The term "winter squash" (Curcubita sp.) encompasses several varieties of hard-shelled squashes in a diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are familiar, like acorn, butternut, and pumpkins; others more specialized, like kabocha, buttercup, and sweet dumpling. Most varieties of winter squash are bred for flavor, texture, and long storage, but many pumpkins are bred for decorative use only. If you wish to grow edible pumpkins, look for "pie" or "sugar" types.
For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our Vegetable Growing Guide.
Habit: Long, meandering vines with large leaves.
Days to Harvest: 85 to 105.
When to Plant: Because they take such a long time to mature, winter squash should be started indoors in cold climates about 4 weeks before last frost. In areas with a long growing season, direct sowing in garden after danger of frost has passed is preferable.
Light: Full sun.
Soil: Well-drained soil amended with compost.
Watering: Ample water is necessary to grow the large, dense fruits. Avoid wetting leaves and fruits to minimize disease. Fertilizing: Heavy feeders need regular applications of an organic vegetable fertilizer.
Pest Problems: Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can devour plants, so look for them and their yellow eggs on the underside of leaves vigilantly; destroy them as you find them. Squash vine borers can also be a problem, as they tunnel into the stems. If you find these grublike pests in the stems, carefully remove them with a sharp knife, destroy, and heap soil over the wound to encourage rerooting and healing. Subject to many fungal diseases, including powdery mildew; site with good air circulation and avoid overhead irrigation.
When to Harvest: Allow fruits to reach full size, then scratch rind lightly with your fingernail. If it does not leave a mark, the fruit is ripe. Most winter squash should be cut from the vine and cured in the sun for 5 to 7 days before storing (protect at night if frost threatens).