ long.”
Use a clean knife or pruners to cut the stem about an inch above the fruit. Including some stem reduces your chance of the fruit molding or drying out.
Harvest often to encourage your plants to keep producing for you.
You can actually harvest and enjoy male flowers. Lots of gardeners fry these up.
HOW TO SAVE AND ENJOY SUMMER SQUASH
Avoid rinsing your harvest until you’re ready to eat. If you’d like to store summer squash in the fridge, poke a few holes in a plastic baggie and then place the baggie in your crisper drawer.
Squash is well worth growing since it’s such a versatile vegetable in the kitchen. You can steam it, sauté it, add it to soups, turn it into a relish, and even eat it raw in salads.
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW
If you want fresh zucchini for your summer barbecues, it’s time to get those seeds in the soil!
Let us know what questions you have about growing this warm weather veggie here in Austin, TX. We love helping you set up your own kitchen gardens and become confident gardeners. Click here to start growing with us!