Mixing Up Summer Squash

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Yellow courgette

Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) is fast and easy to grow in warm summer weather, and the plants are often phenomenally productive. Courgettes, yellow squash, Middle Eastern types and scallop squash are all summer squash. In my garden, I may grow three or four varieties, though I grow no more than six summer squash plants, total. The big, burly plants take up quite a bit of space in the garden, which you don't want to waste by growing more than you will actually eat. And then there is the more serious risk of boring the household cook to the point where he or she puts their foot down and says they have simply had enough. In a good year, summer squash burnout becomes an imminent risk in most gardening households.

Courgette or Zucchini?

This blog is an international conversation on vegetable gardening, so first we should clear up some language issues. All of the following types are summer squash, in that they are classified as Cucurbita pepo and are typically harvested when young and tender:

  • Courgette, which is synonymous with zucchini, is the top choice for many gardeners. Depending on variety, courgettes are straight or club-shaped, or they can be round or shaped like teardrops. Green coloured fruits are most common, but golden yellow courgettes are increasingly popular.
  • Mid-Eastern types are sometimes called cousa squash, and the big, robust plants tend to be phenomenally productive. The light green bulbous fruits keep coming on gigantic plants, often out-producing other varieties.
  • Yellow squash have thin, tender skins, and while they are much beloved in many parts of the US, they are not tremendously popular in Europe. 
  • Scallop squash look like puffed-up saucers with rounded edges, and they were quite popular among North America's First Nation tribes. The firm flesh holds up to cooking a little better than other summer squash, and varieties like yellow-and-green ‘Sunburst' (an All-America Selections award winner from 1985), provide great colour contrast on the plate.

Different types of summer squash readily share pollen, so unless you plan to save seeds, you can grow one plant of each type – or another mix that matches your preferences – and get good pollination and fruit set. If you do plan to save seeds, grow pairs of like plants at opposite ends of the garden to limit cross-pollination. Be sure to begin with a good open pollinated variety. 

Understanding Squash Sex

Usually we don't bring up pollination when discussing vegetable crops, but squash and other members of the cucumber family flaunt their sexual needs to their keepers, who may need to lend assistance in small plantings of fewer than four plants.

In typical cucurbit style, summer squash blossoms may be either male or female. The male flower has a bare stem, while the base "stem" of the female flower is an actual squash. Most young squash plants produce all male flowers at first, followed by a mix of males and females a week or so later. If you are growing only a few plants, you can enhance pollination by taking a male flower and "kissing" it to open female flowers, preferably first thing in the morning.

If you have more than three plants, your summer squash will probably be fertilised nicely by assorted flying insects. I have found that sunflowers make good companion plants for summer squash because they grow up through the thick squash foliage, and attract honeybees and other pollinators at just the right time.

Sunflowers and squash />
<figcaption class=unflowers make good companions for summer sqush because they help attract pollinators

The best summer squash in the world are the ones you grow in your garden, harvest at the peak of tenderness and flavour, and then enjoy for the rest of the year. At our house, six or seven plants produce enough summer squash to eat fresh and stash in the freezer, often in combination with chopped basil and other odds and ends from the summer garden. In the garden and in the freezer, mixing things up is key to finding happiness in summer squash.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"I think the sunflowers look good as well as help with pollination - thanks I will try them this year. Would pot marigold be any good? I have just sewn my courgette, squash and marrow seeds ( pumpkin already done)- hope this is not too late but it has been so cold. I decided to put them in pots in the greenhouse rather than straight in the ground for a bit of a head start in the warm... "
Mary Palmer on Sunday 16 May 2010
"Mary, I think pot marigolds (calendula) go well with everything, but they're not tall enough to push their heads above a sea of squash foliage, whereas sunflowers can. I have pot marigolds naturalized in my garden. Perhaps we should do a feature on them! "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 16 May 2010
"No such thing as squash burnout here. We make up things like squash and ginger marmalade or squash and chili chutney. We eat squash all year round given half a chance."
Geoffrey on Monday 17 May 2010
"Now if someone would just find a way to conquor squash bugs, those nasty adult varmits that arrive by the hundreds and kill the squash plants in their prime."
Pat Roloff on Tuesday 18 May 2010
"Hi Geoffrey, would you be willing to share you squash and cholli chutney recipe by any chance?"
Laura on Friday 21 May 2010
"Here's the basis of the jam... http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7565/marrow-and-ginger-jam and here is the basis of the chutney, just swap squash for toms!: http://blog.chilliupnorth.co.uk/2010/01/07/tomato-and-chilli-chutney/"
Geoffrey on Friday 21 May 2010
"I'm a newbe to growing veggies -- what does "kissing" the male squash mean. I'm only growing 2 plants in my garden but want the most fruit I cam get"
Brenda on Friday 21 May 2010
"Hi Brenda, Not to sound obscene, but barely touching the open part of the male flower to the inside of the female flower gets the pollen where it needs to go. If you get good weather for bees to work when your squash is blooming heavily, you may not need to bother."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 21 May 2010
"Any ideas about conquering squash bugs? I would rather not put any chemicals in my garden. Is there any household item or another type of plant that will chase them off?"
Audrey on Sunday 23 May 2010
"I start looking for squash bugs as soon as the weather warms, and drop them into a pail of soapy water. But more important is looking for brown egg clusters on leaves, which I scrape off with an old steak knife. Later in summer, when the squash is exhausted but the squash bugs are not, I pull up the plants, one each day, to force the bugs onto the surviving plants. I gather up the last ones in a sheet of clear plastic and let them cook in the sun. These maneuvers seem to keep the squash bugs at a manageable level. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 24 May 2010
"I had left too much room between my potatoe rows and was struggling for space on my half allotment to grow everything I wanted to. One of the old guys who has being allotmenteering for over 30 years on the site said "well you could put your Squash and Courgettes down the middle of the potatoe rows as there is at least 2ft of room". The idea being that the Squash and Courgettes grow on top of the soil and the potatoes are underneath. Great I thought and went ahead now everything I have read says not to grow them together as they are not good companions. The proof will be in the eating, but how true do you think this is? Anyone else tried it?"
Bev Poppitt on Friday 4 June 2010
"Bev, in South America several crops are often grown with potatoes to provide them with some shade. And I know of no reason why squash and potatoes would not be compatible other than competition for sun. Looking at my garden, the potatoes will soon be winding down, while the squash is just getting going. Looks like the combination could work to me."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 4 June 2010
"Thanks Barbara, I thought it would be a good idea for those reasons too, and the potatoes would be well out the way when the Squash and Pumpkins are needing the space, but most seem to think that one stunts the growth of the other. Time will tell and thanks for responding!"
Bev Poppitt on Friday 4 June 2010
"I need more info on combating those rotten, ugly, infesting squash bugs. The idea above was good, but I want them GONE!!"
Dianne on Monday 7 June 2010
"Dianne, persistence is key. Every morning or as often as you can, go out early with gloved hands and collect the adult squash bugs in a pail of soapy water. The adults will be under leaves or near stems, close to the ground. Also scrape off the brick rid egg clusters from leaves. These measures will hold off the squash bugs long enough to get a good crop, but you must stay after them. Good luck! I squished several yesterday."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 7 June 2010
"About Squash bugs... I've already been infested this year! Doing some research, I've read that diatomaceous earth is highly recommended for squash bugs, garden fleas and cucumber beetles. It is considered organic so NO worry about chemicals! I bought a box over the week-end and will be spreading it today. I really hope this works! (I found diatomaceous earth in the pool-supply department at my local Lowes Home improvement store/ 25 lbs for $20. It is also used in pool and spa filters)"
Lea on Monday 7 June 2010
"I totally appreciate the advice, Barbara. When I found the bugs, there were literally hundreds of them. Picking that many off by hand (even in gloves) is creeping me out! I'll try starting very early in their growth to see if I can find them quicker. Yuck!! Thank goodness they are the only major bug I have to deal with so far. Knock on wood. I don't know much about that dirt that Lea mentioned. Let me know how it does. I may have to try that, too. "
Dianne on Monday 7 June 2010
"Im growing 3 different types of sqash. one of each....Is that ok for pollination? is eggplant a squash?"
Salgal on Tuesday 8 June 2010
"Salgal, as long as they are all "summer" squash -- zucchini (courgette), yellow squash, acorn or scallop -- they can cross-pollinate each other. Butternuts and other winter squash are of a different species, so they won't help with pollination of summer squash. Don't worry, because with four plants, once your plants start blooming heavily you will have plenty of squash."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 8 June 2010
"Thank you for the squash update. I just noticed that my red onions i planted on april 14th are about 14 inches tall and 5 of them have flower buds on them. Are they ready to pick? Should i cut the flowers off? they are only the size of a big scallion right now."
Salgal on Thursday 17 June 2010
"@Salgal, onions that have flowers on will not be good for cooking with and should probably be left to flower as many beneficial insects love them."
Jeremy Dore on Sunday 20 June 2010
"Salgal, we have onions pushing up flower buds too and have discovered that if we harvest as soon as we see the bud and then use promptly, the onions are FABULOUS! Sooo good to eat with freshly picked peas or peapods. I wouldn't pick if the bud has gone to flower."
Ea on Monday 28 June 2010
"It is looking like I am going to have an abundance of zucchini this year, and thankfully I have not seen squash bugs. Can you give me some advice on the best way to freeze? Whole? Chopped? Freezer bags? Thanks."
Audrey on Monday 28 June 2010
"Audrey, cut the squash into pieces of a size and shape you like for cooking, steam-blanch them for 3 minutes, and freeze in freezer bags. I like to add fresh chopped herbs or greens to add flavor to frozen squash. Try marinating and grilling squash slices before freezing them. You can also dry summer squash, which intensifies its flavor. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 28 June 2010
"Thanks for the ideas. I am definitely going to try freezing this year. Drying sounds interesting also. Do you use a standard dehydrator?"
Audrey on Monday 28 June 2010
"Yes, I have an Excalibur dehydrator, expensive to buy but easy to operate. I now dry more tomatoes than I can!"
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 2 July 2010
"I harvested my bush green beans last year on June 26 (first harvest. This year, the plants look healthy but still only have the white flowers and little buds. No green beans sprouting yet. Time to panic, or can I trust that maybe they are yet to come?"
Katie on Wednesday 22 June 2011
"Don't panic. Snap beans can "hold their fire" when temperatures get quite warm, and very fertile soil tends to keep them at the juvenile stage a bit longer than normal. If you're seeing flowers, you are days away from green beans, and lots of them."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 23 June 2011
"I just had to cut away half of one of my crooked neck summer squash plants. It wilted away in the stretch of an afternoon, although it it had showed signs of yellowing in the prior three or four days. This is the second time this season I've had to do this. I have been diligent about removing squash bugs and their eggs everyday. I'll admit, I may not be getting every single egg. I've cut open the stems of the affected plants and found no worm, or even tracks where one might have been. I'm really perplexed about what is killing off these squash plant. The rest of them are very healthy and green."
Nick Manley on Wednesday 6 July 2011
"Thank you Barbara. I brought in 4 dozen green beans this morning and they look great! "
Katie on Wednesday 6 July 2011
"Nick, are you in the US? If so, it really sounds like squash vine borers. Look again for deposits of "frass" (vine borer waste) around small holes on basal branches. I have often had vigorous hybrids outgrow the damage by producing new bearing branches. Cutting away the wilted ones is a smart move. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 6 July 2011
"Hi Barbara, Yes, I'm in the US. In north central NC. I understand the word frass, but I'm uncertain exactly what I'm looking for. Could you explain? Basal branches - are those the ones that don't bear fruit?"
Nick Manley on Wednesday 6 July 2011
"Scouting squash vine borers isn't easy, and some of the interventions (surgical removal, sticking a wire in the hole) may do more harm than good. When a branch wilts and you cut it away, vigorous, well-rooted plants often will produce a new bearing branch from the stump. Where you are, you can get in a quick fall crop of summer squash if you sow seeds right away. Late plantings often do very well, but there is no time to lose."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 7 July 2011
"I'm not seeing vine borers, and I'm picking off squash bugs pretty well, but still losing squash - they are turning yellow. What am I doing wrong?"
Linda on Friday 1 June 2012
"Frequently plants that turn yellow are seriously lacking in nutrients, or have sustained injury to the roots. Try dousing the plants with a liquid fertilizer that contains abundant nitrogen. Should the plants continue to fail, a close examination of the roots will help you solve the mystery. Some things in the garden are beyond our control."
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 3 June 2012
"Often my squash suffer from blossom rot, and the tip of the zucchini rots as well. Any advice?"
Janene on Tuesday 5 June 2012
"Very wet weather is the main cause of blossom rot, and we can't stop it from raining! When I see blossoms showing black fungal growth, I clip off the fruit and compost it so the plant won't waste its energy. I also plan some summer squash late, in June, and it blooms and produces in the dry weather of late summer."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 6 June 2012
"I have small yellow squash, the zucchini is doing well but they are far from each other. what can I do to help these small zucchinnis"
san2low on Sunday 24 June 2012
"San, as long as you are seeing plenty of bees and other pollinators, they will likely carry pollen to plants around your garden. Yellow squash and zucchini cross-pollinate each other, because they are the same species."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 25 June 2012
"I have a question. My yellow squash plants aren't getting ANY female blooms. I have at least 5-6 male blooms per plant, they have been flowering for about a month now, and not even a hint of a female, or any fruit. I have had this problem several times before, and I am getting frustrated. Is it something with the nutrients in the soil? A problem with the roots? Or am I just getting freaky seeds?"
Caitlin on Thursday 6 June 2013
"Caitlin, my first guess is that you are growing an older variety. Many older open-pollinated squash varieties like Yellow Crookneck wait until the vines run to produce female flowers. Be patient this year, and next year consider growing a more vigorous, early-bearing hybrid variety."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 6 June 2013
"Thanks for the advice Barbara! When you have time, do you have any recommendations on a specific hybrid that also has a high yield?"
Caitlin on Sunday 9 June 2013
"In the US, High Mowing has Success F1 as organic seed, and Fedco has a similar variety called Gentry, and then there is bicolored Zephyr from Johnny's. Any of these would be good choices. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 9 June 2013
"Hi All hope your gardens are off to a good start! I know squash love nitrogen and just completed my soil test. BAD BAD BAD!!! It is Alkaline with very low N, P, and K. Should I worry most with the nitrogen or try to raise all three? Thanks so so much!"
Beth on Sunday 18 May 2014
"Beth, N ratings are always low until you add fertilizer, and the cure for all deficiencies is the same. Amend the soil with plenty of good compost every chance you get, and use a balanced organic fertilizer as you prepare space for planting. As the organic matter content of your soil increases, so will its ability to store major and minor nutrients. Squash really love compost. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 18 May 2014
"How do you tell male flowers from female, if there are none pollinated enough to create a squash that shows you it's female? (I'm growing yellow squash, which has never produced more than one or two squashes in 3 years...I thought it was the soil composition that was at fault.)"
Amy T on Thursday 2 July 2015
"Amy, you will find the waiting female fruit behind the flower in place of a straight stem. For example, if you decided to pick flowers from your squash, the males would have regular green stems, and the females would have fleshy fruits in place of stems."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 2 July 2015
"It's just that I don't get ANY female flowers, in that case. Any idea why that might be? Soil composition?"
Amy T on Thursday 2 July 2015
"Variety would be the major variable. All summer squash tend to bloom in flushes, with a bunch of males one day and females the next, but some older varieties can get stuck in a rut at times. Some varieties are almost all female. Try a hybrid zucchini - they have a high proportion of female to male blossoms. "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 2 July 2015
"I am in Oz so I wasn't sure what you are calling squash bugs so I looked it up. Deadset! Who ever knew there were so many differing lady beetles. Anyway, it looks like we also have the same bug here altho' I've not seen the grey ones that showed up in the pics. What I ended up doing was using my handheld vacuum cleaner. Works a treat altho' they do tend to see you coming. Hahahaha! It also worked well on the beetles I was getting on my cucumbers so this year I am going to buy another vacuum just for my garden. Also, painful but effective, is cleaning of any laid eggs. Yours, Katididaustralia."
Katrina Rivett on Monday 20 July 2015
"I'm having trouble with my female crookneck squash females. The buds won't even open and the squash/fruit gets to about 3 inches long, but won't even open to allow pollination. They end up shriveling. I have male flowers too. Why would the females not open. I'm in South Texas, and it is hot, but I keep them regularly watered. Would the heat cause them to not open? This is the third squash that wilted and never opened. They are in a container, and planted from sead in miracle grow potting mix. I just fertilized them for the first time after about a couple of months. I thought there would be enough fertilizer in the soil, but recently was told I should fertilize them. Hoping this might help the problem. Any suggestions?"
Laura on Friday 7 August 2015
"Laura, this time of year is so hot where you live that the roots in containers may be getting too warm to function properly. Try shading the plants with a patio umbrella to relieve heat stress, and see if that helps. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 7 August 2015

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