Winter squash comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors. From the popular butternut to lesser-known varieties like speckled hound, squash makes a delicious addition to any vegetable garden.
If you’re interested in growing your own crop of winter squash this year, you’ve come to the right place!
I’ll show you everything you need to know on how to plant winter squash. Whether you want to learn about starting winter squash from seed, transplanting starter plants, or caring for squash as it grows, this guide has you covered.
What is Winter Squash
There are many different kinds of squash to grow, including zucchini, butternut, crookneck, and spaghetti. They’re usually grouped into two main types: winter squash and summer squash.
Winter squash is different from summer squash in a few key ways.
Winter squash has tough, thick skin that’s not easily pierced. This makes it possible to store winter squash for months at a time without any preservation needed. Simply set them on a shelf in a cool dry place, and they’ll be good for months.
Summer squash, on the other hand, has soft, tender skin. Summer squash is best eaten fresh or preserved in some way. They won’t last through the winter the way winter squash does.
The names “winter squash” and “summer squash” come from when they’re typically eaten. Summer squash is usually eaten in the summer, while winter squash can be enjoyed all winter long.
Types of Winter Squash
There are several tasty varieties of winter squash to grow. Here are just a few
Acorn squash has dark green skin and bright yellow flesh. It’s shaped like a large, ridged acorn, hence the name acorn squash!
Probably the best known of the winter squashes, butternut squash has creamy beige skin and deep orange flesh. The flavor is smooth, rich, and buttery. It’s absolutely delicious in all kinds of recipes.
Spaghetti squash is bright yellow on the outside and pale yellow on the inside. The flesh comes apart easily into strands that look like spaghetti noodles. It makes a great substitute for pasta.
Other Winter Squash Varieties
Growing Conditions for Winter Squash
For the best results when planting winter squash, it’s important to provide them with the right growing conditions. Here’s what winter squash needs to grow.
Winter squash needs rich, well-draining soil. These plants are heavy feeders, so providing plenty of nutrients in the soil is a must.
Add plenty of compost when planting to increase the organic matter in the soil and provide plants with a steady supply of nutrients. It’s also a good idea to add an all-purpose fertilizer at the time of planting.
Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 6.5. At-home soil tests are a quick and easy way to check the pH of your soil.
Winter squash needs full sun in order to grow well. Choose a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of full sun per day.
Temperature and Weather
Winter squash needs warm temperatures to grow so wait to plant it until all danger of frost has passed.
It’s important to note that winter squash takes a long time to grow so you don’t want to wait too long. Start it as soon as the weather is warm enough.
Support isn’t required for growing winter squash but it can be helpful if you’re limited on space.
Winter squash are vining plants that like to sprawl. They can easily take over an entire garden bed with their long vines and large leaves.
If you have the space, it’s fine to let winter squash grow on the ground. If you’re limited on space, using a trellis, arch, or other support is a good way to get squash vines off the ground and maximize space for other plants.
How to Plant Winter Squash from Seed
Growing winter squash from seed is a great way to save money and get an early start on your garden. Seeds are inexpensive and easy to start with the right tools.
Starting Winter Squash Seeds Indoors
Since it takes so long to grow, starting winter squash indoors is a necessity in some growing zones. Even if you live in an area with a long growing season, starting squash seeds indoors is a good way to speed up the process and get an earlier harvest.
Seed Starting Equipment
Starting winter squash from seed requires some basic equipment. We’ve provided a list of our favorite products to make it easy to get set up for starting seeds indoors.
How to Start Winter Squash Seeds Indoors
Choose a planting container or seed tray and fill it with seed starting mix. Plant 1-2 seeds per container or cell in the seed tray. Seeds should be planted about one inch deep.
Water thoroughly and keep everything nice and moist as the seeds grow. Set your containers on a heating pad to keep the seeds warm and speed up the germination process.
When seedlings emerge, thin the plants to one in each container or cell. Squash plants don’t like to have their roots disturbed so instead of separating the plants, use sharp scissors to snip away any extra seedlings at the base of the plant.
Keep the plants under a grow light or in front of a sunny window. After the last frost, start hardening them off to get the seedlings ready to plant outside.
Direct Sowing Winter Squash
If the growing season is long enough, you can plant winter squash seeds directly outside in the garden. Here’s how to do it.
Choose a sunny location and prepare the soil by adding compost and fertilizer. Squash can be grown either in rows or hills.
Poke a small hole in the soil and plant seeds one inch deep. If growing in rows, plant one every 12 inches. When seedlings emerge, thin the plants to one every two feet.
If growing in hills, plant 3-4 seeds per hill. When seedlings emerge, thin the plants to 2-3 per hill.
To use a support like a trellis, put it in place at the time of planting. Adding support later can disturb tender roots and damage your plants.
Water thoroughly after planting winter squash, and keep the soil moist as your plants grow.
Planting Winter Squash Seedlings
Starter plants for acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are usually easy to find at garden centers and nurseries during the spring planting season.
Whether you started them from seed or purchased plants from a nursery, here’s how to plant winter squash seedlings in the garden.
How to Plant Winter Squash Seedlings
Prepare a planting location with compost and fertilizer. Dig a hole for each seedling. Space the plants two feet apart so they have plenty of room to grow.
Carefully remove your seedling from its previous container and set it in the planting hole. Try not to disturb the roots. Fill in around the plant with soil and water thoroughly.
If you’re using support to grow squash, put it in place when you plant the seedlings. Adding support later can disturb the roots and damage your plants.
Caring for Winter Squash Plants
Once they’re in place, it’s important to provide the right care for winter squash plants to keep them healthy and productive.
Squash prefers soil that stays evenly moist. Water regularly to keep the soil from drying out. In hot weather, plants need even more water.
To help keep the soil moist, apply a natural mulch like straw, compost, or well-aged manure at the base of your plants.
Since winter squashes are heavy feeders, fertilizer is often needed for the best results. Apply fertilizer when planting winter squash and use it regularly during the growing season.
Nitrogen promotes vine growth, while phosphorus is important for fruit production. A fertilizer that’s higher in phosphorus and slightly lower in nitrogen is good for promoting fruit development. Dr. Earth’s tomato, vegetable, and herb fertilizer is a good option.
Follow the directions on your fertilizer and apply it every 2-3 weeks through the growing season.
Pests and Disease
Winter squash are susceptible to several pests and diseases, including squash vine borers, squash bugs, and powdery mildew.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to addressing squash problems.
To prevent pests, choose a companion plant that repels them, like marigolds or nasturtiums. Check on your plants regularly and treat problems as soon as you see them. At the end of the season, remove old foliage and garden debris to prevent pests from overwintering in the garden.
To prevent diseases like powdery mildew, water plants in the morning rather than the evening. When watering, use a hose or watering can to apply water at the base of the plant rather than overhead.
After all that hard work learning how to plant winter squash, there’s nothing like collecting a beautiful harvest!
You can harvest winter squash as they ripen or wait and harvest them all at once when the vine dies back.
Winter squash is ripe when the rind has achieved its full color and is tough and hard. You shouldn’t be able to pierce the skin with your fingernail.
When harvesting, use sharp garden shears to cut the squash away from the vine. Leave about two inches of stem on the squash.
Wrapping up How to Plant Winter Squash
Once you learn how to plant winter squash you’ll be rewarded with the most delicious flavor! The fresh taste of homegrown squash is well worth all the effort that goes into it.
To learn more about growing a successful garden, visit the Seed Starting page on our website. There we have a ton of resources for you on how to plant all different kinds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. You’ll also find tips and tricks, product recommendations, and more to get your garden off to a great start.