While many gardeners brag about their squash harvest, the ones living in Texas can’t even keep their plants alive. Due to the pesky squash borer, which attacks destroys it before any fruit can make it to harvest.
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Is it Zucchini or Squash?
Zucchini, squash, or courgette are all different names for the same vegetable.
Summer squash is the variety that grows and produces during the summer. Its fruit is tender with a thin-walled skin for seasonal consumption.
Winter squash also grows during the summer but is not ready for harvest till fall, and they are great for winter storage since the fruits have a thick-walled skin.
When to Grow Zucchini in Central Texas?
Zucchini is a heat-loving crop with no tolerance to cool temperatures. The ideal planting time is when night temperatures are around 60F(15C) and around 70F(22C) during the day. If temperatures drop below 50F(12C), protect the plants by covering them with a row cover.
Soil Requirements to Grow Squash
Zucchini needs rich and well-draining soil. It does not do well in heavy clay or sandy soil.
Adding organic compost to the native soil beforehand improves its texture and composition. In addition, it balances its ability to absorb and retain moisture and feeds its microbial life.
The general rule of thumb is all flowering plants need full sun to produce well, and zucchini plants are no different. Therefore, a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight is adequate.
Direct Sow Squash Seeds vs. Start Indoors?
The Zucchini plant does not handle transplanting well. For this reason, sowing the seeds straight into the ground is ideal. Yet, it is possible to start seeds indoors to kick off the season early. To ensure successful growth, use 3″ to 4″ pots.
How to Start Squash Seeds?
- Use no less than 3″ inch pot to start the seeds.
- Fill the containers with premoistened seed starting mix.
- Hold the seed with the narrow side pointing up.
- Place the seed in the soil twice its size in depth.
- Cover with soil.
- Water it well, then place the container under grow lights or a well-lit window sill.
- To prevent any fungal disease, water when the topsoil feels dry.
Spacing Squash Plants
Deciding how to space a crop depends on its growth pattern. In that regard, zucchini plants come in two categories: bush and vining types.
Bush zucchini tends to have big leaves with thick hollow stems. Therefore, it is ideal to space at least two feet apart. Giving the plants enough space makes pruning easy and reduces the spread of disease.
Vining zucchini plants have thinner stems and tend to sprawl. Growing them on a trellis or the edge of the growing bed frees more ground space for other crops.
How to water squash plants?
The Zucchini plant does not like to stay dry. Therefore, regular daily watering is a must during the hot days of summer.
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 container or a whiskey barrel are great choices. They provide plenty of room for the root system to support the heavy plant.
The Zucchini plant is a heavy feeder. Adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at planting time provides an initial boost. After that, a weekly seaweed application will promote healthy growth and steady production.
What is Foliar Feeding?
Foliar feeding is applying liquid fertilizer by spraying or drenching the leaves. It is best done in the evening when the sun is approaching to set to prevent sunburns on the plant.
Pruning is cleaning the plant from any old or damaged parts. It consists of removing old leaves, spent blossoms, and unpollinated fruits. Regular pruning promotes new growth and steady production. It also keeps diseases under control.
Burying the bare stem in the soil triggers the growth of new roots, which strengthens the plant and prolongs its life.
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 needed when natural means fail to do it. To hand pollinate, follow these steps:
- Identify the female and male flowers. The female flower has a baby fruit at its base, and the male does not.
- Rub a brush or a Q-tip on the yellow pollen and carry it over to the female flower.
- Brush the pollen on the female stigma.
You can also pick one male flower and remove all the petals to expose the stamen. Then brush the tip of the stamen on the center of the female flower.
How to Differ Female From a Male Flower?
There are two differentiations between the female and male flowers.
- The female flower holds a miniature fruit at its base.
- The center of the female flower (stigma) is a cluster. The male flower has one standing stamen.
Growing Squash, Troubleshooting
I Have Lots of Flowers of the Same Gender But Not The Other?
It is common for zucchini plants to send a big flash flower of the same gender. There is nothing you can do about it other than be patient. Eventually, both flowers will synchronize and bloom at the same time.
Note that one male flower is enough to pollinate many female flowers.
Zucchini plants do suffer from different bug infestations and diseases. Good pest management is the way to take care of them. The most common problems are:
1) Squash vine borer
It is the larvae of a wasp-like moth, red. 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.
A few ways to fight back are:
- Use borer-resistant varieties, such as Tatume squash for summer and Fairy squash for winter. These varieties have a thinner stem which is not attractive to the borer.
- Use an insect barrier like agro-mesh. It will prevent the moth from laying its eggs.
For a detailed explanation, visit my other post, the 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 emit an unpleasant smell.
Early detection of these bugs is key to managing them. Look for their eggs, which are laid in groups and are brown, under the leaves, and get rid of them.
Catch the adult bugs by knocking them down into a jar filled with soapy water.
3) Aphids and whiteflies
They are tiny black, green, or white insects that prefer to gather on the new growth to feed on the plant’s sap. Dislodging them with frequent washing should disturb their reproduction cycle.
Powdery mildew is the most common disease on zucchini plants in central Texas. It is a fungal disease that thrives in warm and humid conditions and has the appearance of a white powder on the leaves.
One way to manage it is by removing the infected leaves as soon as possible. Another way is spraying the plant with a solution of water and milk or water and baking soda. The alkalinity can help slow down the spread.
Harvest zucchini whenever it reaches the desired size. But, the younger the zucchini, the sweeter, softer, and the fewer seeds it has.
Winter squash is ready for harvest whenever it turns into its respective color. Also, the skin should feel hard when poked with a fingernail.
In the kitchen
Some good squash recipe ideas.