Few vegetables are as prolific as squash plants or offer as much variety. The tender summer squashes are favorites with many gardeners. These are eaten fresh and are extremely versatile in the kitchen, acting as sponges for whatever flavors you choose to combine them with, from garlic, curry, hot sauce, or fresh herbs such as dill or basil.
Winter squashes require a bit more patience. Most take the entire season to mature, but they store well for months and are well worth the garden real estate they commandeer. Who wouldn’t enjoy a taste from the garden in the grim days of February?
Pumpkins are summer squashes masquerading as winter squash. Whether you grow them for pies, jack-o'-lanterns, or use them as winter squash, they’re big rambling plants that will climb anything in their path. Then there are ornamental gourds that make up for their less than stellar flavor with their beauty and charm.
All of these squash incarnations are extremely easy to grow. They do require a good amount of space, but you can always trellis them in a smaller garden. Take a look at your choices.
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Zucchini can be a joy to grow. The vines fill in quickly and the flowers are not far behind. As with all types of squash, you need more than one plant to ensure good pollination and lots of healthy fruits. If you’re short on space, I would recommend either trellising your plants or choosing bush varieties and growing them in large containers. Even the bush types are space hogs, growing a good 4–5 feet in diameter. Planting them in containers lifts them off the ground and reduces their footprint.
Even a handful of zucchini plants will reward you with a steady supply of squash for eating. Harvest them while they’re young and tender and the plants will keep setting more fruits. Eventually, zucchini plants will become exhausted, so it’s a wise idea to succession plant a second crop in mid-summer, to keep the harvest going into fall. And if you live in a warm climate, you can get three or four succession plantings.
Favorite Varieties: 'Costata Romanesco,' 'Rampicante,' 'Rond de Nice,' 'Yellow Crookneck'
02 of 05
How to Grow Pattypan Squash
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, often called flying saucer squash for obvious reasons, is every bit as easy to grow as zucchini and, depending on the variety, just as prolific.
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 around, then cook and serve them hole. If the blossom is still attached, all the better.
Favorite Varieties: 'Benning's Green Tint,' 'Flying Saucer,' 'Sunburst,' 'Yellow Scallop'
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Tips for Growing Winter Squash
Winter squash are some of the most beautiful vegetables in the garden. They look almost too good to cut open but allow yourself the transgression. Whether it’s Hubbard, acorn, delicata, or something more exotic such as this Potimarron, the flavor is pure comfort.
If you’re worried that the huge winter squash you see in stores is too large for one or two people to consume, there are plenty of varieties to grow that produce much smaller fruits—and plenty of them.
Winter squash requires a long growing season (60–120 days), but don’t be in too much of a rush to get them in the garden. The plants do not like cold weather and you’ll avoid squash vine borers and squash bugs if you don’t direct sow or put your plants out until after Memorial Day. They’ll grow fast, once the temperature warms up.
If your plants threaten to take over the whole neighborhood, it’s okay to trim them a bit.
Favorite Varieties: 'Baby Blue Hubbard,' 'Waltham butternut,' 'Pinnacle' spaghetti squash. 'Delicata,' 'Potimarron'
04 of 05
Tips for Growing Pumpkins
Some vegetables are simply fun to grow. If you’ve never had a pumpkin patch, treat yourself at least once. They start small and green—on enormous vines—and slowly tease you by fattening up and shading over with Halloween orange.
Some varieties make better carving pumpkins and some have better flavor 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, 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.
Favorite Varieties: 'Amish Pie,' 'Baby Bear,' 'Charisma,' 'Lumina,' 'New England Pie,' 'Rouge Vif D'Etampes'Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Tips for Growing Gourds
Most gourds are edible—they just don’t taste very good. That doesn’t stop people from growing them for their looks alone. There are autumn colored decorative gourds and some that aren’t quite so pretty on the vine, but easily turn into birdhouses, bowls, and dippers. Dried gourds cost so much to buy, but a $2 packet of seeds will yield dozens.
Favorite Varieties: 'Autumn Wings,' 'Birdhouse' (aka 'Bottleneck'), 'Harrowsmith Select,' 'Speckled Swan'
There is a squash 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.