Learn how to grow Butternut Squash and enjoy their diverse uses, delicious taste, and health benefits with these simple growing tips!
If you google “butternut squash recipes,” you will have the choice of over 54,000,000 recipes. Butternut squash blends well with sweet (like in this Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans) as well as savory ingredients (like in my Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese), creating a wide flavor profile that can satisfy some of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Then when you take a look at the health benefits arrived from an abundance of fiber, potassium, and vitamin A, this vegetable becomes a great addition to everyone’s recipe box!
How much space do I need to grow butternut squash?
Before you jump and buy any seeds take a few minutes to figure out just how much space you can allocate for Butternut squash. Once you have identified how much space you have available then you are ready to shop for some seeds. Different varieties have different needs.
- Containers and Raised beds: Bush varieties or short vines like Butterbush, Honeybaby, Butterbaby are good choices. The plant will range from 1 to 6 feet, can be trained to climb a tomato cage without much effort, and will yield 5 to 8 fruits per plant.
- Traditional garden spaces: You can go with any variety you choose but be sure to allocate enough space; the vining plants can require up to 6 feet between rows and 4 feet in-row spacing between plants (48 square feet per plant). The plants can yield up to twenty fruits per plant.
Growing Butternut Squash for Beginners
- Pick a sunny spot for your containers or garden.
- Make sure the soil is warm (65 degrees F or warmer) and all chance of frost has passed.
- Make sure the soil is well-drained and fertile.
- Amend the soil to a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5 and mix a couple of ounces of triple 10 fertilizer or a generous portion of compost if available.
- Give the plants space–Using a trellis will save a lot of space by allowing them to grow vertically rather than horizontally.
- Feed the plants well throughout the season. For a good harvest, they will need 1 to 2 inches of rain per week. A soaker hose will help prevent mold and fungus and allows you to do other things while the plants are being watered.
- Support the plants and fruit if they are being grown off the ground.
- Squash has a very short root system that doesn’t need to be over-watered but the soil doesn’t need to be allowed to get two dry.
Pick a sunny spot:
The bigger plants and fruit have high day counts before the fruits are ready, so making sure they have all the sun you can give them will give you the best chance of a good yield.
Be aware that most squash is susceptible to several different mildew, bacterial wilt diseases, and pest. Good airflow and sunshine can help aid in the prevention and detection of these threats.
Make sure the soil is warm enough:
Butternut Squash seeds need warm soil to germinate. Warm soil will promote good health in many different ways, so it doesn’t make any sense to risk the entire growing season to gain a couple of weeks.
By the time the ground is as warm as 65 or greater, the wind will also be warm enough to quickly dry out any wet spots that might want to do harm to your plants.
Make sure the soil is well-drained and fertile:
Like tomatoes, butternut squash is another one of those heavy feeders, meaning they need a LOT of nutrients. This makes perfect sense when you think about one large plant that is capable of producing 40 to 60 pounds of fruit. The better prepared the soil is to meet the needs, the better the plants will produce.
Compost is an excellent source for adding and feeding the micronutrients that live in the soil. It even helps with aeration, water management, and attracting earthworms along with other helpful critters that keep your garden soil well balanced.
Harden off plants & ensure they are healthy:
Most Butternut squash is direct planted into the garden area, but for those wishing to grow the long season variety, you might have to start your plants indoors. Plant only the best looking seedlings and be sure to wait until the soil is warm and the threat of frost has past.
If your plants are exhibiting signs of stress, give them added attention in the form of time, warmth and light before setting out.
Give these plants plenty of space:
No matter which variety you have chosen, your butternut squash will need a good amount of space as it grows on a bush or vine. These plants produce so much fruit, it’s important to allow them to have appropriate space without too much crowding (for some larger varieties, they need as much as 48 square feet per plant!).
If your plants are too close, you’ll have trouble getting enough sun to the plants and soil, making it more likely for diseases and mold to grow. For vine varieties, you can train them to grow up a trellis so that much of their growth extends upward rather than outward. You can use a tomato cage, tall stakes, or your favorite trellis technique–Just make sure it’s strong enough to support the heavy fruit.
My favorite way of building a trellis is using the string method. Below you can see how I was able to train my tomato plants using this technique. Run string horizontally from two posts over your plants, pulling it just tight enough it will be able to handle some weight as the plants grow. Next, tie another piece of string from the overhead string and secure it into the soil.
As the plant grows, train it to go up the plant. When the fruit gets heavy, support them so that they don’t fall off the vine before they’ve ripened. I’ll give more tips on that down below.
Feed the plants well throughout the season:
Compost makes everything better–Compost goes to the basics of soil health, organic matter, aeration, and micronutrients.
I start my plants with a balanced fertilizer 10-10-10 for the purpose of building drought- and disease-resistant plants that are capable of better yields. Once the first fruits are set, we begin side dressing with a 6-12-12 fertilizer and continue once a month for the duration of the season.
Support your plants to keep them healthy:
If you are using a trellis, you will need to use mesh bags to prevent the fruit from dropping from the vine before it is ripe. You can make your own by tying rags or old t-shirts into a sling to support the fruit.
It’s important to allow air to still reach the fruit to prevent mold or diseases to set in. If making supports using rags or t-shirts, cut small holes in these to allow the squash to air out and stay dry.
Water plants to support deep-growing roots:
Healthy high-yielding plants will need as much as two inches of water per week. It’s best to provide fewer, deeper, waterings per week instead of several shallow waterings per week. Squash does not develop deep roots but fewer waterings will encourage the roots to go as deep as it can. The deeper the roots go for water, the better prepared they are going to be for the hot, dry days of summer.
Growing Butternut squash at home
Butternut squash is a very versatile addition to your garden/pantry. The wonderful vegetable is right at home in a soup, salad, puree, side dish, or pasta. This is one of the easiest vegetables that you can grow. Match the variety with the amount of space you have available and keep it fed and watered and you will be rewarded with a great harvest.