Increase Yields With Proper Spacing
'Winter Luxury Pie'
Photo/Illustration: Victor Schrager
I can’t guarantee you a bumper crop, but if you give your winter squash the right conditions and care, your success rate will skyrocket. One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is to direct-sow or transplant seedlings before the soil has warmed to at least 70°F. Squashes do not tolerate cold temperatures. In short-season areas, start seeds inside three weeks before the frost-free date in spring—but no earlier because older transplants will produce poorly. A garden situated in full sun with warm, well-drained, fertile soil that’s slightly acidic (pH of 6.0 to 6.8) is the ideal spot for squashes. Using compost and soil amendments usually eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers, which are high in nitrogen or phosphorus and can actually lower fruit quality and yield.
You’ll need to space plants far enough apart in the row to give them ample room to flourish. When plants are crowded, fruit yield, size, and quality are reduced (and fungal diseases, like powdery mildew, can fester). Most winter squashes are excessively vigorous growers, with vines that spread out for many feet (unless trellised up); the larger-fruited varieties, like big pumpkins, take up even more space. To reduce competition between plants, I like to space most plants 10 to 12 feet apart.
The lengths of squash branches, however, can vary. So if you don’t have a lot of space, try a variety that has shorter vines. Semibush types have shorter internodes (the stem space between each leaf) and branches. These types may also set fruit on vines later in the season. I find about 8 feet of space between these varieties is adequate. Bush varieties—compact plants with the shortest internodes—don’t spread much, which allows closer row spacing of about 6 feet. These varieties also lack tendrils for climbing, so they can’t be trellised. ‘Gold Nugget’ is an excellent squash that grows on short-running vines.