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Growing Winter Squash In
Large Or Small Gardens

Buttercup Squash Has Some Resistance To Squash Vine Borer

Growing winter squash

Unlike summer squash, that is eaten in its immature stage,  when growing winter squash the fruit is left until it is fully matured and the skin has hardened into a tough rind before harvesting.

When fully ripened and properly stored most varieties of winter squash will keep well and still be good to eat 4-6 months after harvesting.

Some of the most common winter squash varieties include, butternut, acorn, buttercup, hubbard, and spaghetti squash.

Butternut squash, It has tan-yellow colored skin and orange flesh. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin.

Buttercup squash, smooth dark green skin and flesh is dark yellow-orange. The flavor of the buttercup squash is sweet and nutty, with a creamy consistency similar to that of sweet potato.

Spaghetti Squash,  also called vegetable spaghetti, vegetable marrow, or noodle squash.  It has a golden-yellow, oval rind and a mild, nut like flavor. When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti pasta.

Acorn squash,  is roughly ovoid in shape with distinct ribs run the length of its hard, blackish-green or golden-yellow skin. The flesh is sweeter than summer squash, with a nut-like flavor.

Delicata squash is an heirloom squash that tastes a lot like a sweet potato. They are a cream-colored with green-strips. Oblong fruits, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter and 6 inches (15 cm) long.

Like potatoes and sweet corn growing winter squash is another of those vegetables that many gardeners avoid because it is a space hog.

But while many varieties of winter squash are vine types. There are plenty of space saving semi vine and bush varieties on the market that do produce very well in the small garden.

Vine types of winter squash require a lot more growing space than the bush varieties. Given half a chance they will take over the whole garden.

Some varieties of winter squash have both vine and bush types. This butternut squash plant is a bush variety. Growing 6-8 foot (1.8 - 2.4 M) in diameter it is ideal for smaller gardens.

Squash plants produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. For fruit to set, pollen must be transferred from the male to the female flower by pollinating insects.

Male Flower

Female Flower

Male flowers never set fruit. The female flower is recognized by the bulb shaped swelling at the base of the flower. This is the start of the winter squash fruit.

Climate and soil


Winter squashes are warm season plants that are frost tender and require a long, warm growing season. They will not do well until soil and air temperatures are above 60°F.

When growing winter squash, seed or transplants can be planted through clear, black, or infrared transmissible plastic mulches. Cover seed with 1 inch of soil. They are sun lovers so should be grown in full sun requiring at least 8-10 hours of direct sunlight daily.

Soil Conditions

All varieties of squash love rich, high organic soil containing plenty of well-rotted compost or manure.

Soil temperatures and air temperatures differ greatest in the early spring. While air temperature might be in the range for planting or sowing seed it will take consistently warm temperature during the day and night for the soil temperature to follow suit.


When planting winter squash, both by direct sowing seed or planting seedling transplants can be grown either in hills or in rows.

Direct sowing seed in hills.

Direct sowing seed in Rows.

best planting method;

Direct sow or seedling transplant.

Plant Care

Direct sowing

Direct sow seeds into warm soil after all danger of frost is past. Regardless of which variety or plant type is being planted all seeds should be sown one inch (25mm) deep.

Bush types

Hills; Bush types sow 4-5 seeds per hill. Thin bush types to 2 plant per hill.

Rows; Sow seeds 1-2 seeds per foot (30 cm) of row. 4-5 feet (120-150 cm) between rows. Thin to 1 strongest plant every 3 feet (1 M) of row.

Semi-vine types

Hills; Semi-vine types sow seeds 4-5 seeds per hill. 3 feet (90 cm) between hills. 8 feet ( 2 1/2 M) between rows. Thin to 2-3 strongest plant per hill.

Rows; Sow seeds 1-2 seeds per foot (30 cm) of row, 8 feet ( 2 1/2 M) between rows. Thin to the 2 strongest plants of semi-vine types every 4-6 feet.

Vine Types

Hills; Vine types sow seeds 4-5 seeds per hill. 5-6 feet (150-180 cm) between hills. 10-12 feet (3-3 1/2 M) between rows.

Rows; Sow seeds 1-2 seeds per foot (30 cm) of row, 10-12 feet (3-3 1/2 M) between rows. Thin to the 2 strongest plants of vine types every 5-7.

The most important aspects of caring for winter squash are;

  1. Thinning
  2. Weed control
  3. Moisture
  4. Fertilizer

Weed and moisture Control

Water is important for growing winter squash, they are thirsty for water and thrive with deep watering which encourages the squash to form deep, healthy root systems.

Don't forget the thick layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture and reduce weeds. Using black plastic is common practice with winter squash in many areas.

Because moisture can't penetrate plastic you will need to use a drip irrigation lines to keep your crop watered.

Drip irrigation or soak hoses are a good idea when watering winter squash even if black plastic isn't being used because it reduces the chances of diseases, especially fungal problems like powdery mildew.


2 weeks before sowing or transplanting apply 3-4 quarts per 100 sq feet (3.3-4.4 liters per 9.3 square meters) of All-Purpose 5-5-5 Organic Fertilizer.

When transplanting use liquid starter fertilizer.

Side dress with the same rate of initial application just as the vines start to run. Final side dressing when fruit are beginning to set.

Side dressing is not always practical with heavily vine types this is were liquid fertilizers come to the rescue.

Crop Rotation

Plant winter squash as the first crop in the rotation in a well manured bed. Do not plant in the same ground that any member of the Cucurbitaceous family, Cucumber, Cantaloupe, Gourds, Muskmelon, Pumpkin and squash, have been grown within the previous two seasons as the same problems effect them all.

pests and diseases


Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, pickleworm, squash bugs, melon aphids, spider mites.


Powdery and downy mildews, blossom blight, bacterial wilt.

Harvesting and Storing


Harvest winter squash when fruits turn a deep, solid color and the rind hard. Allow to ripen on the vine. Harvest after vine dries up before heavy frost. Cut the stem 2 to 3 inches from the vine as fruit without a stem tends not to store well.

Allow winter squash to ripen on the vine. Harvest after vine dries up before heavy frost.


Store winter squash in warm, dry environment 45-55 F, will normally keep for 4-6 months.

Winter squash can be stored canned or frozen.

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