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Growing Winter Squash At Home

What Is A Winter Squash?

A lot of people have the misconception that winter squash is different from summer squash because they are grown in the winter and summer squash is grown in the summer. However, this is not the case. Both types are grown in the same season but get their name from the fact that, unlike immature summer squash, they can be stored well into winter. Both types of squash belong to the Cucurbitaceae family (also known as gourds or cucurbits), winter squash has a different growth habit, different skin, and different storage and harvesting methods. For the home gardener, winter squash should absolutely have a space in your garden as a reliable and long-lasting food source.

How To Categorize Winter Squash

A good starting point to deciding on growing winter squash is by first looking at its growing habit. Unlike summer squash, winter squash typically grows in a vining habit similar to indeterminate tomatoes and one plant can sprawl out up to 10 feet so some people prefer to trellis their smaller varieties of winter squash like Delicata or Sweet Dumpling.  Speaking of varieties, winter squash can be categorized into 4 different families all with distinct differences ranging from their size to their maturity date to how they are stored.

Cucurbita argyrosperma

Cucurbita argyrosperma

Previously known as Curcubita mixta, this winter squash family is the least commonly known for consumption among the 4 categories. This family of squash are mostly the blue and white pumpkins and also include the Cushaw squash and the Japanese Pie Pumpkin.

Cucurbita pepo

Cucurbita pepo

Acorn squash, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, Spaghetti squash, and Algonquian all belong to the pepo family. They typically mature the fastest because of their smaller size and will usually store 2-3 months, the least of all 4 families but don't require curing. The tighter growth habit makes the pepo family ideal for raised beds.

Cucurbita maxima

Cucurbita maxima

The maxima family is known as the "monsters of pumpkins" and includes cultivars like the Red Kuri, Hubbard, Kabocha, and Giant Pumpkins. This family is the most difficult to grow because they attract pests more than others, making excellent trap crops. They store 3-4 months and are long vining so they need lots of room.

Cucurbita moschata

Cucurbita moschata

Known as one of the easiest to grow of the 4 families, some popular moschata varieties are Butternut, Cherokee Tan, Seminole, and Watham squash. These need to be cured for 6-8 weeks and are medium to long vining so they need lots of dedicated space. This family can store the longest, from 4-6 months.

The Best Time To Plant Winter Squash

Because winter squash has such a long growing period, usually from 75-110 days, they should be planted around the same time as your summer squash. Unlike summer squash which has to be picked frequently and consumed right away, winter squash produces one harvest and, depending on the variety you grow, will need to cure up to 8 weeks and can be stored for up to 6 months.

Winter squash grows best when direct-seeded outdoors and doesn’t transplant well because they don’t like having their roots disturbed. While some vegetables have specific dates and windows in which to plant (like potatoes), winter squash has slightly more flexibility to get started in the ground, depending on your zone. Generally speaking, though, growing winter squash should be started in early spring to early summer to give them enough time to grow and cure. So plan to plant your winter squash soon after the last spring frost date, when the soil has warmed to at least 60°F

Winter Squash Plant Spacing

When choosing a spot to grow winter squash, full sun is always recommended. If you’re planning on growing moschata, argyrosperma, or maxima varieties, you will need to make sure and have a dedicated area of the garden for not only growing winter squash but also curing them. 
Each family has a slightly different growth habit so be sure and do your research to ensure your winter squash has adequate room to grow.

Because of their smaller size, plant and row spacing for the pepo family can be smaller than in other families.

This is a single butternut squash plant from the moschata family.  As you can see, their growth habit is much wider than pepo.

These Blue Hubbard squash plants from the maxima family can easily take up 6-10 feet of space per plant. 

Pepo Winter Squash In-Ground Planting

Row Spacing – 3 to 4 feet
Plant Spacing – 12 to 24 inches
Planting Depth – 1/2 inch

Pepo Winter Squash Raised Bed Planting

Row Spacing – 2 feet
Plant Spacing – 12 to 18 inches
Planting Depth – 1/2 inch

Larger Winter Squash In-Ground Planting

Row Spacing – 5-6 feet
Plant Spacing – 18 to 24 inches
Planting Depth – 1/2 inch

Winter Squash Soil, Irrigation, & Fertilizer

Soil Requirements For Growing Winter Squash

HOSS always recommends getting a soil sample to your local extension office several weeks before planting. Once you get your results, you will need plenty of time to adjust your soil accordingly and make sure your plants are getting the best nutrients possible as soon as they hit the ground.
Click Here to find your local extension office.

HOSS Pro Tip

A good general rule of thumb with winter squash is to eat the smallest ones first. The pepo family doesn't require curing and stores the least amount of time so they should be consumed before the larger varieties like the moschata and maxima families. These smaller squash and pumpkins in the pepo family are perfect for trellising in a raised bed.

Winter Squash Irrigation Requirements

Squash plants need at least 1″ of water every 5 days. Using drip irrigation is always recommended to be sure that your Squash plants are getting moisture directly to their root system. If you’re using conventional overhead watering techniques, try and use something like the Dramm Watering Can and water and fertilize at the base of the plant to keep moisture off the leaves and help to avoid unwanted disease pressure.

Conventional Winter Squash Fertilizer Schedule

Several Weeks Before Planting
Test your soil at your local extension office.
1 Week Before Planting
After adjusting soil pH to 6.0 – 6.5, mix 1 1/2 cups per 10 ft. of row of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer with your soil.
2 Weeks After Planting
Sidedress 2 cups of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer per 10 ft. of row

Drip Irrigation Winter Squash Fertilizer Schedule

Several Weeks Before Planting
Test your soil at your local extension office.
1 Week Before Planting
After adjusting soil pH to 6.0 – 6.5, mix 1 1/2 cups per 10 ft. of row of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer with your soil.
2 Weeks After Planting
Using the Hoss Fertilizer Injector, Mix 1 cup of Hoss Premium 20-20-20 Fertilizer -AND -1-2 cups of Hoss Micro-Boost Micronutrient Supplement per 20 ft. of row.
Rotate Every 7 Days After Vines Begin To Run
Mix 1 cup of Hoss Premium Calcium Nitrate -AND -1-2 cups of Hoss Micro-Boost Micronutrient Supplement per 20 ft. of row.

Winter Squash Pest & Disease Protection

Garden Insect Spray – Thrips, Pickleworms, leaf miners, Armyworms, mealy bugs
Horticultural Oil – Aphids, Squash bugs (Nymphs), Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Beetle larvae, leaf miners
Bug Buster-O – Aphids, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Cucumber beetles, Thrips, Mites, Armyworms
Monterey BT  – Armyworms, pickleworms
Take Down Garden Spray – Aphids, Army Worms, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Mites, Squash bugs(Nymphs)Vine borer ( Nymphs)
Diatomaceous Earth – Cutworms

Non-Organic Controls
Bug buster ll – Aphids, , Squash Bugs, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Thrips, leaf Miner, Vine borer, Cucumber beetle, Armyworms


Treat as needed using label instructions.

Non-Organic Controls

Liquid cop – Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, Anthracnose, Alternaria Leaf Spot
Garden Phos –, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew; Anthracnose, Alternaria Leaf Blight

Fungi Max – Powdery Mildew
Vegetable, Flower, Fruit and Ornamental Fungicide – Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew; Anthracnose, Alternaria Leaf Blight, Cercospora Leaf Spot

Harvesting, Curing And Storing Winter Squash

Harvesting Winter Squash

Winter squash should be harvested when the plants fully die back and the fruits obtain their full color but have since gotten dry and dull-looking. If your winter squash is still bright and shiny, it’s likely still immature.
Stem hardness is also an indication of fruit maturity. Once the stems completely harden and the skin is hard to scratch with your fingernail, fruits are ready for harvest. Use a set of pruning shears or loppers to make a clean cut and ensure that the stem doesn’t get damaged and introduce harmful bacteria while in storage. Be sure and leave a 3-5 inch stem for curing.

The ideal time to harvest is before the first frost of the year and before temperatures drop into the 40’s at night. While winter squash is cold-hardy, they tend to store better long-term if harvested prior to frosty weather. Once your winter squash has been harvested, remove the plants from the garden to prevent any fungal spores from overwintering and becoming a problem in future years.  Proper crop rotation is extremely important with all winter squash varieties to reduce disease and pest pressure. 

Curing Winter Squash

While not all winter squash like the pepo family has to or even should be cured like acorn squash, curing your winter squash properly is vital for long-term storage. Curing is simply the process of allowing moisture to leave the squash, concentrating sugars, and letting the skin get hard to prevent the flesh from rotting. 
Regardless of the variety, always check your harvested squash prior to curing for any bruises, cuts, or damaged stems, separate them from the rest, and plan to use those first. Also be sure to remove any squash blossoms that may be left behind from the field.
The average time to cure winter squash is between 10-14 days. Be sure and check that the skins are completely hard and can’t easily be nicked with a fingernail and also that the stem is completely dried out. Once your winter squash meets these specifications, it is likely good to eat. 

Storing Summer Squash

Arrange your winter squash in a single layer in a well-ventilated area that is out of direct sunlight. Winter squash stores best when kept around 55ºF and away from moisture as much as possible. 
Each family of winter squash has a different shelf life depending on the variety you grow. Knowing their average shelf life will help you plan on which squash to preserve to make them last longer or go ahead and eat.

Winter Squash Family
Average Storage Life

Pepo

2-3 months

Maxima

3-4 months

Moschata

4-6 months

Grow Winter Squash For Your Family!

Tips & Tricks For Growing Winter Squash

Save The Seeds!

Much like pumpkin seeds, most of the seeds from winter squash can be prepared the same way. They are rich in protein and make a great addition to trail mixes or as a substitute for carb-filled snacks in lunchboxes.

What's Up With Acorn Squash?

Acorn squash is one of the only winter squash that shouldn’t be cured and should be stored right away. The heat and humidity of the normal curing process will actually decrease the shelf life of acorn squash and also degrade its flavor. So get them out of the garden and into the pantry right away!

Lend Pollinators A Hand

If you see that your squash plants aren’t producing as you’d hoped, try hand pollinating. Because only female flowers produce fruit on a squash plant, if your pollinators need some help, simply find the male flower and transfer the pollen to the center of the female flower. The male flowers are the ones that have a small protrusion sticking out of the middle of the bloom. They are also the first to bloom on the plant and there are a lot more of them typically than the female flowers. 

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