The varieties of summer squash plants are an essential part of every well-rounded garden, and they encompass everything from different types of zucchini (Round, Golden, and Black Beauty) to Benning’s Green Tint, Summer Crookneck, Patty Pan, Cocozelle, and Tatume and more. Each of these, while similar in texture and substance, provides their own unique and delicious flavors. Roast, mash, or fry these vegetables for a great side dish at the dinner table; stuff certain summer squash for a delicious entrée, or bake the vegetables into breads and desserts for added moisture and flavor.
Summer squash is a low-maintenance plant, and it can successfully grow in a myriad of soil types. While growth is achieved relatively easy, it is important to cultivate a rich soil to yield the best produce during harvest. Once you’ve assigned an area for growing your summer squash, take inventory of the soil consistency. Rid the area of any rocks, sticks, or other debris; you are then ready to add organic compost or compound fertilizer to prime your soil for the best possible growing conditions for your squash plants. Ensure that you establish good drainage for your soil by building hills for planting. The pH levels of the soil within your squash bed should be between 5.5 to 6.8.
Squash should be planted in a sunny patch of soil in cultivated hills for the best drainage. The ideal time to plant your summer squash is about two weeks following the final spring frost or when the soil has heated to about 60°F. Squash plants can be planted throughout the summer growing season, but they should not be planted any later than eight weeks prior to the first fall frost.
Plant your seeds one to two inches deep in the dampened soil of your hill. For bushy groupings, place three or four seeds to one hill, and place those hills about eighteen to twenty-four inches apart. Alternatively, for vining, you will want to plant three or four seeds in hills that are about four feet apart. Squash plants need consistent watering, but they do not require mulch unless you live in a dry climate, as the large leaves of the plants will shade the surrounding soil.
Pollination can be tricky with squash plants. It is not uncommon for fruits to blacken before they are ready for harvest, indicating that the fruit was not pollinated. This is especially true in cooler weather, when the plant is not yet producing male flowers. It is also important to note that these flowers will not develop in weather hotter than 90°F.
As long as you have at least three or four plants flowering at the same time, pollination should naturally occur on its own. However, if your plants have male flowers that are not pollinating, you can solve this problem by picking the male flowers and holding them directly over female flowers; gently tap to pollinate.
With regular watering, squash should be ready to harvest relatively quickly. Plants will generally mature between forty-five and fifty days after planting, and fruit should be harvested while it is young and tender. The smaller the fruit you harvest, the better it will taste. To harness the best possible flavor, harvest zucchini when it has reached between four and eight inches. Yellow squash should be harvested at four to five inches, and patty pan squash should be about three or four inches in diameter.
Be sure to examine your plants daily; once fruit production takes hold, harvest will be necessary every day to ensure consistent and plentiful yields. To harvest, cut your squash off of the stem about one inch above the fruit. Interestingly, all squash plant flowers are also edible. If you want to eat them, they should be harvested from the plant in the cool, early morning for best results.