More in Outdoors
One of the first things to know about squash is that there are two types: summer and winter. The main difference between the two is that winter squashes have hard, thick rinds that will help them store for long periods of time.
In cooler regions, you can start plants indoors three weeks before the last frost date. You don't want to start plants any earlier than this because older plants sometimes will not transplant well. To start the winter squash indoors, put 2 seeds, 1" deep into 4" peat pots and water them until the soil is moist. You need to maintain the seeds at a constant temperature of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for best germination. Be sure to use grow lights to maintain a constant temperature.
Once the seedlings reach 2" tall, thin the plants with scissors to one plant per pot. Now before you plant your seedlings outdoors, you should also harden off the seedlings. Hardening off means helping the seedling to gradually acclimate to the outdoors. You want to place seedlings outside during the day under shrubs or trees when the temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't forget to bring the seedlings in at night and after 5 to 7 days of hardening off, the seedlings will be ready for transplanting outside.
Winter squash needs a sunny, open site for three months or more of frost-free growing time. They require plenty of room for their long, wandering vines. Squash likes a soil that is rich in organic matter, both for nutrients and a good supply of moisture.
To grow a planting of winter squash, the soil should be fertilized with a 10-10-10 formula, meaning there are added amendments of 10 percent of each need element -- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Using a garden fork, turn the fertilizer into the soil at least 12" deep. Next, insert a soil thermometer into the ground to make certain the temperature is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
To transplant seedlings, you dig a hole to the same depth as the peat pots. Set four seedlings, pot and all, in hills on the raised beds about 3' apart. Try not to crush the peat pots so you don't disturb the plant roots as you transplant the seedlings. Pack soil around the seedlings and then lightly water the plants. Also be sure the plants are placed in the hills side by side instead of one long row. This process will help the pollination of the flowers and the fruiting as the pollen passes from flower to flower.
Once the seedlings have been up about one week, be sure to thin to the two strongest plants per hill. Crowded plants produce less fruit and are more likely to develop diseases. If there is a danger of disturbing the other seedlings, just pinch off the extras instead of pulling them out. For large deep-rooted plants, you can use scissors or bypass pruning shears to cut the stems off at the soil line.
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