All About Winter Squash
Here's everything you need to know about growing your favorite winter squashes.
Winter squash are all known for the hard skins that protect them through the fall, winter, and sometimes even spring, depending on the variety. Every type of winter squash is edible, but the amount of flesh on the inside varies. If you love roasted squash or pumpkin pie, then these are the plants for you.
Popular Winter Squash Varieties
People may wonder what the difference is between pumpkins and squash. You might be surprised to learn there is no difference. Pumpkins are squash, but they are divided into two groups based on their look. Pumpkins usually have a spikier stem and their seeds are edible.
The name says it all—you don't need to add butter. One of the most popular squashes, the butternut squash is yellow on the outside and extra sweet on the inside. This squash can be used in soups, hot dishes, and even mac and cheese.
One of the hottest new trends, spaghetti squash is true to its name. Spaghetti squash is all about its texture. It's noodle-like strands are a great low-carb alternative to pasta. Serve it with marinara, pesto, or butter and salt.
Planting Winter Squash
If you are interested in growing your own winter squash, you'll need some space. The plants need at least 4 to 6 feet to spread out, especially pumpkins; their vines can really sprawl.
The best way to grow winter squash is from seed, and you don't need to start them indoors like some vegetables. These seeds need warm soil, so you should wait about 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost date to plant; if you put the seeds in the ground too early, they will rot.
To start, put 4 to 6 seeds in a hill. Make the hill about 1 foot in diameter and mound it up a few inches. This improves drainage, giving the plants an abundance of good soil to grow in. Leave plenty of room—at least 6 feet— between hills.
How to Grow Winter Squash
As the plants emerge, thin out every other seedling so that you have 2 or 3 plants on one hill. As plants grow and sprawl, put straw underneath pumpkins and squash to avoid the pumpkins getting discolored or disfigured from sitting on the ground.
Once your plants fill out, you'll need to keep a regular watering schedule. Pumpkins and squash take a fair amount of water, so a consistent watering plan is crucial. If you're looking to grow a winter squash but don't have the room to do so, try acorn squash—there are bushier types available rather than long, sprawling types.
Keep Pests Under Control
Pumpkins and squash have several pests that can plague them. Keep a close eye on your squash and whenever you see yellowing leaves or holes, do a little investigating.
The main pests that afflict winter squash are cucumber beetles. While these are easy to control if there are a few here and there, an infestation can devastate your crop.
Since winter squash is an edible plant, look for natural solutions to control pests. The easiest and most effective way to rid your patch of beetles is to manually pick them off as you see them. Garden centers also sell different types of traps to catch these buggers—the most common being a sticky trap to put in your plot.
If you are new to growing squash, start off by growing butternut or acorn squash. These squash varieties are bred to be more pest resistant.
Harvesting Your Squash
When pumpkins are the size you expect them to be, it's harvest time. Look for pumpkins and squash that don't have blemishes or cuts. The skin should feel solid (not mushy) and the fruit should be heavy due to the abudance of moisture inside of it. Make sure to cut off the stem when harvesting—do not tear it. Store pumpkins and squash in a cool, dry place so they won't rot.