How does your butternut squash garden grow?
July 3, 2008 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm growing a butternut squash plant for the first time. The plant has gotten rather huge and I need to knock it back a bit or give it somewhere else to grow, but I'm not sure how. The most I've raised before is tomatoes or peppers.

I planted the plant in the back corner of my garden, giving it an area that's about 5 square feet to grow in. It's grown in that area right along my house and completely filled the, but now it's encroaching on my pepper plants. Since it's a vine, I'm afraid that it's going to start growing up the pepper plants, so I need to either guide it elsewhere (can I get a trellis and allow it to grow upwards?) or prune it to discourage growth in that direction. It has some nice fruit forming and has flowered along the length of the plant that is mature. This is in south/central texas, growing in dirt covered in bark dust on a half-sun (morning sun) side of the house.

(Even though squash and tomatoes are supposed to be grown full sun, I learned the hard way last year that you have to be very careful how much sun you let the plants get when there's drought restrictions on watering, like we may be facing here soon. The most I got last year planting on the full sun side of the house was some green dried tomatoes. And yes, I know I need to till deeper with better dirt to help develop the root systems better.)

Advice? Techniques? I'm used to pruning and staking my tomato and pepper plants to encourage maximum growth and fruit, but I've never done anything with ground-growing squash plants before, so advice that's even unrelated to the direct question will be helpful.
posted by SpecialK to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've trellised Cucurbitas before--last summer I grew cantaloupe that way. My cukes grow vertically as well. The larger stuff, like the 'loupe and your butternut, may/will need support as they get close to ripe, so that their weight doesn't pull them off before they're ready.

I've heard that old pantyhose serve the veggie-bra purpose well.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:50 PM on July 3, 2008

The square foot gardening guy says you can trellis winter squash (as well as zucchini and lots of other stuff).
posted by cabingirl at 12:55 PM on July 3, 2008

How much squash do you want? If you're happy with it's fruit set right now, don't be afraid to prune off the very ends of the vines. This can actually help make the fruit that it has set grow a bit larger.

As Stewriffer mentioned, you could totally trellis them. They do need a heavy duty trellis though, some quite substantial. With squash, you do get to a point of too much growth going into vegetation and not enough into fruit production. I'm unfamiliar with the growing season there, and when last fruit set will get viable product at the end.

But, if you're looking at possible water restrictions it might be worth while to make the plant smaller and not so thirsty.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:58 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you have blossoms coming in and don´t want any more fruit, you can eat them. You do want to keep it out of the other plants, you could probably just put down a board or something to keep them apart.

And yes, as you have found ¨full sun¨ means ¨provide shade for part of the day¨. You can also cut down on the sun with sticks pushed into the ground around your plants to shade then when they are just transplanted (if you are not starting them in that spot) and more vulnerable to the sun.
posted by yohko at 2:55 PM on July 3, 2008

I've done really well with growing squash vertically on bamboo teepees and using pantyhose to support the ripening fruit. The teepee shape is very strong, stable and allows the vine to get even sun without the leaves shading each other. The other bonus is you can using the space within the teepee to plant veggies which need cooler/shadier conditions.

The teepee is inexpensive and super easy to build; most garden centers sell 10' lengths of 1" diameter bamboo poles for about $1/each. You'll need 5 or 7 of them and a big zip tie (the bigger the base of the teepee, the more poles you'll want to use). I've also used just 3 poles planted into a wine barrel.

The squash vines have some tendrils but they aren't strong enough to hold up the weight of the plant once the fruits start to set so use some twine or gardening tape to tie the vines to the poles. I tend to slip the pantyhose onto the fruit once its a little bigger than a softball, the hose will stretch as your squash grow. You'll end up with beautifully symmetrical (freakishly so) squash because they won't have a flat side from resting on the ground.

You can easily store your teepee over the winter (just pull it out of the ground and it will fold back up into a bundle of sticks) or leave it out and plant peas on it in spring. I've been using the same bamboo poles for the past 5 years, so they do last a long time.
posted by jamaro at 4:22 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I buy 8' tall concrete reinforcement wire - it's like wire mesh with holes 6" wide, you can get rolls of it at Home Depot - and bend it into large tubes about 2' in diameter. I set these over the growing winter squash and sort of help train them through it as they grow. Because the wires hold up the vines so strongly, I've never had to "sling" the fruit.

And yes you can eat the flowers fried or in salads (try a cornmeal batter - yum!), but if you want the vines to set more fruit you might only want to eat the male flowers (on a regular stem) and leave the females (attached at the base via the ovary, a tiny squash replica).
posted by GardenGal at 7:01 PM on July 3, 2008

Thanks to both of you! I got the plant growing on a teepee trellis over the 4th weekend, and it's actually become a bit happier as it got off the ground and had more access to light, growing about a foot over the weekend.

GardenGal, thanks to you especially for posting that about the types of flowers, I didn't realize that the female ones were the fruit producing ones.
posted by SpecialK at 3:01 PM on July 7, 2008

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