All varieties of squash can be sorted into two main types: summer and winter.
If you’ve ever perused a seed catalog looking at all the options, you might be wondering what the difference is between summer and winter squash.
And it has nothing to do with when they are planted and grown!
So before we delve into the differences between summer and winter squash, let’s talk about the similarities.
How summer and winter squash are the same
All squashes are warm weather plants that will not tolerate freezing temperatures. They should be planted a couple of weeks after the last frost in your area.
Squashes start very well when directly seeded into the garden. If you’re in an area that has a shorter growing season, you can start your seeds indoors.
When transplanting squash started indoors, be very careful not to disturb the roots. Transplanted squash can be stunted and produce very little if the roots are disturbed at transplanting.
All squashes make male and female flowers. The male flowers are the first flowers to appear on your plant, and the female flowers show up later.
You can tell the female flowers by identifying the ovary located beneath them. Because squash plants make male and female flowers, they depend on pollinators (or gardeners) to pollinate them to make fruit.
If a female flower does not get pollinated, then the ovary (which looks like a tiny squash) will wither and fall off.
To pollinate your own squash, first identify a male and a female flower. Then snip off the male flower and remove its petals. Take what’s left of the flower-the stamen in the center- and swirl the stamen around inside the female flower. That’s it!
All squashes have edible flowers! Choose young male blossoms just before they open. You can sauté them, stuff them, and fry them. They’re very tender and delicious!
How summer and winter squash are different
Summer squashes are so called because they produce fruit that is ready for harvest and consumption during the warm summer months.
Summer squashes include, but are not limited to, yellow straight and crookneck varieties, zucchinis, and scallop squash.
They grow as large bushes and need at least 3 feet between plants.
Summer squash will produce more fruit than a winter squash and will start producing earlier in the season.
Most summer squash are ready to be harvested about 50-70 days from planting and they will stop producing new fruit if you don’t harvest the squash.
Make sure you harvest your summer squash when it is immature. Usually 6 inches long or less, or in the case of round types, approximately 4 inches in diameter.
Summer squash is tastiest when harvested young while the skin is still tender and the seeds inside are still immature.
For saving seed from your summer squash, however, you should let the fruit stay on the plant as long as possible to allow the seeds inside to fully form.
Winter squash is so called because the fruit of these plants are often not ready for harvest until the end of the summer and many types will store very well so they can be eaten in the winter.
Winter squashes varieties include, but are not limited to, acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins.
Winter squashes are generally large vining plants that may grow to 10 feet long or more. Leave at least 6 feet between winter squash plants.
The fruit of winter squashes is also larger in many cases.
Some winter squash plants only make 1 to 3 fruits per plant, and most take up to 120 days to harvest.
Winter squash should be left on the plant until fully mature: when the skin is hard and the plant has died.
Most winter squash, except acorn squash, also need to be cured prior to eating them. The curing process allows the fruit to be stored longer and become sweeter.
To cure your winter squash leave them out in the sun until the stem is brown and dried.
Speaking of the stem, always leave at least one Inch of stem on your winter squash fruits and never ever carry them by their stem.
A broken stem can invite rot and mold into your fruit. If the stem does break off, use that fruit first.
Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for 3-6 months depending on the variety.
It’s best not to wash squashes that you intend to leave in storage. And check them often while they are in storage for mold and pest damage.
Any damaged fruits should be consumed as soon as possible.
Tips for growing squash of all kinds
- Plant your squash in the early spring about 2 weeks after your last frost.
- They are very easy to plant by placing a seed about an inch deep in compost amended soil directly in your garden.
- Leave plenty of space between plants-at least 3 feet between summer squashes and 6-8 feet between winter squash.
- In small spaces, grow winter squash up a strong trellis.
- Squash will grow in most soil but will benefit from a side dressing of compost or balanced organic fertilizer at planting.
- Monitor your plants for squash vine borers: caterpillars that burrow into the stem at the base of your plant. You may not notice these pests until you see that your plant suddenly wilts. If you think that your plants are affected by the vine borer, check for holes at the base of your plant. Gently cut into your plant to find the offending worm and remove it or inject Bt into the hole.
- Squash bugs are another common pest of squash plants. If left unchecked, they can quickly take over and cause damage to the leaves and fruit of your plant. Check the undersides of your squash leaves for their eggs that are laid in rows. Scrape off the eggs and remove nymphs and adults by hand or apply neem oil as needed.
- Powdery mildew is a disease that can prematurely kill your squash plants. Treatment is difficult, but you can help prevent infection by using a 50:50 cows milk:water solution applied directly to the leaves of your plant every few weeks.
This article was written by Laura Seabolt author at YouShouldGrow.com. Laura is a veterinarian and food gardener in northeast Georgia US.
She’s also the author of Seed Starting For Beginners and My Vegetable Garden: A Month By Month Journal and offers a customizable Garden Planning Spreadsheet for sale. See all Laura’s products.