Growing Summer Squash in Northeast Florida Vegetable Gardens
( Cucurbita pepo )
Although Florida is one of the top producers of squash for the nation, summer squash is not the easiest vegetable plant to grow in Northeast Florida gardens. It often starts out with a bang, then heavy late spring and early summer rains, and an insane growth rate of insect populations put a damper on things.
Following these simple tips will help to keep your squash vines growing strong through the season.
Try growing your squash in raised beds to keep them up out of the water level after hard rains and start a once or twice weekly scouting regimen to watch for downy and powdery mildew and squash vine borers so they can be treated quickly instead of allowed to fester.
I find that a weekly rinse down with “Dawn” liquid dish soap at 2 oz per gallon on the foliage, in addition to the weekly or biweekly fish emulsion spray, helps to keep the leaves and fruits growing strong, clean and mildew free!(Be sure to use the blue old fashioned one with the picture of the baby bird on the bottle.)
Check your plants for pests each evening and hand remove and destroy.
Be sure to harvest your plants every day once they begin producing fruits. When the fruits are allowed to develop into maturity production comes to a screaming halt.
Foliage and Use of Summer Squash Plants for Northeast Florida vegetable gardens:
Summer Squash vines are relatively short, stocky plants that can get quite large, taking up as much as 3-4 ft of garden space with just a single plant. Crowding plants closer than 3 ft on center can cause to much moisture retention on the foliage and powdery mildew can quickly take over after heavy rains. Space your plants out where they have plenty of room to sprawl in the sunshine where leaves will dry quickly. Or place them where you can train them up a trellis!
Squash fruits can be eaten fresh, roasted, boiled, baked, grilled, or fried and are a staple in many cultures cuisines. My personal favorite is quickly sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil and fresh garlic. Or sliced thin like French fries and served with a ranch dip on your veggie tray.
Squash blossoms are a delectable delicacy that if you have not tried yet you should and fast, you will love them! Thy can be sauteed or battered and fried, both delicious!
Planting Season for Summer Squash in Jacksonville and St. Augustine Florida and the surrounding areas:
Squash plants are considered a warm season crop, they are frost sensitive and should only be planted in frost free months in Northeast Florida vegetable gardens.
Summer squash is grown twice a year in North Florida gardens!
Start your summer squash plants indoors in February from seed and plant your starter plants in the ground in March and April from S & J Nursery transplants. Growing season for summer squash in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area garden is March and April and again in August and September.
Sun Exposure for Growing Summer Squash in Northeast Florida Vegetable Gardens:
Plant your Summer Squash in a full sun or afternoon sun location for the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area garden. ( Morning sun and afternoon shade will cause leaf mildew problems as the foliage will remain moist overnight after rains and irrigating)
Soil Preferences for Summer Squash / Cucurbita pepo in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine Florida areas:
Summer squash will do best in the Northeast Florida garden when grown in soils that have been generously amended with compost. Be sure to plant into well drained soils.
It is often recommended to plant summer squash into raised planters or small hills 24 inches wide and 10 inches high. In Northeast Florida, Jacksonville and St. Augustine area this is especially important, as this will keep the roots up out of water logged soils after heavy rains.
Care of Summer Squash in the Northeast Florida Vegetable Garden:
Watering Your Summer Squash:
* Important, when supplemental irrigation is needed, keep water off leaves as much as possible and make sure to water in the morning so that the plants leaves can dry and won’t remain wet overnight. Newly planted summer squash will require watering daily for the first few days to a week after being planted from seed or transplanted from an S & J Nursery container.
Once the summer squash plants are established and growing, be sure to keep the soil moist by watering at least once per week if rainfall is scarce.
Mulching your Summer Squash:
For maximum growth potential, mulch plants generously, this will help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay.
Fertilizing Your Summer Squash:
Wait until your squash plants have set blooms then feed every two to three weeks with an all purpose fertilizer like 6-6-6.
Or for an organic approach, try fertilizing with a mixture of fish emulsions and seaweed (kelp) at one ounce each per gallon of water. Apply semi weekly as a foliar spray.
If your vegetable plants look like they could use a boost, give them a good watering with homemade compost tea as soon as the top few inches of soil around your plant is dry to the touch!
Harvesting Your Summer Squash in the Northeast Florida Vegetable Garden:
Summer squash can be harvested when young and tender and should be cut from the plant as soon as possible to ensure maximum production rates. Squash plants mush be harvested diligently, check every day or every other day for ready to harvest plants. Allowing your squash to grow large and mature on the plant will reduce the productivity.
Note: Both blossoms and fruit are edible. Stuffed, battered and fried blossoms are a real treat and sauteed squash blossoms with just a bit of garlic and olive oil are just as delicious.