Happy summertime. I hope you’re all enjoying waterfalls and (soon) watermelons. This month’s column features tips for growing squash, as well as ways to reduce voles from devouring your harvest.
Please keep the gardening questions coming. I love hearing from you. You can email your inquiries to [email protected]
What’s the best way to grow summer and winter squash?
Growing summer and winter squash (which include zucchini and pumpkins) can be tricky. Fortunately, they’re worth a little extra effort because they’re so delicious and prolific.
First, the basics: All squash are heat-loving plants and intolerant of cold weather. They can be started indoors in a heated space and then transplanted after the danger of frost has passed, or they can be directly sown in the garden once it’s reliably warm. I tend to start a few zucchinis and summer squashes inside for transplant, then do a second succession directly in the ground. For winter squash, I always direct sow. I’ve noticed that the plants grow much larger and are more robust when planted this way. Despite the name, winter squash ripen in the fall and are harvested before the frost. They keep through the winter, which is when most people eat them, hence the name.
Squash are heavy feeders, meaning they thrive in soil with high fertility. If you don’t have rich soil, you can add an organic fertility source before planting squash and/or apply a liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. Be careful with adding too much nitrogen, which can lead to a proliferation of male flowers but fewer of the female flowers that are needed for the fruits you want to harvest. Compost or composted manure are great choices, along with a balanced organic fertilizer such as Plant-Tone, which contains nitrogen along with other macro- and micronutrients.
As with all garden veggies, be sure not to plant squash in the same spot year after year. Not only does this deplete soil of the nutrients those plants need, but it also increases the chances of pest issues. Because many pests overwinter in the soil, they’ll be only too delighted to encounter their favorite food source again and again.
Finally, squash flowers are pollinated by insects, especially both native and domesticated bees. Keep an eye out for buzzing helpers carrying pollen from male to female flowers on your squash plants, as this is necessary for them to grow fruits.
How do I minimize squash bugs and mildew interruptions?
I’ll tackle powdery mildew first, then get into pest issues. This is a fungal pathogen that infects the leaves of plants, and squash plants are particularly susceptible. Moist and cool conditions are ideal for powdery mildew. Sometimes, these conditions are unavoidable, such as on overcast days after thunderstorms. Other times, we unknowingly welcome powdery mildew by watering late in …….