How to Grow Summer Squash and Zucchini

The Middle Eastern ‘Clarimore’ (40 days to harvest) has flavorful, pale green fruits.

The squashes of summer are versatile in summer cooking and some of the easiest vegetables you can grow as long as you have a patch of good, sunny garden ground and a water source. Both summer squashes and zucchini are available in different sizes–bush, short-vine, and long-vine– and only a few pests and diseases cause them grief. Thankfully, rugged, resistant varieties, of the heirloom or hybrid sort, are available to make summer vegetable gardening less problematic.

Five Summer Squash Garden Needs

Good garden soil will yield the best harvests.

Before planting summer squash in a prepared garden bed, raised bed, or large container, be sure you have the following garden and environmental accommodations.

  1. Sun-Full sun (6 hours or more) is required. The more sunshine, the better.
  2. Soil– Average to fertile soil with good drainage and porosity will encourage the best root growth and production. Garden ground amended with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend and/or Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Soil is recommended. Squash grow best in soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. If your soil is too alkaline, amend with organic-rich, acidifying Black Gold® Natural & Organic Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss.
  3. Water– A good water source is needed because fruiting vines require regular water in the heat of summer. Water plant substantially after several days without rain. Even moisture is optimal.
  4. Food– Fertilize as directed with a plant food formulated for vegetables.
  5. Mulch vining summer squash with seed-free straw or hay. The fruits are better protected from pests and fungal diseases on a clean bed of straw. The mulching layer keeps weeds down to boot.

Favorite Summer Squash and Zucchini Varieties

Both summer squash and zucchini originate from . Summer squash can be curved (crookneck), strait, or in patty pan form, and the color ranges from golden to pale green. Zucchini is often strait or bulbous at the end and may be dark green or striped with dark green. The fruits are best harvested when they have reached their projected size and the skin is still soft. The flowers are also edible and often stuffed and fried in Italian cuisine.

Summer Squash

‘Sunburst’ pattypan squashes grow on space-saving bushy plants and can be harvested at all stages when the skin is still soft.

The Middle Eastern ‘Clarimore‘ (40 days to harvest) has pale green fruits that taste nutty and flavorful. The short-vine plants are heat tolerant and productive.

The 5-foot vines of ‘Fort Knox‘ (50 days to harvest) produce straight, golden squash with mild, smooth flesh. The hybrid vines are extra productive.

‘Summer Gold’ (48 days to harvest) is a productive, vining American heirloom plant with gold, strait-neck fruits.

The heirloom pattypan ‘Sunburst‘ (55 days to harvest) is a classic bush-forming variety with gold squashes. Harvest them small for sauteeing and stir-frying.


The vining squash ‘Black Beauty’ is an American heirloom with big harvests.

Black Beauty‘ (50 days to harvest) is a vining American zucchini with smooth, dark green skin.

The pleasantly round ‘Ronde de Nice’ is a European heirloom zucchini prized for stuffing. The bush plants reach only 3-4 feet across.

Romanesco‘ is a vining Italian heirloom with flavorful, ridged squash of pale green striped with medium green. The prolific vines will produce zucchini all season long, so plan to share some with friends and neighbors.

The non-stop producer ‘Zucchino Rampicante‘ can be harvested as a pale green, curved zucchini-like squash or allowed to age as a mild, flavorful winter squash. The Italian heirloom is a family favorite.

Planting Summer Squash and Zucchini


Adding a mulch layer of straw will keep weeds down and protects quashes.

Summer squashes are warm-season crops that require summer heat to produce, so the best time to plant them is in late spring after the threat of frost has passed. They grow best in average to fertile soil with good drainage. We recommend you feed your garden soil yearly with rich organic matter and fertilizers formulated for vegetables. Once again, two recommended Black Gold products for added fertility are Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Soil, which provides nutrition and needed organic matter, and our fertile Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. developing squash.

Squash are fast-growing vegetables and heavy feeders and drinkers, so keep them adequately fed and watered. Any quality fertilizer formulated for vegetables will work. Water after several rainless days to ensure soil moisture is adequate. The ground can be allowed to dry for several days between watering, but don’t let the soil become truly dry.

Summer Squash Problems

Pests, diseases, and poor fruit set are occasional problems with summer squash and zucchini.

Poor fruit set may be caused by a lack of pollinators. Squash plants have two flower types, male and female, and these are strictly bee-pollinated. Vines often produce male flowers first, followed by female blooms (they always have small fruits at the base of the flowers). Without pollination, the developing fruits of female flowers will shrivel. If your area lacks bees, then move the pollen on your own. Simply use a small brush to move pollen from a newly opened male flower to a newly opened female flower. It’s fast, easy, and will yield squash!

Squash vine borers are the biggest threat to these plants. For a detailed description of the pest, read our Ask a Garden Expert answer about how to beat squash vine borers.

Powdery mildew is a common squash leaf disease of late summer.

In hot summer weather, powdery mildew can infect squash leaves. Downy mildew can cause fruit rot in moist weather, especially if days and nights become cool. Downy mildew can appear when weather conditions are cool and moist and will cause fruit to rot and shrivel up early in development.

Future watching and reading:


Top 10 Best Tasting Winter Squash

How Do You Store Winter and Summer Squash?

How Do You Store Winter and Summer Squash?

“On storing squash for winter where is the best place to store a rather large abundance of fresh zucchini, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash.” Question from Jennifer of Wataga, Illinois

Answer: Summer and winter squashes are stored very differently. Tender zucchini and summer squash have a relatively short shelf life of a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and they freeze fairly well but freeze even better as tasty baked goods. That’s why many gardeners bake and freeze zucchini bread and zucchini chocolate chip muffins, among other yummy treats. If you want to try freezing zucchini: wash, blanch, ice, and then freeze it in proper storage bags. (Click here for the steps.) Zucchini can also be made into relish for canning.

Storing Winter Squash

Tough-rinded winter squashes, like butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins will often store well for months in a cool, dry place. Dry basements or cool mudrooms are perfect. You can also refrigerate them if you have space. Sometimes, I will process my pumpkins for pie and soup and freeze the frozen mash. This is another option. (Click here to learn how to cook pumpkins for mash and pie.)

I hope that these tips help!

Happy fall,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist



Can You Grow Squash in Containers?

Can You Grow Squash in Containers?

“Is it possible to grow squash in a container?” Question from Anne Marie of Napa, California

Answer: Bush squashes grow beautifully in large containers. In fact, I plan to plant a few in my garden this year. The key is making sure that you choose a compact, bush-forming variety. You can find bush zucchini, summer squash, pumpkins, and winter squash. I plant mine in containers that are at least 24-inches across and 12 to 18 inches deep. Here are my top varieties for container growing.

Favorite Bush Squash for Containers

  1. Sunburst Scallop Summer Squash: Sunburst is a garden mainstay for me and is great to harvest at the baby stage. It is short-vined and produces lots of tasty yellow pattypan squash.
  2. Astia Container Zucchini: These tiny little zucchini plants were bred for container growing, and they are very tasty.
  3. Wee-B-Little Pumpkins: Tiny Wee-B-Little pumpkins grow on very short vines that take well to container growing.
  4. Honeybear Acorn Squash: Also on short, semi-bush vines, this AAS award-winning winter squash grows well in containers and is very sweet.
  5. Max’s Gold Summer Squash: Here’s a classic golden summer squash that has few seeds, great flavor, and grows on compact bushes.

Squashes need full sun. I recommend planting yours in either Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Black Gold® Natural & Organic Flower and Vegetable Soil. Both are OMRI Listed for organic gardening. Plant two seeds in the center of each pot, about 1 to 2 inches down, and keep the seeds lightly watered until they sprout. Keep the most vigorous of the seedlings once it has started developing its true leaves–pluck out the other. Fertilize with a plant food formulated for vegetable growing once they begin to actively grow and keep the pot lightly moist. Never let it dry out severely.

I hope that this information helps!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What is the Pollinator For Summer Squash?

Male squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa). (Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab)

“What is the pollinator for summer squash? I stopped trying to grow them after getting zero fruits last summer!” Question from Robin of Warner, New Hampshire

Answer: It is frustrating when squash do not set fruits. There can be several reasons why, but the primary reason is lack of pollination. The main pollinators are bees or all types, but squash (Cucurbita spp.) are native American plants, so they have unique native American bees specialized for pollinating them. Squash bees are small and come in two groups (Peponapis species and Xenoglossa species). They are solitary, meaning that they do not create hives, and they ONLY pollinate squash.

Keeping a Yard for Bees

Your squash should be enough to encourage squash bees, but if they are not abundant in your area, then you will need to rely on other bees to do the job. One way to encourage more bees to visit your vegetable garden is to plant swaths of garden flowers for bees nearby. Surrounding your garden with flowers is a great method. Bees love easy flowers like zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, sunflowers, and black-eyed-Susans. (Watch the video below to learn more about flowers for bees.)

It is also essential to refrain from using toxic pesticides in your garden. These kill bees that happen to land on a sprayed spot. Harsh chemicals in the garden aren’t worth it.

Sometimes fertilizer imbalance can contribute to poor production. Be sure to feed your squash with a quality fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Low light can also cause poor fruit set, so give your plants full-day sun. For additional information, I recommend that you read this article: Why Aren’t My Squash Bearing Fruit and Do They Have Borers?

Happy Gardening!
Jessie Keith
Black Gold Horticulturist

Why Aren’t My Squash Bearing Fruit and Do They Have Borers?

“How can I determine if a squash plant in my raised bed is just “doing bad,” or if it’s “doing bad because a squash vine borer might have gotten it?” And does one bad squash plant ruin all the rest in the same bed? Nothing seems to be bearing fruit now.” Question from Cat of Horse Shoe, North Carolina.”

Answer: You are in luck! Most of these common questions for squash growers have already been answered for Ask a Garden Expert inquirers. The answers are below. But, you also ask a question has not been addressed. This is about the idea of one squash plant damaging another.

One squash plant can only damage another if it is carrying a disease that can easily be spread. Do you see badly wilting leaves without the evidence of holes or damage on the stems (see the vine borer piece, which shows stem borer images.). Do you see white, dusty mold (powdery nildew) on the leaves or brown or yellow spots? If so, your plants likely have a disease. There are many that attack squash. Some, like powdery mildew, can be managed, while others are deadly. (Click here for a detailed article on all squash diseases.)

Squash Vine Borers

Click here for tips for identifying and beating squash vine borers.

Poor Squash Production

Click here for some possible causes and solutions for poor squash set.

Squash Bugs

Click here are some tips for how to get rid of squash bugs, a common pest that can reduce squash performance.

I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Get Rid of Squash Bugs?

“How do you get rid of squash bugs?” Question from Judy of Louisville, Mississippi

Answer: Surely these are some of the most annoying and destructive of all summer vegetable garden pests. To manage squash bugs (Anasa tristis), you need to understand their life cycle.

Squash Bug Life Cycle

These true bugs attack squash and relatives, like cucumbers, pumpkins, and zucchini. They spend their winters sheltering under garden debris, leaves, rocks, and logs. Sometimes they even enter homes for refuge.  When spring weather warms, they seek out squash plants, mate, and lay eggs on developing squash plants. The clusters of brownish-orange eggs hatch in just 5 to 10 days. Bug nymphs emerge and develop into adult squash bugs that suck the juices from squash stems, leaves, flowers and developing fruits. Badly infested plants will show signs of wilt and have poor fruit output and development.

Squash Bug Management

Squash bug eggs are brown to brownish-red.

The first thing you can do to protect your garden is to remove all infested plant material from your beds in fall. Good garden sanitation will destroy winter cover for these bugs, which will decrease their populations during the cold season. In spring, keep a lookout for their eggs. If you see any on leaves or stems, scrape them off immediately and smash them. Once you begin to see adults, remove them by hand or spray them with an OMRI Listed insecticidal spray approved for organic gardening, like insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil. [Click here to read more about using horticultural oils.]

It also pays to plant squash-bug-resistant varieties, which include most butternut varieties, ‘Early Summer Crookneck,’ ‘Improved Green Hubbard,’ ‘Royal Acorn‘, and ‘Zucchetta Tromboncino’.

I hope this helps! Happy gardening.

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Beating Squash Vine Borers

“The last couple of years that we have planted zucchini, a worm of some sort has eaten to roots and caused the plants to die. We try to use as little chemicals as possible but don’t know what else to do. We have tried 7 dust, diatomaceous earth and this year we even tilled several times before planting but yet our plants still died because of this insect. It doesn’t bother other plants just the zucchini.” Question from Michelle of Copperas Cove, Texas

Answer: You have squash vine borers! These moth pests lay their eggs at the base of zucchini and squash vines. Then their larvae hatch and bore into the base of the squash, eating away at the stem interiors until the vines wilt and die due to lack of food and water. Bush zucchini and squash are most susceptible because they have just one stem supporting the whole plant.

There are several things you can do to keep borers and bay, and none require pesticides.

Tackle Borers Early

The key is getting to the borers before they get to your squash. The half-inch-long moths are gray with orange-red bodies dotted with black. They buzz like wasps and reproduce just once a year. Look for them early in the summer, when they are ready to lay clusters of tiny, flat, brown eggs at the base of squash stems or lower leaves. The eggs take just one week to hatch.

Keep a lookout for adults and egg clusters after you plant your squash. If you find the eggs, gently scrape them away. Continuous checking and egg removal will keep the borers at bay. The moths are also attracted to the color yellow, so another method is laying yellow sticky traps at the base of the stems.

Some gardeners also find success placing floating row covers over squash up until midsummer. You just have to secure the row cover edges to keep insects from getting inside until the borer threat has passed. Then remove the covers to ensure your zucchini flowers get pollinated.

Remove Borers

Here’s what an active borer looks like in a squash stem (cross-wise cut). Look for the tan, gravelly frass at the stem base!

If borers do infiltrate your zucchini stems, you can actually remove them! Look for holes filled with tan, gravelly frass (insect droppings) at the stem base. As soon as you see these borer signs, gently slice open the stem lengthwise, doing as little damage as possible, and remove the yucky borers. This process is a lot easier than you might think.

Plant Zucchini Later in the Season

Lots of bush zucchini will produce fruit in as little as 45 to 50 harvest days. So, if you plant new plants in midsummer, after the squash borers have stopped reproducing, you can worry less about borers.

Plant Borer-Resistant Zucchini

Vining squash and zucchini types require more space, but their stems root along the ground, making them resistant to borers. If one stem is attacked, the others will support the growing vine. Two great resistant varieties to try include ‘Cocozella Di Napoli‘ and ‘Costata Romanesco‘.

I hope this information helps!

Happy zucchini growing,

Jessie Keith

Squash vine borer drawing by author Mary Foley Benson.


Three Sisters Gardens

Along the flood plains of America’s rivers, indigenous tribes cultivated crops for centuries.  Before levees, rivers spread out far and wide, yet shallow, with each spring flood depositing yet another layer of rich silt upon those from millennia past. These tribes grew the three sisters of Native American agriculture: corn, squash, and beans.  Growing in the three-sisters style is a great way to teach youngsters or to create a family project that demonstrates much about gardens, climate, and history.

Winter squash benefits from the shelter of the corn and beans.

The Benefits of Three Sisters Gardens

Unlike our farm-row monoculture plantings, three sisters agriculture plants all three crops close together on a single mound of earth. First, the corn is sown, germinates, and produces a young stalk.  Next, the beans are sown next to the corn to climb that stalk.  Like other legumes, beans fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to fertilize the heavy -feeding corn.  Winter squash is third, which benefits from the shelter of the corn and beans while the large squash leaves shade soil to keep root zone temperatures lower under each mound.

This easy backyard garden project is adaptable to different size spaces by adjusting the mound’s dimensions. It can be just 18″ in diameter for small spaces or for large gardens go up to four feet with proportionately more plants.  While irrigating with drip systems, some like to create a depression in the center of the mound that allows for an occasional deep watering ideal for hot dry days.

In the riverbank Indian villages, they saved bones and other leftovers from their fish preparation to fertilize the mounds. The heads, bones, fins, and organs were buried deep into the mound to decompose there and release important nutrients throughout the growing season.

Creating a Three Sisters Garden

Buffalo Bird Woman of the Hidatsa tribe.

When creating your own mounds, blend in generous amounts of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend to increase humus levels and overall fertility.  To boost microbe and micronutrient content work Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend into the surface soil where the seeds will be sown.  In lieu of fish heads, which attract pests, install pockets of fertilizer deep within the soil mound where roots can find them for long-term availability to the plants.

Virtually any corn, squash or climbing beans can be used, but heirloom varieties of these American plants will be closer to those grown by the Indians. In the west explore Native Seed/SEARCH online for rare strains grown by tribes in the desert and northern Mexico.  These are the original three sisters varieties developed by Pueblo farmers, but those heirlooms grown by tribes in the north and east are adapted to shorter growing seasons.

bookThe river gardens were closely protected during the growing season by tribal members who kept a sharp eye out for marauding wildlife or theft. Often young women sat upon an elevated platform for a better view of the field and sang while watching for stealthy young men who’d steal the fresh ears to cook for themselves, and in the process, many marriages found their start amidst the “sisters”.

Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is a reprint of the 1917 book that documents the Hidatsa tribal gardens on the Missouri River flood plain. In this personal account, you will learn everything about the gardens and the role of women within them.  Most of all we learn from Buffalo Bird Woman just how intimate these indigenous people were with their crops:  “We cared for our corn in those days as we would care for a child; for we Indian people loved our gardens, just as a mother loves her children; and we thought that our growing corn liked to hear us sing, just as children like to hear their mother sing to them.”

Three Sisters On The Mound

indian cornSister #1 Maize   Any kind of corn grows this way but heirloom varieties are shorter with strong stout stalks.  If you find decorative Indian corn in the store and love the color, save those ears in a cool dry place to plant in your three sisters garden next year.  Order Indian corn seed online for the widest selection, particularly the new Glass Gem popcorn.  Small mound: 4 or 5 seeds 6″ apart.


Bean Diversity3Sister #2 Beans   For this growing method use standard climbing beans.  Most indigenous tribes grew beans for drying and winter storage, but any green bean that climbs is fine.  Small mound:  4  beans close enough to corn for easy climbing.



Navajo Tail SquashSister #3 Squash  Winter squash were harvested, sliced, strung onto sticks and dried in the open air before storage.  Stick with one variety to avoid cross-pollination.  Small mound:  2 seeds, one on each side of the mound.