Summer squash is a favorite food for families and makes an excellent low calorie side dish. It’s easy to grow in the right conditions and will produce bountifully for you. Often a healthy summer squash plant will provide enough for your home with left over to share with the neighbors.
Different than winter squash, common examples of summer varieties are zucchini and crookneck squash. The taste varies across the board from mild to tart and many places in between. Sliced on salads, grated into baking, baked and mashed or grilled on the BBQ, summer squash is a good addition to your vegetable garden.
Best Soil for Summer Squash
Much like many other vegetables, summer squash does best in well drained, organically rich soils. They will thrive in full sun and need plenty of room to display their large leaves. Add compost to your garden and mix well. Organic matter will deliver the necessary nutrients to the growing summer squash plants, as well as help with water retention and drainage at the same time.
When to Plant Summer Squash
Start your summer squash seeds inside the greenhouse about four weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. These seedlings will give you an earlier crop of tasty fruit and can be planted out once they’ve sprouted at least two true leaves.
For seed sown directly into the garden, wait for the soil temperature to reach at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually means about 2 weeks after the last frost has passed.
How to Plant Summer Squash
Once your seedlings have grown to the appropriate height (or you’ve picked them up from the garden center that way) you can transplant into the bed easily. They will need a lot of room to mature, so space at 20” apart in rows at least 2 feet apart.
Direct sowing of summer squash seeds also works, although your harvest will be much later. Make ˝” deep holes about 6” apart, sow seeds and cover lightly with organic matter. Once they sprout, thin them out to the spacing above.
Proper Care of Summer Squash
Summer squash like to grow in evenly moist soil, but aren’t happy with wet leaves. Water daily from the base of the plant or when the soil looks dry on the surface. Lay down mulch to keep that moisture in and weed the bed on a regular basis. Don’t crowd summer squash plants or you’ll create a breeding ground for disease and less fruit to enjoy.
Remember that one summer squash plant will produce a bounty. Try not to plant too many or you may get sick of the crop and write it off for next season.
Fertilize your summer squash with organic fertilizer or compost tea about one month after transplanting or after the sight of healthy sprouts.
When to Harvest Summer Squash
The male flowers of summer squash appear about 40 to 50 days after the seed was planted. Female flowers (that eventually become the fruit) show up a week or so after the males. You might be able to speed harvest time up a little by assisting with pollination. Pick the male flowers (first to appear) and rub them gently against the females when they blossom.
Once the fruit is of a decent size you can harvest. This will depend on your tastes, the use you have in mind and the variety. Smaller summer squash are more tender and juicy with a fuller flavor. If you leave them summer squash will just keep growing and eventually rot on the ground. Most varieties taste best when grown to about 2 inches in diameter and 6 to 8 inches in length. Pattypan squash and other types are best when they’re grown larger and can be stuffed to create a great meal.
How to Harvest Summer Squash
Summer squash can often be twisted off of the vine or plant, but the more stubborn stems may need to be cut with a sharp pruners. Snip just above the crown of the fruit. Store them at room temperature or blanch and freeze for a tasty treat in winter.
Common Summer Squash Pests and Diseases
Squash bugs will cause you the most trouble, although cucumber beetles and squash vine borers could show up as well. Use an oil based mixture (such as Neem oil) to allow your summer squash plants to fend them off.
Mildew and bacteria wilt are also common diseases. Watering in the mornings and keeping the moisture in the soil (and off of the leaves) is one way to combat these. Also, allowing enough space between your plants is a good method of prevention. Harvest at the right time to prevent rotting.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Summer Squash
It’s important to allow enough space between the summer squash plants to maintain good air flow. Pests and disease tend to be less of a problem and your plants will thrive better. Keep the soil full of organics and try to rotate the crops every other season or so. This will help to avoid exhausting the nutrients in the soil and crop rotation helps prevent garden pests.
Summer squash is a wonderful crop that grows with ease. You’ll be thrilled at the harvest it brings in and the wide selection of recipes you can experiment with using your homegrown summer squash.