Name: squash, button squash, spaghetti squash, summer squash, Cucurbita pepo.
Height: sprawling vine, up to 0.6m tall and 1.5m wide.
Plant type: annual vegetable.
Climate: cool and warm temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical.
Soil: moist, well-drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun, with protection from hot, dry winds.
Flowering and fruiting: male and female squash flowers form separately on the vine; both are large and yellow, but the female flower has an immature fruit at the base of the flower.
Feeding: liquid feed regularly with a high potassium fertiliser throughout flowering and fruiting.
Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Squash is an easy growing, sprawling vine. Its leaves are large and lobed, with stiff, small hairs on the surface, giving them the texture of gritty sandpaper. The stems are long, hollow and covered with prickly fibres that can cause skin irritations, so it’s best to wear gloves when handling them.
Male and female flowers are borne separately on the vines. Both are large and yellow, but females are easy to distinguish as they have an immature fruit at the base of their flowers. Once pollinated, the immature fruit begins to ripen. Harvest when mature, taking care not to leave fruit on the vines for too long as the flesh becomes woody and inedible.
The squash themselves can take many forms: flattened, yellow or green discs with scalloped edges (button squash), cylindrical with rounded ends and stringy, spaghetti-like flesh (spaghetti squash), or loosely bottle-shaped with golden skin (crookneck squash).
An incredibly versatile kitchen ingredient, squash is delicious roasted, steamed, baked or stir fried. The flesh of the spaghetti squash comes away like stringy ribbons when cooked and can be used as a healthy pasta alternative.
In temperate climates, sow seeds during the warmer months. In tropical zones, while squash can be grown all year round, it’s best to sow during the cooler months. Sowing during the dry season will help reduce fungal problems in hot, humid weather.
Choose a spot with full sun and well-drained soil. Add plenty of organic matter, like compost or aged manure, and work in well. Sow 3–4 seeds into mounds spaced 80cm apart and water well. Once seeds have germinated, thin to the two strongest per mound. Seeds can also be raised in seed trays and transplanted into the garden or pots once the set of true leaves appear.
Vines will sprawl as they grow, so ensure they have plenty of space or provide a trellis for them to climb.
Squash is relatively easy to look after once it’s growing. Regular watering and feeding are all you really need for this vegetable to thrive.
If, despite prolific flowering, you find there aren’t many fruits developing, you may need to assist plants with pollination. You can do this by growing multiple plants as this helps increase the presence of both male and female flowers. Additionally, brushing the pollen of the male flower onto the centre of the female flower can help with fruit set. Do this in the morning as female flowers only stay open for one day.
Water regularly to keep the soil moist. This may mean watering once a day in hot, dry conditions. However, a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant will help retain moisture and reduce watering frequency.
Liquid feed regularly with a fertiliser high in potassium when plants begin to flower and fruit.
Squash is generally ready to harvest 6–8 weeks from sowing, but check seed packets or seedling labels for an accurate harvest time. Cut the fruits from the vine with secateurs or a sharp knife, leaving a 2cm stub of stem attached. Wear gloves as the stems and leaves have small spines that can cause skin irritations.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew are common fungal diseases of squash and other cucurbits. To reduce the likelihood of fungal attack, ensure there is proper spacing between plants and avoid overhead watering. For small infestations, remove and bin the leaves. If the disease appears to have spread, control with a suitable fungicide.
Squash grows easily from seed or seedlings.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Zucchini: grows as easily as squash and is a prolific producer.
Tomato: from hearty beefsteaks to sweet cherry tomatoes and everything in between.
Watermelon: a sweet, refreshing melon that grows as a sprawling vine during the warmer months.
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