How to Grow Crookneck Squash

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Lemon yellow in color with a slightly bent neck (unlike its close cousin, the straight and narrow zucchini), crookneck squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a summer favorite that graces many vegetable gardens. Although they do grow vines like other summer squash plants, crooknecks stay much more compact, spreading only about 3 feet. This makes them perfect for smaller gardens and allows plenty of real estate for even more plants in large ones.

Once they reach maturity, crookneck squash will continue to produce until frost or cold temperatures end their growing season. Even if you plant only the recommended one to two squash plants per person, it's a good idea to have some hungry neighbors lined up in case you find yourself with more crooknecks than you can eat.

Best Uses for Crookneck Squash

Gardeners grow yellow crookneck squash as a food crop. The squash has a rich, buttery flavor that works well in a variety of dishes. It also boasts an attractive lemon color that can add visual appeal in addition to flavor.

Because they're harvested young when the skin is still thin, you don't need to peel the squash. You can slice raw squash to make a summer salad or grate it to garnish soups. If you prefer it cooked, you can grill, steam, fry or bake it. The internet is full of summer squash recipes, so you don't have to worry that you'll run out of ideas for using crookneck squash in the kitchen.

How to Grow Crookneck Squash

  • Common Name: Crookneck squash
  • Botanical Name: Cucurbita moschata
  • When to Plant: Wait until soil temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, two to three weeks after final frost
  • USDA Zones: 3-10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • When it's in Trouble: Yellowing leaves, wilting leaves, holes in plant stems
  • When it's Thriving: Produces large green leaves and grows quickly

Starting Crookneck Squash From Seed

Leafy and leggy, crookneck squash is a heavy feeder that needs rich soil to thrive. To give yours a good start, work about 3 inches of compost into the soil before you plant your seeds. Once you've prepared the soil, you can proceed to plant in one of three ways.

The first is to plant your squash seeds in rows or sprinkled throughout your garden. Leave at least 2 feet between plants, but 3 feet is better if you have the space. Drop three or four seeds in each planting hole, covering the seeds with 1 to 2 inches of soil.

Some gardeners like to plant squash atop small dirt mounds. Doing so helps warm the soil a bit, promotes good drainage and encourages the plant to spread out and grow down the hill. If you live in a dry area where drought is a factor, plant your crooknecks in inverted mounds instead.

To make an inverted mound, dig out about an inch of soil in a 20-inch circle. Use the removed soil to form a dirt ring around your circle. Because the planting circle is a bit lower than the rest of the garden, any moisture your plants do get will be funneled toward them rather than away from them.

No matter which planting method you choose, make sure you water your seeds as soon as you've planted them. When your young seedlings appear in seven to 14 days, keep the healthiest one or two plants from each planting site and remove the rest.

Crookneck squash is suitable for container growing as well. You can train both garden and container plants onto a trellis if desired. This is generally a good idea for container-grown individuals so that vines aren't damaged or broken when they spill over the side of the pot.

Starting Crookneck Squash From a Seedling

If you prefer, you can start your seeds indoors and then transplant young seedlings into the garden. You can also purchase seedlings rather than seeds. Make sure you begin hardening off your seedlings two weeks before transplanting them, leaving them outside a little longer each day as they acclimate to outdoor conditions.

Prepare the soil as you would for seeds, working compost into the earth before planting. When you're ready, gently remove the plant's root ball from its container and plant it at the same depth as it was in its pot. If you've started your seeds in a biodegradable pot, you can plant the entire pot and avoid disturbing the roots of your young crookneck squash plant. Space your plants at least 2 feet apart and water them gently after transplanting them.

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In What Zone Does Crookneck Squash Grow Best?

An annual vegetable, crookneck squash grows well in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 10. Depending on the variety, crookneck needs up to 65 days from seed planting to harvest. If you live in the colder end of the plant's growing area and have concerns about a short growing season, consider a faster-growing crookneck variety like 'Supersett,' 'Dixie Hybrid' or 'Golden Summer' that you can harvest as soon as 40 days after planting.

When Should You Plant Crookneck Squash?

As a summer squash, crookneck won't tolerate any frost. Even plants that look unscathed may produce ill-tasting fruit that goes bad quickly after harvest. To avoid problems, plant your crookneck seeds at least a week after the last expected frost. To be on the safe side, many gardeners wait up to three weeks after the last frost. The soil temperatures should reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant.

Frost isn't the only problem you can avoid by planting late. Squash vine borers and other squash insect pests are most active early in the season. Planting a bit later may help you avoid an infestation. If you're starting your seeds indoors, do so about two to four weeks before the last expected frost.

Soil, Sunlight and Water Recommendations for Crookneck Squash

Squash needs a sunny spot with moist, well-drained soil. It prefers a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8, but it will tolerate imperfection as long as your soil isn't too far out of range.

Crooknecks also need a deep watering at least once a week. Soak the soil so that it is moist to a depth of 4 inches. One long drink is better for squash than several short ones. Your plants will tell you if they need water. Leaves commonly wilt during the heat of the day but should spring back at night. If they're still wilted in the morning, water your squash immediately.

After planting, mulch around your seedlings to prevent weeds and to keep the soil moist. As your crookneck plant grows, its leaves will become large enough to shade the soil and suppress weeds on its own. Until then, a little mulch is a big help. Once a month, side-dress your squash plants with a 5-10-10 fertilizer. Keep the nitrogen levels lower so your plant produces squash rather than just more leaves.

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How to Harvest Crookneck Squash

Depending on the crookneck squash variety you planted, your squash will be ready for harvest 45 to 65 days after planting. If it is allowed to stay on the vine too long, crookneck squash can become a bit tougher and will produce very large seeds. For a better taste, harvest your squash when it reaches about 6 inches in length.

To harvest, cut the squash cleanly from the plant, leaving a 1- to 2-inch stem on the squash. Squashes with stems tend to store longer. Even with a good stem, however, crooknecks will only last about 10 days in the refrigerator.

Revisit your mature squash plants often, as they will keep setting fruit after the initial harvest. If a squash sneaks past you and stays on the vine too long, it will appear bigger than the other squash, and the skin will be dull rather than glossy. Remove this fruit to encourage the growth of a new one but dispose of it and do not eat it.

Common Pests and Other Problems for Crookneck Squash

The two most worrisome insect pests for crookneck squash growers are the squash bug and the squash vine borer. You can help prevent squash bugs from reaching your plants by installing floating row covers. Squash bugs are most active early in the growing season, so you can remove the covers when the plants get larger. If you still see squash bugs on your plant's leaves, rub the eggs off the plant and shake adults into a bucket of soapy water.

Squash vine borers can also create problems for gardeners in the Eastern United States. The tiny borers will worm their way into the stem at the base of your plant and munch away, causing the plant to ultimately wilt and die. You can prevent squash vine borers by wrapping the bottom of young plants in foil to discourage adults from laying eggs there.

Some gardeners are able to remove the borers. To do so, cut a vertical slit into the plant stem and pull out the borer. Add soil around the plant until the wound from the borer is covered. Hopefully, the damaged area of the plant will form roots, and the squash plant will recover.

Trellising your squash plant will help keep it off the ground, making it less susceptible to insect pests. You can also set the squash on a piece of tile or slate as soon as it forms so it's not laying directly in the dirt.

Common Diseases for Crookneck Squash

Squash plants frequently develop powdery mildew near the end of the growing season. This fungus forms a white coating on the plant's leaves, potentially preventing them from receiving adequate sunlight.

Powdery mildew generally isn't a problem, and plants hold their own well. If you're concerned, however, remove affected leaves as soon as you see it. You may be able to avoid powdery mildew by spacing plants properly for good air circulation and directing irrigation efforts at the plant's roots rather than its leaves.

references

Home is where the heart is, and Michelle frequently pens articles about ways to keep yours looking great and feeling cozy. Whether you want help organizing your closet, picking a paint color or finishing drywall, Michelle has you covered. If she's not puttering in the house, you'll find her in the garden playing in the dirt. Her garden articles provide tips and insight that anyone can use to turn a brown thumb green. You'll find her work on Modern Mom, The Nest and eHow as well as sprinkled throughout your other online home decor and improvement favorites.

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