Squash, Summer

Cucurbita pepo

Summer squashes are warm-season annuals, belonging to the Cucurbit family, and are related to cucumbers, melons, and winter squash. There are estimated to be around 850 species, and 120 genera in the Cucurbitaceae family. Main varieties of summer squash include zucchini, scalloped squash, yellow straight, and crookneck types. There are also many new specialty varieties, such as round, textured, or striated types.

Originating from the Americas, squash plants have been actively cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Squash was one of the first agricultural crops in the Americas to be domesticated, and has been found in archaeological studies in Mexican caves dating back to 8,000BC. California is the second largest producer of summer squash by state in the United States, with the majority of the commercial squash production in Florida.

Unlike winter squash vines, summer squash plants are generally large, bushy plants, that produce fruit near the inside of the plant. Squash are harvested immature, and prepared in a multitude of ways. Nutritious and easy to grow, summer squash plants allow a home gardener, who aspires to increase his or her self reliance, a way to produce large quantities of food in a fairly contained area, as well as enjoy special treats like fresh squash blossoms.

Sun/Shade Needs (5)
Watering Needs once Established (4)
Heat Tolerance (2)
Frost (1)
Price (1)

Recommended Varieties/Cultivars


All varieties of summer squash will thrive in your zone, though choosing varieties that are recommended for their disease resistance can help you have an extremely healthy and productive crop.

In most areas of California, summer squash is grown during the warm season from early spring through midsummer or fall; However, with an appropriate selection of varieties, many mild winter areas can grow summer squash year-round.

Zucchini is the most popular type of summer squash; for zucchini variety recommendations, see GardenZeus plant information for Squash, Summer Squash, Zucchini.

Early Prolific Straightneck is a longtime-favorite heirloom yellow summer squash that sets a high standard for reliability, flavor, yield, and earliness, with harvest as early as 45 to 50 days after planting. Try Early Summer Crookneck for flavor, exceptional texture, and high production in an open-pollinated yellow crookneck squash.

Jaune et Verte is an early and prolific French heirloom scalloped or patty pan squash with a long harvest period if fruits are picked consistently when young. Few heirloom vegetables have a pedigree of hundreds of years; Summer Scallop Blend provides a mix of heirloom patty pan varieties including Early White Bush and Golden Scallop, which may predate European colonization of the Americas.

For a rare heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant squash, try Calabacita, an early, vining Tatuma-type summer squash.

If you've had difficulty with diseases or low yields, try Cube of Butter, a flavorful, productive, disease-resistant, yellow straightneck hybrid. Summer Sunstripe is a unique and attractive hybrid yellow with a long harvest period. Pic-n-Pic is a productive, flavorful hybrid yellow crookneck.

Patty pan or scalloped squash
Scalloped or patty pan squash
Yellow crookneck squash
Yellow crookneck squash

For novelty, try Golden Egg, an early, delicious, egg-shaped yellow hybrid.

Buying/Selection Tips

Purchase seeds, not seedlings. Summer squash should generally be seeded directly outdoors. GardenZeus recommends against purchasing squash starts for transplant, especially if rootbound or it has been more than about 2 weeks since germination, as starts may be prone to slow establishment, poor yield, diseases, pests, and other problems.

Avoid purchasing nursery starts that have small flowers or fruit set. They have already entered their reproductive cycle; this is a condition called "early senescence." If a summer squash start produces flowers while at a small size, it will never grow to a full-sized plant and may produce little or no yield.

For tips and information about purchasing vegetable seedlings, see : The GardenZeus Guide to Buying Vegetable Seedlings.

Soil Needs/Tip

Summer squash are heavy feeders that benefit from loose, fertile soil with moderate-to-high organic matter. Avoid growing summer squash or any squash varieties in the same place for more than one season at a time to avoid depleting soil and concentrating pest populations and diseases.

See GardenZeus Alert: Beware of Heavy Feeders! for precautions about successive planting of vegetables that may deplete your soil.

As long as fertility and drainage are sufficient, summer squash performs well in a variety of soils. Summer squash is less fussy than some vegetables about soil acidity, and performs reasonably well in the range of about 5.8 to 6.9 pH.

Squash often grow slowly, produce little yield, become chlorotic, and may be prone to pests and diseases if planted in new, uncultivated, infertile, or compacted soils.

Suitable Microclimate

Summer squash needs full sun and sufficient space in fertile soil that is consistently moist but not wet. It does well in raised beds with southern and western exposures.

Ideal temperature range for germination is 70° to 95°F with fastest germination at warmer end of this range. Ideal temperature range for growth and fruiting is about 65° to 75°F. Summer squash withstands temperatures up to 100°F, but growth and fruiting may be diminished at temperatures above 85°F. It does not require as much heat as other members of the cucurbit family, such as watermelon and cantaloupe. Most varieties grow slowly or not at all at temperatures below 60°F.

Summer squash benefits from shade during hot summer afternoons in warm-climate areas of California. See GardenZeus Tips for Shading Vegetables During Hot Weather for creative ideas from expert Darren Butler about providing shade.

Avoid planting squash in an area near overhead watering from sprinklers. This can increase the likelihood of disease, especially the spread of mildew during the later part of the summer.

Getting Started

Summer squash is a relatively easy vegetable that produces early and abundant yields, which make it a good choice for beginning gardeners.

Summer squash seed varieties sold in the United States generally are not sprawling, viney plants, and rarely form the 10-to-15-foot or longer vines that are common with winter squash. While summer squash plants may grow large, and some varieties grow densely to the point of making harvesting difficult, they stay within a smaller area than winter squash generally does, and so are often described as "bushy" or "compact."

In reasonably fertile soil and with appropriate care including frequent harvesting, a single summer squash plant can produce dozens of fruits over a period of months. A small number of mature plants, often 1 to 2 per couple or small family, are usually sufficient to produce plenty of fruits for fresh eating and cooking, freezing for later, and giving away. GardenZeus expert Darren Butler recommends starting 3 or 4 plants in late winter for every 2 to 3 family or household members; then again a couple of months later in spring; and thin to the 1 or 2 strongest plants in each cohort.

Most varieties taste best when harvested young and small. Male blossoms can be harvested as well for tasty dishes.

Watering Tips

Summer squash plants benefit from consistent soil moisture and are prone to diseases in wet soils or if overwatered. Avoid watering with sprinklers. Leaves of squash plants should be kept entirely dry as much as possible.

See The GardenZeus Guide to Watering Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash (Cucurbits) for tips and more information about watering summer squash.

Small plant with drip watering
This young squash is being watered with drip irrigation. Note the cotyledon leaves as well as the first true squash leaves.

Developing summer squash plants require regular, consistent watering to the full depth of their root zone. The majority of summer squash roots are in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. With daily fruit production and rapid root growth, deep watering is required to maintain growth and sustain mature squash plants. Summer squash plants are sensitive to excessively wet soil, becoming more prone to stem and root diseases. Allow soil to dry out slightly before irrigating again. Though consistent moisture is important throughout the life of your squash plant, it is especially critical to avoid moisture stress while your plants are fruiting and flowering.

It is crucial to keep the leaves dry to prevent the spread of diseases. Drip irrigation is ideal for squash plants, allowing water to infiltrate into the soil as quickly as it is applied.

Planting Method/Tips

Plant pre-germinated seeds (not transplants) or seed summer squash directly outdoors after frost risk is low and daytime temperatures are consistently 65°F and above.

Use raised beds filled with washed sand, local soil, and nutrient-rich compost or amendments rather than planting squash in new, uncultivated, or infertile soils. Squash does not perform well if planted into the compacted clay soils or infertile sandy soils that are common throughout California.

See GardenZeus Secrets of Success for Growing Summer Squash (Including Zucchini) in the California Home Garden for a complete guide to growing summer squash.


Squash seeds are planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep.

Summer squash spacing depends upon variety, planting style, and available garden space. Summer squash is traditionally planted with 2 to 4 seeds per planting hole, spaced about 2.5 to 3.5 feet apart, or as little as 18 inches apart for small varieties and 4 feet or more for very large varieties, then thinned to one plant per hole.

In gardens with ample space, summer squash can be planted in mounds that are raised several inches to a foot or more above grade, and often about 18 inches in diameter, with mounds spaced 3 feet apart from edge to edge. Plant 2 to 3 seeds around the sides of the mound and thin to 1 plant per mound.

When grown in rows, plant squash seeds about 4 inches apart in rows 3 to 5 feet apart. Thin plants to one every 12 inches to 2.5 or 3 feet, depending upon variety.


3 to 10 days or longer to seed germination. Generally, summer squash should germinate within a week if kept moist at temperatures of 70° to 95°F.
Transplanting is possible about 10 to 18 days after germination but recommended only for skilled biointensive gardeners and experienced gardeners who are willing to monitor seedlings closely.
10 to 21 days after germination to 1st thinning.
Thin to final spacing by about 3 to 4 weeks after germination, possibly longer during cool weather or for slow-growing plants.
About 3 to 5 weeks after germination to first harvest of squash blossoms.
40 to 80 days, rarely longer, from germination to first harvest of young squash, depending upon variety and growing conditions.
Harvest Period: In fertile soil, with proper care and frequent harvest, and depending upon variety and growing conditions, summer squash usually remain productive for at least 2 months, and often 3 to 6 months.

Pollination Needs/Tips

Male blossom
Male blossom; note there is no fruit forming behind the flower

Summer squash are monoecious, meaning that a single plant produces both male and female flowers. Male and female squash flowers are easily recognized with close observation. Male flowers appear on long stems, and have no fruit at the base of the flower, while female flowers have a tiny immature fruit, which technically is the ovary, between the base of the flower and a shorter stem. Pollination, either by bees or by hand, is critical for summer squash to produce fruit. Female flowers must receive viable pollen from a male flower in order to produce fruit.

Summer squash are monoecious, meaning that a single plant produces both male and female flowers. Pollination is critical for summer squash to produce fruit.

It is normal for the first few blooms to fall off a squash plant. Early squash flowers are usually all male; no fruits will form from these flowers. If flowers continue falling off without forming fruit, or established plants drop female flowers and fail to form fruit, lack of pollination is usually the cause.

Recognizing the gender of squash flowers is important because generally it's best to harvest the male flowers for cooking and eating, as they will never produce fruits; and also so that you will not become overly concerned if male flowers drop without forming fruits. Male squash flowers are often produced at a rate of 3 to 4 times the number of female flowers. Leave at least one male flower for every 2 to 4 female flowers to allow for pollination, and otherwise harvest and eat many to most of the male flowers.

If pollinators are not abundant in your garden, you may need to pollinate squash by hand. Use a small paintbrush to transfer pollen, or pick male flowers and rub the stamens onto the pistils of female flowers.

Summer squash will cross readily with most other varieties of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo). Long distances between different summer-squash varieties or isolation is required to save seeds that remain true-to-variety across multiple plant generations. In the home garden, this is often accomplished by tying off flowers and hand-pollinating. See "Advanced Tips" in the GardenZeus section "Special Care, Needs & Tips" for more information about saving summer squash seeds.

Interplanting/Companion Planting

Because lack of pollination is a primary reason for poor yield, GardenZeus recommends encouraging bees to visit your summer squash by planting it near borage, nasturtiums, rosemary, oregano, and other bee-attracting herbs and plants. Allowing vegetables like radishes and carrots to flower and persist in your garden through spring and summer may also attract bees and help with squash pollination.

Avoid planting root crops, such as beets, onions, and potatoes, near summer squash, which may disturb squash roots when harvested.

The Three Sisters is a traditional Native American agricultural grouping that includes corn, beans, and squash. Will this combination work in your garden? See GardenZeus Quick Tips: 'The Three Sisters' Companion Planting Combination for California

Nutrient/Amendment/Fertilization Needs/Tips

Summer squash are heavy feeders. A soil test is recommended to determine nutrient levels prior to applying fertilizer.

Work compost, composted manures, or well-rotted organic matter into soils before planting, and maintain nutrient-rich surface dressings under mulch. Bury plugs of finished compost or worm compost a few inches outside of the driplines of established squash plants 2 or 3 times per growing season and water thoroughly. Grow squash only once every 2 to 4 years in a given bed or garden area to allow the soil to recover between plantings.

GardenZeus recommends adding nitrogen in the form of diluted urea or a cup of chicken manure diluted in 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure) and mixed thoroughly, after seedlings are a few to several inches tall and about once or twice per month thereafter. Adding too much nitrogen may result in rapid growth and lush, high-carbohydrate leaves that attract insect infestation; and slowed or reduced yields.

Reduce or discontinue fertilizing with nitrogen after late spring to avoid producing large, lush leaves that will tend to wilt and cause stress to the plant during summer heat.

Fish emulsion or seaweed extracts applied as drenches or foliar spray may be beneficial in soils that are infertile, alkaline, or lacking micronutrients.


Mulching squash plants is particularly important, especially during warm-to-hot weather, to maintain even soil moisture, cool soils during hot weather, and inhibit weeds to avoid root disturbance to squash from weeding. Use a half-inch of fine mulch for small starts under 4 inches in height; increase to 1 to 2 inches or more of fine to medium mulch after plants are 6 to 12 inches tall.

Straw and/or pine needles make good mulches for squash. Having plenty of mulch around squash is a benefit when plants begin fruiting; mulch can be mounded here and there as necessary to support squash fruits and prevent them from resting on damp soil, which encourages prematurely rotted fruit.

Pruning/Cutting Back/Pinching/Separating

GardenZeus generally does not recommend cutting back or removing squash leaves or stems. One exception is judicious thinning of leaves if plants wilt persistently during hot weather despite having ample soil water.

For more information see The GardenZeus Guide to Watering Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash (Cucurbits).

After sufficient pollination of female flowers, some male flowers can be cut off for use in the kitchen.


From seed. GardenZeus recommends open-pollinated, untreated, organically grown seeds.

Container Gardening

Because of its size and needs for above ground space and soil volume, summer squash is not an ideal container vegetable. It does well in raised beds or very large containers. Many varieties of summer squash need containers of about trash-can size filled with fertile, living soil to produce the same yields they would under similar conditions in the ground.

Since summer squash are so productive, it may be that smaller yields in containers are still plenty for your needs. Check that holes in the bottoms of containers are large and numerous enough to ensure good drainage, and if necessary, add or enlarge drainage holes.

GardenZeus recommends a soil mix of at least 50% sand or soil when growing vegetables in containers. Potting soils with high proportions of organic matter tend to shrink and collapse as soil microbes and macro organisms like insects digest or decompose the organic matter, which results in falling soil levels over the growing season.

Plant 2 to 3 squash seeds per large container and thin to 1 to 2 plants when seedlings are 2 to 4 inches tall. Soil tends to dry out more frequently in containers or raised beds, so be sure to monitor as needed and provide sufficient and consistent water.

See GardenZeus Tips for Container Vegetable Gardening for general information and tips about growing vegetables and herbs in containers.

Seasonal Care

Summer squash is a warm-season crop because it is frost sensitive, but also tends to wilt and suffer in heat. It grows and fruits best at temperatures from 60° to 85°F, with optimal growing temperature between 65° and 75°F.

Seed summer squash or plant pre-germinated seeds directly outdoors when frost risk is low and daytime temperatures are consistently 65°F and above. Starting seedlings early, while temperatures are still cool to cold, increases risk of damage or loss of plants to frost, but also generally minimizes problems from insect pests, which can be so intense during warmer weather that it can be difficult to establish seedlings. Planting early also allows you to take advantage of summer squash's long productive period, which can last for months, before summer weather stresses plants and reduces yields.

Use row covers, or improvised materials such as cloth sheets or cardboard, overnight to protect plants from late frosts. Remove covers during the day for sunlight and to allow pollination by insects.

Many summer squash varieties fruit early; harvest may begin 45 to 60 days after germination. Keep summer squash harvested to encourage production of more fruits.

By late summer, after producing for weeks to months and suffering through summer weather, squash plants may not look their best. They may be infested with mildews, leafminers, and other insects. Leaves may be chlorotic or bug-eaten. Plants often continue to produce yields for weeks despite looking ragged and unhealthy.

For growing from fall through spring in mild-winter California areas, be sure to plant summer squash where it will receive full sun throughout the winter.

How to Harvest

Patty pan squash on plant
Scalloped squash ready for harvest
Crookneck squash on plant
Crookneck squash ready for harvest

Harvest scalloped squash when they are 3 to 4 inches in diameter, or smaller, depending on the variety.

Yellow crookneck squashes can be harvested when they are 4 to 7 inches long.

Use a sharp knife or garden scissors to harvest summer squash, making a cut on the stem about a half-inch to an inch above the fruit. Avoid the temptation to pull or twist the squash fruits as they are usually well-attached; overly aggressive attempts to remove fruits by hand may damage the fruits or plant.

Harvest when fruits are small and tender, and skin has not begun to toughen: 4 to 7 inches for crookneck or straightneck; 3 to 4 inches for scalloped or patty pan; and 2 to 3 1/2 inches for egg or ball, or even earlier.

Summer squash blossoms are often tender and least damaged by insects and environmental conditions just as they begin to open. GardenZeus recommends harvesting edible flowers in the morning or before temperatures heat up on a given day. Use a sharp knife or garden scissors to cut the squash bloom on its stem about a half-inch to an inch below the bloom. Remove the stem stub before cooking.

Harvesting Tips

Summer squash fruits can grow at the rate of an inch per day; fruits may grow to several inches in length from one weekend to the next. For busy gardeners who don't check their plants regularly, this equates to sizable squash fruits simply appearing, like magic, from one time you're in the garden until the next. You may need to harvest multiple times per week or almost daily during productive periods to keep up with vigorous plants. Warm weather may cause squash fruits to grow and mature more rapidly.

If summer squash fruits grow too large, the skins toughen and the fruits develop seeds. Large squash fruits can still be eaten, but may be tougher and drier. Consider using larger fruits for baking rather than fresh eating.

Harvest often and while fruits are small to encourage abundant yields. A squash plant may stop producing new fruits while maturing existing fruits. Of greater concern is that after a summer squash plant has grown a few larger fruits, especially if the fruits are allowed to stay on the plant until they develop seeds, the plant may stop producing, decline, and die. If you allow the first few squash fruits to mature and develop seeds, that may be your entire harvest; whereas, if you harvest all fruits when fruits are young, a summer squash plant may continue to produce for several months. Be sure to remove large squash fruits as soon as you notice them, even if you do not plan to eat them. GardenZeus recommends checking squash plants thoroughly every day or two while they are producing. Push leaves aside to look closely among stems, as missing even 1 or 2 fruits that grow to full size without your knowledge may reduce long-term yield from that plant.

What Commonly Goes Wrong

Overwatering and wet soils: summer squash become stressed and susceptible to pests and diseases as a result of poor drainage or standing water. In poorly drained soils, it is possible for the soil surface to be dry but water to be perched or pooled beneath the surface.

Dropped blooms or fruit, lack of fruit production, sporadic fruit production on established plants, or small fruits that yellow or shrivel without growing to normal size: Male squash blossoms will never produce fruit. The first round of blooms on most summer squash is usually male, so an initial round of blossom drop is normal. If flowers continue falling off without forming fruit, or established plants drop female flowers and fail to form fruit, lack of pollination is usually the cause.
Bees are primary pollinators for squash in home gardens; if you have a low or nonexistent bee population, you may have minimal yield. Encourage bees by planting borage, nasturtium, rosemary, oregano, and other bee-attracting herbs and plants. It has been GardenZeus expert Darren Butler's experience that squash blooms alone are not always a strong attraction for bees, but if they're in the area collecting pollen and nectar from other flowers, they will gladly pollinate squash.
If you are unable to attract bees or other pollinators, you may need to pollinate squash by hand. Use a small paintbrush to transfer pollen, or pick male flowers and rub the stamens onto to the pistils of female flowers.
During hot weather, drought stress, or other environmental stresses, summer squash plants may produce only male flowers and therefore not produce fruit. Slow, poor, or uneven yields may also be caused by too much soil nitrogen.

Small yields or plants that put out one round of fruit and then decline or stop fruiting: This often results after one or more summer squash fruits are allowed to grow large or to maturity. If a few squash fruits grow large enough to set seeds, the parent plant will often stop producing new fruits and may decline and die. Be diligent in removing weeds and looking carefully among squash leaves and stems for fruits. Harvest all fruits when young, generally not more than 7 inches in length. The occasional squash gets past even the best of us; be sure to remove large squash fruits as soon as you notice them, even if you are not planning to eat them.

Bitter summer squash fruits: summer squash may produce a biochemical that causes bitterness in response to environmental stresses, such as drought conditions or soil dryness between waterings, variable watering (too wet at times and too dry at others), hot temperatures or wide swings in temperature, and poor or infertile soils.

Chlorosis is iron deficiency that appears as lightening or yellowing between veins on older leaves and/or pale green or yellow new leaves. Affected leaves will never return to normal because iron is not a mobile nutrient, meaning that it cannot be relocated within a plant. Alkaline city water and alkaline soils are common causes of chlorosis; iron becomes decreasingly available to plants when soil pH is above 6.0, and is mostly unavailable at pH of 7.0 and above. Applying chelated iron will help temporarily but is not a long-term solution or cure, and chelated iron may rapidly become unavailable in alkaline soils. The best solutions are to encourage a thriving, healthy soil ecosystem that will naturally improve pH; provide acidity to soil by watering with diluted vinegar at proportions of about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar in 2 gallons of water; or use an acidifying product such as pH Reducer.

Wilting: At high temperatures, summer squash is prone to wilting regardless of how much water is available in the soil; it is possible during hot periods for squash and other plants to transpire faster than their roots can uptake water. Any wilting is undesirable and stressful to plants, but can be difficult to prevent with squash during summer. GardenZeus recommends providing shade during hot afternoons with mobile trellises or other homemade methods, and if necessary, trimming portions of large leaves or thinning leaves if squash plants wilt in hot weather despite being well-watered.

Slow growth, lack of vigor, small plants, production of few or small roots or leaves, yellowing leaves, dried-out or brown leaves: These common symptoms may result from soil pH that is too high or too low, compacted soil, alkaline soil, overwatering, underwatering, irregular watering, poor drainage, warm or hot weather, lack of soil nitrogen, other soil nutrient deficiencies, or a combination of these. They may also be the result of hot weather, wind, or other environmental and abiotic factors. Burned leaf tips may also result from overfertilizing, sodic soils, or soluble salts in soils.

Not a Problem

Summer squash plants often drop the first round of blooms without producing any fruits. These blooms are usually male, which are incapable of fruiting. If blossom-dropping persists, lack of pollination is likely the cause.

As squash fruits grow large, their rinds or skins toughen and become less palatable. This is normal; at large fruit size, the inside flesh of summer squash remains edible, although possibly less flavorful or more bitter, up to the point that seeds form inside overmature fruits.

Common Diseases

Mildews: Powdery and downy mildew are the most common leaf-diseases of squash in many portions of California. They appear as a whitish circles or whitish layers on the upper or lower surfaces of leaves, yellowing or dead spots, or pale or yellow angular leaf sections, and may be mistaken for other problems, such as nutrient deficiencies. Powdery mildew is more commonly a problem in many parts of California than downy mildew, and especially prevalent later in summer or after periods of hot weather. Avoid wetting foliage when watering. Some mildews can be discouraged using a nontoxic homemade spray of one tablespoon each of baking soda and tea tree oil per quart of water, shaken vigorously and regularly as applied via spray bottle. Mildews are often difficult to control and are best managed through prevention and good cultural practices, such as planting resistant varieties, planting in areas with good air circulation, keeping foliage dry, less-frequent irrigation, encouraging biologically active "living" soil that will support strong plant immune systems, and rotating crops. Mildews are often not fatal and squash may produce reasonable yields and fresh uninfected leaves despite ongoing infections on older leaves. The majority of squash plants develop mildew infections by mid-to-late summer in warm weather portions of California, as their vigorous fruiting slowly exhausts them and their immune systems weaken.

Squash are susceptible to soil pathogens, particularly in wet and waterlogged soils, including Phytophthora, Fusarium, and Verticilium. These pathogens may persist in soils for many years. Plant resistant varieties, avoid planting in soils where the pathogens are known to have infested plants during the past several years, avoid overwatering, provide appropriate cultural conditions, and encourage a living soil ecosystem that will naturally support plants and inhibit soil pathogens.

Bacterial wilt is purportedly on the rise as a squash disease in home gardens, but GardenZeus expert Darren Butler has not yet seen this commonly in gardens in California. It is spread by cucumber beetles, and results in wilting of entire plants despite sufficient soil moisture. Plants cannot be cured, and should be removed as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of the wilt spreading to other plants.

Mosaic viruses are more commonly an issue in large-scale agriculture or on commercial farms but may show up occasionally in the home garden and be a serious disease in squash. Initial symptoms include yellowing, spotting, mottling, or distortion in leaves and fruit. Fruits may be bitter or inedible, and viruses may seriously weaken plants. Multiple virus strains are spread by different insects, and often more than one virus is involved in a given infestation. In the home garden, it is generally not worth the time and expense to complete lab testing. Controlling known insect vectors, such as aphids and whiteflies, may slow the spread of the virus(es). Plant resistant varieties, provide appropriate cultural conditions, and encourage a living soil ecosystem that will naturally support plants. There is no effective known cure once plants are infested.

Common Pests

Common pests of summer squash include leafminers, aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, cabbage loopers, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and armyworms. Potato bugs or sow bugs and earwigs often devastate seedlings, especially in newly cultivated and overly wet soils, If your seeds apparently fail to germinate, or if small seedlings disappear overnight or are chewed back to stems, check for moist areas nearby that may be harboring these insects (or technically crustaceans, in the case of potato bugs). Birds also may eat seedlings, blooms, and new leaves.

Special Care

Many varieties of summer squash have prickly leaves or stems. You may want to wear gloves or protective clothing when working in your plants or harvesting to prevent skin irritation.

Keep summer squash beds well-weeded. Weeds compete with squash plants for space, water, and nutrients, but more importantly, you may have difficulty finding squash fruits when plants are choked with weeds, and allowing even a few squash fruits to grow to maturity unharvested may drastically reduce your long-term yield.

Special Info

While summer squash are generally considered vegetables, they are actually fruits in the botanical sense that the fruit of any plant is the part that contains seeds. For purposes of provided gardening information, GardenZeus may refer to squash and other vegetables that contain seeds as "fruits."

Successful squash pollination is a delicate miracle of nature; pollinators must find female flowers on the first day they open, for their reproductive parts are only receptive to viable pollen for one day!

No need to peel your summer squash; the majority of the nutrients in a squash are actually contained within the skin.

Sustainable Landscaping Tip

Because it is so abundantly productive over a long period, summer squash can be an important crop for local and seasonal food security, and may be a suitable crop for producing high yields under difficult conditions. It requires ample moisture to yield well but is damaged or killed by frost, so it is not a good match for germinating during natural winter rainfall or naturalizing in most areas of California.

Good and right relations with friends and neighbors are an important part of a sustainable lifestyle, and summer squash can support good neighborhood relations because it produces so many fruits that inevitably some must be given away. This provides an excuse to renew acquaintanceships and knock on the doors of people in your neighborhood whom you haven't met.

Advanced Tip

It is possible to grow summer squash during winter outdoors in cold frames or with frost protection in many portions of California. Be sure to plant in an area that receives full sun throughout the winter. Plant winter summer squash (now that is an oxymoron!) in pots to be brought into heated garages on cold nights, or plant in the ground in cold frames or with daily monitoring of weather, and provide frost-protection as needed. In mild years and areas, simple overnight protection using large cardboard boxes may be sufficient. On cold days or during long cold snaps, protect summer squash from frost with cages or wire frameworks covered in opaque plastic or cloth such that the cloth does not touch leaves or small stems. Watering before a cold period will help retain heat in the soil, and fully hydrated squash plants are less susceptible to frost.

Saving summer squash seeds generally requires tying off female flowers before they open with a stocking, paper bag, or other "hood;" pollinating by hand; then tying off the pollinated blooms again to avoid further pollination by insects. If saving seeds, allow fruits to remain on the vine until they grow to full size, harden, lose their coloring, and dry. When the stem attached to a given squash fruit is brown and dead, this is usually a good indication that seeds are ready to harvest.

Preservation, Storage, and Use

Summer squash is ideally stored at 41 to 50°F for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Squash stored at temperatures lower than 41°F may suffer chill damage. Squash should be stored in a plastic bag to maintain a higher relative humidity.

Summer squash is sensitive to ethylene, so when storing summer squash, take care to place it away from ethylene-producing fruits, including apples, avocados, melons, and stone fruits. Damaged, bruised, or rotting fruits may produce increased amounts of ethylene.

Summer squash is best used fresh, as soon as possible. Squash blossoms are very delicate and should be eaten the day they are harvested.

For longer-term storage of summer squash, GardenZeus recommends freezing. Sliced summer squash stored in airtight containers or freezer bags will keep for 2 to 3 months. To extend storage life, blanch squash slices for 2 minutes in boiling water, then immerse in ice water to cool. When blanched before freezing, summer squash slices will keep for a few to several months. Eating quality of frozen squash degrades over time; flavor may be lost and/or slices may become soggy.

Other options for storing squash include grating or shredding, and freezing in airtight containers or bags for use in baking; or cooking, pureeing, and freezing for use in soups.

In recent years, the FDA has recommended that summer squash NOT be canned due to high risk of bacterial contamination.

GardenZeus recommends retaining and eating summer squash skins whenever possible as the majority of nutrients are in the skins. Summer squash is a high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber.

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