Plant Common Name
Acorn Squash, Courgette, Crookneck Squash, Pattypan Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Summer Squash, Zucchini
The species Cucurbita pepo has been cultivated since ancient times by Native Americans, and includes true pumpkins and winter gourds as well as many varieties of summer squash and zucchini. These popular vegetables (technically fruits) are warm season annual vines, although compact bush-type varieties have been developed. They are New World plants grown widely by many cultures throughout the world and appear in a fantastic array of colors, shapes and sizes.
The plants are monoecious, meaning single plants bear separate male and female flowers. These are large, yellow and funnel shaped. Male blossoms are generally produced first, followed by the fruit-producing female flowers, which are distinguished by bulbous ovaries at the bases. Following pollination by bees, these develop into fruits, which may be harvested from approximately 50 to 100 days from sowing, depending on the selection. The fruits are often obscured by the large, coarse, heart-shaped or deeply lobed foliage held on fleshy, erect stems above the prostrate vines.
Summer squash are grown for their immature fruits harvested early in the season, and include zucchini, yellow crookneck, and saucer-shaped pattypan types. All have thin, tender skin at this stage and do not store well, but require relatively few days from sowing to table. Older fruits develop hard skin and become inedible if left on the vine for too long. If picked often and early, summer squash often yields enough to be shared generously with friends and neighbors.
The fruits of winter squash are allowed to fully mature on the vine before harvesting in fall. Highly variable in size, shape and color, most have dense, yellow to bright orange flesh which is often sweet and rich in flavor. The nutritious flesh is protected by a hard, outer skin which enables the fruits to be stored for a number of months. Popular winter squash varieties include true pumpkins and acorn types. Some are even grown as ornamental gourds, such as ‘Crown of Thorns’ and ‘Nest Egg.’ They should be picked before frost when the rinds are hard and fully colored, and the vines have begun to turn brown.
Plant squash seeds in full sun and deep, rich, well-drained loam when the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Regular water is essential, but the plants will not tolerate soggy conditions or wet feet. Where drainage is not optimal, it is advisable to plant them in raised mounds of fertile, porous soil. Vining varieties can be trellised if space is limited. Watch closely for squash bugs, cucumber beetles and vine borers at the base of the stems. Yearly crop rotation and removal of dead plant debris at the end of the growing season can help to minimize insect and disease problems.