I’ve been growing yellow squash (Cucurbita pepo melopepo) all of my life, because it’s my Momma’s favorite vegetable. One year she told me she could eat her weight in squash, so I planted an entire row for her. You should have heard her squeal when I showed up with 300 pounds of yellow squash! I was just guessing. Unfortunately it was so wet this spring that I never got any planted. However, if you hurry, you still have time for a fall crop.
Yellow squash requires warm soil to germinate, so we have that covered. It cannot tolerate frost or freezes, however, so it must be in full production well before our average first frost (around Nov. 15). Squash is easily direct-seeded into the garden or large whiskey barrel-size (30 gallon) containers. Once the seedlings are established and have their first true leaves, thin them to 36 inches apart.
Yellow squash requires at least eight hours of direct sun each day for maximum production. It isn’t picky about soils as long as they drain well. It is ideal to till in several inches of compost or organic matter and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per 100 square foot of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. On small plots, use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing summer squash is 6.0 to 7.0.
Create a raised row about 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. Multiple rows should be around 36 inches apart. Yellow squash seed should be planted in groups of seed every 3 to 4 feet. This is known as planting in “hills.” Open a shallow depression about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep and 4 inches wide with a hoe. Drop 4-5 seed evenly spaced apart in the hole and cover lightly with loose soil using a hoe or garden rake. Tamp gently with the back of the hoe and water. I generally thin them down to the two strongest plants per hill.
As soon as your squash start to bloom, sprinkle 3 tablespoons of a high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) around each hill, being careful to keep it off the plants. Work the fertilizer into the soil lightly with a hoe or rake, and irrigate. After side-dressing it is ideal to apply a layer of organic mulch (hay, straw, grass clippings, etc.) to conserve water and prevent weeds. The most common pest problems on squash are cucumber beetles, squash bugs, vine borers, powdery mildew and virus. Control the insects as they occur with appropriately labeled insecticides. There is no cure for the virus, but controlling insects will help lessen its occurrence.
Yellow squash is generally ready to pick 40 to 50 days after seeding, so choosing early maturing hybrids in the fall is important. It’s very important to pick summer squash while their skin is tender and before the seeds become hard. Pick yellow squash when they are 4 to 6 inches long or smaller. The more you pick them, the more they make. Remember, there is no such thing as a squash too small to eat. Baby squash are succulent and delicious. On the other hand, large, tough squash belong in the compost pile or the feed lot.
Recommended hybrid yellow squash varieties for Texas include Amberpic, Delta, Enterprise, Fancycrook, Fortune, Gentry, Gold Star, Goldprize, Lioness, Midas II and Superpik. Yellow squash originated in the southwestern United States.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” and co-author of “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science and research-based gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and plantanswers.com.