Recently, I shared articles on growing tomatoes and peppers in the home garden. I would like to stick with a home garden theme and share information on home garden squash. In regards to squash, you have two types, the summer and winter squash. Both types are high in fiber content and are high in vitamins A and C. Squash can be fairly easy to grow if you follow basic cultural practices plus manage for certain insects and other issues. I will be sharing information from a UGA publication by Bob Westerfield, Malgorzata Florkowska and Adrianne Todd.
As previously stated, there are the summer type squash and the winter squash. I would say more people are interested in summer squash. Summer squash will grow on non-vining bushes. In summer squash you will have the yellow straight neck or crooked neck, the white scallop or patty pan and then the oblong, green, grey or gold zucchini. Winter squash will mature on the vine and per our information is covered with a hard rind that permits winter storage. Winter squash is put into categories according to the fruit size. The small fruit would include the acorn and butternut types and would be in the 1 to 4 pound range. The 6 to 12 pounds intermediate squash would include the banana squash, Cushow and Hubbard. You can have winter squash in the jumbo fruit category which would be 50 to over 100 pounds. This would be your Big Max and some of the Mammoth varieties.
Soil preparation is important in growing squash. All squash like organic, rich and well-drained soils. Organic matter will help water uptake along with nutrients. Our information states that adding compost or aged manure can help give squash plants a good start. I will add that if you use manure, it needs to come from an herbicide free source. Our publication adds that if you have a new garden area, you should amend with at least 4 to 5 inches of good organic matter and then till 8 to 10 inches into the native soil. The pH should be in the 5.8 to 6.8 range and soil temps in the 65 to 80 degree F range for growing squash. You should wait till the danger of frost has passed for planting. Last frost date is normally the middle of April here, but I am sure some gardeners will wait a little longer before planting squash to make sure the soil temps are right. Plant 4 to 6 summer squash seeds in individual mounds that are 4 feet apart. After the plants have two leaves, you should thin to two to three plants per mound. You can also purchase transplants, but make sure they have 2 to 3 mature leaves and a well-developed root system. Our information states in regards to winter squash because of their vining nature, they will need more room. You should allow for 6 to 8 feet between mounds. Winter squash requires warm soils and can be planted a few weeks after summer squash has been sowed.
After plant seed have germinated, you should apply some type of organic mulch. You can use straw and newspaper to help reduce weeds, conserve moisture and keep squash fruit clean. Our info adds that newly seeded gardens should be watered daily and lightly for the first week to aid seed germination. In addition, established squash will need 1 to 1.5 inches of irrigation per week. I have said this often and will again with squash that drip irrigation or soaker hoses is the best way to water garden plants. The water added by irrigation should go 6 to 8 inches into the soil. Try to keep plant foliage dry to reduce disease issues. When fruit becomes ripe, reduce your irrigation events to reduce fruit rot problems.
You still have time to take a soil sample to send in a $9 submission to the UGA Soil Test Lab for accurate fertilizing and liming recommendations. I can email or mail you the steps in the process. If you choose to not take a soil test, a general recommendation is to apply 3 tablespoons of 5-10-15 fertilizer per mound at planting time. After the squash plants begin to flower and small fruit form, side-dress with additional fertilizer according to the soil test recommendations. I will add that our information states that organic fertilizers can be substituted to cover plant nutritional needs. After fertilizing, make sure to water plants completely to help in nutrient release.
Two big insect issues in Georgia for squash is the squash vine borer and the squash bug. With the squash vine borer, you will have an adult that will lay eggs in the lower stem of the plant. The larvae will tunnel and eat into the lower stems. This is why you may see a squash plant that wilts and dies. They are hard to control and you may can use labeled insecticide prevention. If you find the larvae soon enough, you can actually cut the larvae out of the stem with a knife. You then will mound over the wound area with soil that may help rooting thus saving the plant.