Beginner’s Guide on How to Grow Squash (It’s So Easy!)

how to grow squash picking

If you’re wondering how to grow squash, you may be relieved to know that squash has a reputation as one of the easiest and most productive plants you can possibly grow. Whether you are growing summer or winter squash, getting the seedlings started is basically the same.

So, here’s how to grow squash. You can either transplant seedlings or direct-sow your seeds into the ground. But the first thing to know is that squash do not like cold and will not germinate well in it.

Do not start planting until the outdoor temperatures stay reliably above 70 °F and your soil is at least 60 °F three inches down.

When I think of squash, what usually comes to mind is the tender-skinned yellow crookneck variety we see on our plates in the summer, which is technically a fruit that we serve and think of as a vegetable. However, there are four main types of squash, which include summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, and gourds.

Growing Winter vs. Summer Squash

For the purposes of this article, we’re only going to talk about summer and winter squash. Did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of these two types of squash alone?

Some of the differences between winter and summer squash are related to the thickness of their skin, the length of their vines, the number of days to harvest, and their longevity once harvested.

Winter Squash have tough, mainly inedible skin. They take over 100 days to mature and sprawl widely as they grow. They can be stored for up to six  months if kept in a dark storage area at 50 °F.

There are over 210 varieties of winter squash. Some of these include Candy Roaster, Delicata, Butternut, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Acorn, Warted, Butterbush, Trombone, Lakota, Sibley, Stripetti, Hokkori, Banana, Sugar, Discus, and Jet.

Summer Squash have thin, edible skin. They mature in 55-65 days, and they have a shelf life of just a few days.

There are over 190 varieties of summer squash. Some of these  include Yellow Crookneck, Trombetta, Dark Green, Black Beauty, Zephyr, Fordhook Zucchini, Golden Black and Gray Zucchini, White Marrow, Patty Pan, Kuta, Benning’s Green Tint, Eight Ball, Scallopini, and Straightneck.

3 Ways to Germinate Squash Seeds

When using any of the germination methods below, follow the directions on the seed package to determine how deeply to plant the seed in the soil.

1 | Germinate your squash seeds indoors. You will need some special equipment in order to grow your seeds indoors.

You will need grow lights, heat mats, shelving, planting pots, and watering trays.

For a DIY setup, use shop light fixtures attached to metal wire shelving. Each shelf needs its own light.

Seedlings grown indoors will need 16-18 hours of bright artificial light. You never want to count on growing trays of seedlings in front of a window. The plants will stretch toward the sunlight and get thin and leggy, which makes them less strong.

how to grow squashseedlings
Squash seedlings in pots, ready to be planted.

2 | Germinate your squash seeds outdoors by direct sowing them into the garden when the air and soil are warm. Be sure all danger of frost has passed and then plant the seeds directly into loose, pre-moistened soil.

3 | Germinate your squash seeds outdoors with the Winter Sowing method, which combines the best of both worlds.

Winter Sowing is the practice of planting your seeds in mini-greenhouses or terrariums (usually milk jugs or soda bottles) so the plant can create its own atmosphere and moisture.

For drainage, place holes in the bottom of the jug or bottle. Then, cut the bottle around the middle so you can place dampened potting soil inside, plant your seeds, and duct tape the opening tightly closed.

Leave the bottle lid off, even through rain and snow, to create air flow. Winter sowing produces hearty, healthy plants.

How to Grow Squash from Seeds in Four Easy Steps

1 | Prepare a growing bed or container with soil amended with lots of organic matter (compost).

2 | Plant the seeds about an inch deep.

3 | Gently water the soil after planting.

4 | Mulch around the plant with straw to retain moisture, keep the fruit from touching the soil and being more susceptible to disease.

how to grow squash mulch
Squash seedling with mulch surrounding them.

How much sun does squash need?

Squash really likes full sun. They need at least six to eight hours of direct sun every day.

You can use a sunlight calculator to figure out the amount of sun your property receives, or just spend time noticing where the sun falls at different times of the day so you can situate the plants in the best place for their needs.

How many days for squash to produce?

Summer squash usually take 55-65 days to mature, while winter squash can take up to 120 days.

How long does it take for squash to grow after flowering?

Summer squash like zucchini will take 4-8 days to produce fruit after the blooms form. Winter squash take 45 to 55 days to mature after flowering.

how to grow squash flowering
Flowering squash plant.

Squash Plant Care

>>> Fertilizer: There is no need for fertilizer on your squash plants. However, they do like soil that is rich in organic matter. All you need to do is to mix in a generous amount of compost in the soil as you prepare it for planting.

>>> Water:  Squash need to have even, regular watering of at least 1 inch per week.

Overhead watering should be done early in the day so the leaves can dry out before night.

It’s better to water at the ground level with drip irrigation and drip spikes near the plant. Do not overwater.

>>> Harvesting summer squash: It is best to harvest summer squash at 5-6 inches long, since the smaller they are the better they taste.

Twist them and they’ll come right off the vine.

Don’t touch the stems or wear gloves as the stems have prickly hairs that may irritate your skin.

>>> Harvesting winter squash: Wait until close to your first frost date before harvesting winter squash.

You can check to see if they’re ready to pick by using your fingernail.

If the skin is too hard to penetrate with a fingernail and the vines are dying, they are most likely ready to harvest. 

How to Harvest Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms make some delicious dishes. They can be stuffed and baked, battered and fried, made into a soup with boiled eggs and spinach, or filled with greek yogurt and raspberries and eaten raw.

Harvest only the male blossoms, so you don’t destroy the females which are attached to the end of developing fruit. Choose your blossom and shake gently to be sure there are no bees inside the blooms.

Snip the bloom off with a couple inches of stem attached for handling.

Holding it by the stem, dip and gently swirl in a bowl of fresh water to clean them. They can be stored briefly in a bowl of ice water in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them.

how to grow squash blossoms
Female blossom, attached to the end of the developing fruit (L). Male blossom (R) ready to be picked.

How to Grow Squash Vertically

You may think that your garden is too small for growing squash. But there are a couple of solutions to growing in a small space. Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to purchase a variety of squash that has a bushing habit of growth rather than the vining habit.

However, if you’d like to grow squash with a vining habit, it is completely possible to grow squash vertically on a trellis. My favorite trellises are built using cattle panels bent into a doorway shape or a u-shape, and lashed on either side to t-posts or rebar to keep them stable.

Another method is to use three to four tall bamboo poles from which you can form a teepee shape. Just make sure the tops of the poles overlap and lash them together, with the legs spread wider and pushed into the ground.

Whatever trellising method you use, you’ll need to tie the plants up to the trellis with a soft sided tie which won’t cut into the vine. You may think this wouldn’t work with summer squash but it works just fine. Give it a try.

Troubleshooting Squash Problems

Fungus on Squash Fruit

If you see mold growing only on the squash fruit, you can try mulching around the plant with straw to keep the fruit from touching the ground.

Why are my squash plants not growing?

If you transplanted seedlings into the ground late they may have been rootbound, and are probably still recovering. Do not let them set fruit in this condition. Remove any fruit so the plant will continue to work to grow.

Why are my squash plants dying on the vine?

Squash may need your help with pollination. There are fewer bees pollinating these days so if you are getting tiny squash that never grow and end up dying on the vine, try cutting off a male blossom and using it to hand pollinate your female blossoms. You can read more about hand pollinating here.

Why are the leaves on my squash plant turning yellow?

The leaves will yellow at the end of their life cycle or due to stress, typically caused by too much or too little water, nutrient deficiency, or pests.

How to Grow Squash FAQs

Can you grow squash in a pot?

Yes, you can grow squash in a pot. Just be sure to provide potting soil, not topsoil, as your growing medium. Also, choose a pot that is at least 24 inches wide and over 12 inches deep. It’s easy to trellis them by placing a tomato cage right in your pot.

How many squash per plant? 

For summer squash, as long as the plant is healthy, you may get dozens of squash from one plant. For winter squash, you can expect one to ten fruits per vine. The large varieties will produce fewer fruits than the smaller ones.

How big do squash plants get?

Squash plants are known for their sprawling nature. Squash should be planted anywhere from 3-6 feet apart so they have room to spread.

Final Thoughts on Growing Squash

Even for beginner gardeners, squash is a simple vegetable to grow. With proper planting and care, you can harvest a wonderful crop that will taste great.

Happy gardening!