Growing squash in central Texas faces few challenges. Many gardeners tend to give up after a few trials, not anymore. Follow these steps and you will be guaranteed a continuous harvest.
Is it Zucchini or Squash?
Zucchini, squash, or courgette are all different names for the same vegetable.
However, summer squash is the variety that grows during summer for quick consumption. Winter squash includes butternuts, gourds, acorn, and pumpkins which take a longer time to mature. They also have thicker skin and do store well for winter use.
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When to Grow Zucchini in Central Texas?
Zucchini is a heat-loving crop and it does not tolerate cool temperatures. In central Texas, or in any other region with mild winters, it is best to plant zucchini once the night temperatures are over 50 and above 60 during the day.
Soil Requirements to Grow Squash
Zucchini needs rich and well-draining soil. It does not do well in heavy clay nor in sandy soil.
Add a lot of compost to the existing area beforehand. It will help improve the soil texture and add organic nutrients to the soil. Compost also helps with water retention if the soil is sandy.
All fruiting or flowering plants need full sun exposure. Zucchini plants are no exception. A minimum of seven hours of direct sunlight is crucial for a great production.
Direct Sow Squash Seeds or Start Indoors?
It is commonly known that the zucchini plant does not handle transplanting well. For this reason, sowing the seeds directly in the ground once the temperatures are warm is recommended.
However, it is possible to start seeds indoors in 3″- 4″ pots. Avoid using seed-starting kits as the cells are too small. By doing so you get two advantages:
- Getting a head start on the season: By the time the temperatures warm up, the plants are already big and strong.
- Getting more harvest from the winter crops since there is no rush into pulling them up for the squash.
How to Start Squash Seeds?
As mentioned above squash plants do not handle root disturbance well. Therefore, using 3-inch or 4-inch pots instead of the regular seed starting cells is recommended. Bigger pots will prevent extra handling of the root ball at transplanting time and will reduce plant shock.
- Fill with seed starting mix you, check out this post to make your own. https://mygardenmyrefuge.com/do-it-yourself-seed-starting-mix/
- Put one seed in each pot, making sure the seed is upright to prevent rotting.
- Water deeply the first time.
- Allow the soil to dry between watering to prevent dumping off.
- Put under grow light or on the sill of a bright window.
Spacing Squash Plants
There are two types of zucchini plants bush and vining type. It is important to take into consideration these growth patterns when planting.
The bush-type tends to have big leaves with thick hollow stems. Spacing them at two feet apart is the minimum requirement. Giving the plants enough space makes pruning easy and reduces the spread of disease.
For the vining plants, either et up a support system for them to climb on or let them crawl freely in the ground. Trellising allows you to plant them a bit closer since they will make use of the vertical space instead of the ground.
I like to plant the vining squash on the edges of the raised beds for them to spread outside rather than taking over the valuable planting space.
Zucchini plant does not like to be thirsty, regular watering is a must during the hot days of summer. Daily deep watering might be in order if the weather is brutal especially if planted in pots.
Does Squash Grow Well in Pots?
Zucchini is among the plants that do well in pots if kept well-watered and fertilized.
A five-gallon pot or a whiskey barrel are great choices. They provide plenty of room for the root system to support the heavy plant.
Zucchini plant is a heavy feeder, apply a dry slow-release fertilizer at planting time. Thereafter, a regular seaweed application is very beneficial and promotes healthy growth and production.
What is Foliar Feeding?
Foliar feeding is spraying or drenching a plant with a fertilizer solution. It Best to do it in the evening, when the sun is approaching to set. It will prevent sunburning the leaves.
Pruning is the process of removing the old leaves, spent blossoms, and unpollinated fruits. This habit is very beneficial to the plant as it encourages new growth and promotes continuous fruit production.
After pruning, bury the exposed stem int the soil. It will grow new roots which will increase the plant’s survival if attacked by squash vine borer.
Word of warning, you might want to wear long sleeves and gloves while doing this job. Zucchini plants are spiky and might cause a skin rash for some people.
Hand pollination is important if the pollinating insects are not getting to the plant for some reason. This will ensure the production of fruit.
Use a Q-tip to rub over the male flower and pick up the pollen. Transfer the pollen to the female flowers by brushing the Q-tip over the stigma, or the inner base, of the flower. You can also just pick one male flower, and brush the stamen over the stigma of each female flower.
How to Differ Female From a Male Flower?
The female flower has a miniature fruit at the base of the flower, while the male has a stem.
Growing Squash, Troubleshooting
I Have Lots of Flowers of the Same Gender But Not The Other?
It is pretty common that the zucchini plant will send a big flash of male flowers and no female or vice versa. Eventually, both flowers will bloom at the same time, just be patient.
Note that one male flower is enough to pollinate many female flowers.
Zucchini plants do suffer from different bug infestations and diseases. Good management is mostly the way to take care of them. Most common problems I met in my home garden are:
1) Squash vine borer: It is the larvae of a wasp-like moth, red in color. It burrows through the stem and eats its way through leading to the sudden death of the plant. The borer leaves a yellow saw-dust-like residue on the stem.
Few ways to fight back are:
- Plant borer-resistant varieties, such as Tatume squash for summer squash and Fairy squash for winter squash. These varieties have a thinner stem which is not attractive to the borer.
- Use insect barrier like agro-mesh. It will prevent the moth from laying its eggs.
For a detailed explanation, visit my other post: https://mygardenmyrefuge.com/6-tried-and-true-steps-to-defeat-squash-vine-borer/
2)Squash bug: It is an armored-like bug, grey or speckled in color. It’s commonly mistaken for a stink bug since they look much alike and both emit an unpleasant smell.
Early detection of these bugs is key to manage them. Look for their eggs, which are laid in groups and are brown in color, under the leaves, and get rid of them.
Catch the adult bugs by pushing them into a jar filled with soapy water. This must be done quickly since they do fly.
3)Aphids and whiteflies: They are tiny insects that feed on the leaf sap. Manage them by washing the plant with a strong jet of water. Few times of washing a week should destabilize them and break their reproduction cycle.
The only disease I encountered on my zucchini plants is powdery mildew. It looks like a white powdery substance on the leaves. A spray with a diluted solution of water and milk or water and baking soda usually slows down the spread. Also, removing the infected leaves regularly keeps the mildew at bay.
Harvest zucchini at any size you wish. The young zucchini is sweeter, softer, and has fewer seeds. The bigger zucchini contains more seeds and has a tougher skin.
For winter squash, wait until it turns into its respective color and the peel feels hard when poked with a fingernail.
In the kitchen
Summer and winter squash are found in many cuisines around the world. Some of our favorite recipes that include squash are