8 Best Types of Squash for Beginners to to Grow

squash

 The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

The world of squash can be a confusing one, since there are so many types and the names are sometimes used interchangeably. Zucchini is one type in a category known as summer squash, but there are also summer squashes in the same species that carry names like yellow squash, crookneck, narrow neck, pattypan, cousa, tatume, tromboncino, and zephyr. Some people see some of these as just different types of zucchini.

Summer vs. Winter Squash vs. Gourds

Zucchini and similar types are known as summer squash because they are typically picked and eaten when partially ripe in the summer. Virtually all of these summer squashes are just genetic variations of the same species, Curbita pepo.

A whole other class of squashes are known as winter squash, so-called because they are eaten when fully ripe in the fall and tend to have thicker shells that allow them to keep on the shelf for several weeks or months. This class includes squash with names like butternut, hubbard, acorn, and spaghetti squash. There are several species that comprise the winter squash group, but most are found in Cucurbita maxium and Cucurbita moschata.

Then there are pumpkins, which is actually is just a fancy name for a type of round winter squash that happens to have an orange color and a thick rind that makes it good for carving. Most are members of Cucurbita pepo, but there are some that fall into other squash species.

And don't forget gourds, which is an assigned name for a whole group of squashes that aren't all that good for eating but have fascinating knobby, lumpy, and colorful shells. The various non-edible gourds are usually members of C. pepo or a related squash species in a different genus, Lagunaria siceraria.

Confused yet? No worries: Here are nine types of squash that are worth your while. All are quite easy for beginners to grow.

Gardening Tip

All members of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants that includes the squash species require a relatively long growing season and warm soil. For this reason, many gardeners in cooler planting regions will find it beneficial to start the seeds indoors as much as six weeks before the last spring frost. Seedlings can be transplanted into the garden once the soil warms to 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

  • 01 of 08

    Pumpkins (Curbito pepo var. pepo)

    Two pumpkins growing in a garden.
    Marie Iannotti

    Some vegetables are simply fun to grow. If you’ve never had a pumpkin patch, treat yourself at least once. Pumpkins start small and green on enormous vines then and slowly tease you by fattening up and transforming into a bright Halloween orange.

    Some varieties make better carving pumpkins and others have better flavor or texture for baking and cooking. But it’s hard to go wrong. There are even ghostly white varieties that make a double impact. Although pumpkins look like winter squash (and are categorized as such), they don’t store as long as truly hard shell winter squash will. Be prepared to use them up within a couple of months. There are certainly plenty of options for cooking them.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 3–9
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is usually orange, but there are varieties with white, yellow, or blue-green fruit.
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 02 of 08

    Zucchini (Cubito pepo var. cylindrica)

    Two zucchini plants growing in a garden.
    Michael & Christa Richert

    If you grow no other edible squash, you owe it to yourself to grow one or two vines of zucchini (Curbito pepo var. cylindrica). Zucchini can be a joy to grow. The vines fill in quickly and the flowers are not far behind. Like other squash, zucchini requires cross-pollination between male and female flowers. While each plant has both sexes, your chances for pollination increase if you plant two vines within close proximity.

    Zucchini plants are space hogs, so if you have a small garden, consider growing them on trellises. But they are so productive that most people find that two plants is enough to keep a large family in all the squash needed. Harvest them while they’re young and tender, and the plants will keep setting more fruits.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 2–11
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is normally light or dark green, speckled or striped; some hybrids are golden.
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 03 of 08

    Yellow Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. recticollis)

    Yellow squash at farmer's market
    Travelif/Stockbyte/Getty

    If you see little difference between zucchini and yellow squash (sometimes known as straight-neck squash) other than the color, you're not alone. Zucchini and yellow squash are merely different variations of the same summer squash. While the taste is very similar, a mixture of green zucchini and yellow squash in recipes can make for a more visually appealing dish. Yellow squash sometimes has a slightly narrower neck than green zucchini, but that's just about the only difference—though some people swear the fruit has a slightly sweeter taste than green zucchini. Both vegetables are grown in exactly the same way.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 2–11.
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is pale yellow to golden yellow, sometimes with green also present.
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 04 of 08

    Pattypan (Scallop) Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. clypeata)

    Squash plants growing in a garden.
    Marie Iannotti

    When you mention summer squash, most people think of zucchini or maybe yellow squash. While these are delicious, they are not your only options. Pattypan squash, sometimes called flying saucer squash for obvious reasons, is every bit as easy to grow as zucchini and, depending on the variety, just as prolific. This is a smallish summer squash, about the size of a green pepper.

    It can be a little hard trying to figure out how to cut a pattypan squash, but don’t let that stop you. The skin is tender and needs no peeling. The best way to eat them is to pick them while they are only a couple of inches in size, then cook and serve them hole. If the blossom is still attached, all the better.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 2–11.
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is bright yellow or light green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Acorn Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata)

    Acorn Squash at Farmers Market
    Acorn Squash David Winters/Getty Images

    Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata) is a stubby, roundish winter squash 4 to 7 inches across and 1 to 2 pounds in weight. It has a thick green rind with pronounced longitudinal ridges and sweet yellow-orange flesh. For years, it has been the most popular of the winter squash to grow, thanks to its easy growing habits and versatility in the kitchen.

    It takes about 85 days for acorn squash to mature from seed, and picked fruit needs to ripen for seven to 10 days before it is cured and ready to eat. It is most often served baked.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 4–11
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is dark green with a stubby, rounded shape; flesh is yellow-orange.
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 06 of 08

    Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata)

    Whole and Halved Butternut Squash
    Butternut Squashh MIXA/Getty Images

    Butternut is a pear-shaped winter squash with a light brown shell, weighing 1 to 2 pounds. It has a very sweet yellow flesh with very few seeds that is most often used in creamy soups and fillings. It is gradually becoming even more popular than acorn squash as favorite for home gardeners.

    It takes at least 110 days for butternut squash to mature to the harvesting stage, so gardeners with a shorter growing season should start seeds indoors or buy nursery seedlings. The picked fruits need to cure for 5 to 7 days before they are ready to eat. The fruits will keep for several months when stored in a cool, dark place (but not the refrigerator).

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 3–10
    • Color Varieties: Fruit is pinkish-brown or beige
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 07 of 08

    Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

    Hubbard Squash Photo
    Hubbard Squash Photo Marie Iannotti

    Hubbard squash is a large, round or elongated winter squash with a tough, thick shell. It can weigh up to 50 pounds and is used in cooking much the same way as the flesh of pumpkin, as a filling for pies and puree in other dishes.

    Hubbard squash takes at least 100 days from seed germination to harvest. The fruits are ready to pick when the vine starts to turn dry. Cut away the stem about 2 inches from where it attaches to the fruit. Allow the picked fruit to cure for 10 days to two weeks before eating. Fruit can be stored in a cool dark place for up to six months. Make sure to leave a 2-inch section of stem attached to the fruit when storing.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 3–10
    • Color Varieties: Fruit has a grayish-green or blue-green skin; flesh is orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining
  • 08 of 08

    Gourds (Cucurbita pepo; Lagenaria siceraria)

    Pile of gourds.
    Marie Iannotti

    The plants we know as gourds are really just forms of squash that aren't very tasty but which have unusual, attractive shapes, sizes, or textures. They are used ornamentally, rather than in cooking. Many of the gourds with warty skins and unusual colors are varieties of the Cucurbita pepo species, but there is also another species in a related genus, Lagenaria siceraria, which includes smooth-skinned squash that go by the common name "bottle gourd." These are thin-skinned gourds that are often used as dippers or for containers of various types. The hollowed gourds used to make birdhouses, for example, are Lagunaria siceraria gourds.

    Seed manufacturers usually sell seeds in assorted mixes that combine different types of gourds. For example, you can "big gourd," "small gourd" or "daisy gourd" mixes that include lots of shapes, sizes, and colors. Bottle gourds are more likely to be sold as individual varieties.

    There is a gourd variety for every taste and every size garden. You can experiment by growing different types each year and then spend the winter enjoying what you've grown.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as annuals in zones 2–11
    • Color Varieties: Various shades of yellow, orange, green, and multicolors
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining