Growing Winter Squashes and Pumpkins

Winter Squashes and Pumpkins come in a carnival of shapes and colors.

Large winter squash and pumpkins with their long sprawling vines are not usually considered general landscaping material. They are notorious for running rampantly over neighboring plants and they tend to get ratty looking by the end of the season. However, these large plants, with their dramatic leaves, huge yellow flowers, and colorful fruits can in fact be a wonderful addition to your landscape and are among the most exciting ways to draw children into the garden. To include winter squash in your landscape you have options. You can either control the vines in an orderly and attractive way, or grow the new compact bush varieties and include them in your flower border or in containers.
You’ll soon see that when grown well winter squash and pumpkins are handsome plants and add whimsy to a routinely serious landscape. See the photos below for some creative ways to add them to your garden.

Winter Squash vines are large and they sprawl. Train them up a twig trellis to control them. Use black zip ties to attach the twigs to a frame.

Large pumpkins and squash need hefty support like this arbor at the Denver Botanic Garden

To gussy up your pumpkin planting, add a row of sunflowers on the north side of the bed. This colorful planting is also at the Denver Botanic Garden.

Bush winter squash are compact and fit in many areas of the garden. This is a ‘Bush Delicata.’

To grow your winter squash or pumpkins, in winter peruse the offerings from the many mail-order seed companies and choose the size plant you want, the type you like to cook, and the right variety for your climate. (Even though they are called winter squash, they are actually planted in the spring after the soil has warmed up and they tolerate no frost. They are called “winter” squash because they can be stored over the winter, as compared to summer squash which are consumed in the summer. ) The important thing is to keep your plants healthy. Struggling squash plants are not a thing of beauty; the leaves can turn yellow from too little nitrogen and the leaves get mildew from lack of lots of sun and good air circulation.

To get them off to a great start, choose a garden area in full sun, dig up the soil well and mound the bed if the drainage is poor, and because they are heavy feeders add lots of rich compost and manure to the bed. Plant the seeds according to the directions on the seed package. Water them in well and protect the seed bed with bird netting or spun bond fabric. Provide drip irrigation or water well between rain storms as squash plants need to be kept fairly moist. Mulch the young seedlings with a few inches of compost to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. The bush varieties need only a supplemental feeding after 6 weeks, the vining squash however need not only the supplemental feeding, they also need an occasional coaxing to get them to climb up a trellis–maybe you need to direct a vine to its support or tie it to the trellis to control them. If you are growing large squash or pumpkins over 5 or 6 pounds on an arbor, you may need to support them with a macrame or other such creative sling. If the leaves start to get mildewed in late summer, spray them with a fungicide spray of either baking soda, compost tea, neem oil, or the bacterial fungicide Serenade. Harvest your squash or pumpkin a few weeks after they have fully colored up, or before the first frost. Store them in a cool dark place and enjoy them over the winter.

Squash blossoms are dramatic in the garden and sweet and tasty in a recipe.

October 2, 2011 - 10:02 pm

Jennifer - Thank you for posting this. I was just looking for a way to make our garden look more presentable.