Growing Butternut Squash
Growing pumpkins does not need to be difficult. There should always be at least one type you can grow – no matter whether you have only a small back yard or have plenty of space for a large pumpkin patch.
If you’ve never grown pumpkins before, then it’s a good idea to begin with some of the smaller varieties – such as butternut pumpkins or as it is more commonly known: butternut squash.
Best Location for Growing Butternut Squash
Squash need sunshine and warmth and are therefore grown more quickly and easily in USDA zones 3 and warmer – i.e. the Eastern, Southern and Western States. However, you can still grow pumpkins in cooler locations (eg in Mid-West and Northern States) if you choose your pumpkin patch carefully.
Pumpkin plants ideally need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight and protection from high winds, heavy rain and frost. They can be susceptible to high levels of humidity and develop powdery mildew, so if you live in humid locations you will need to keep a watchful eye on your plants and take preventative action in humid conditions.
Try to protect pumpkins from the worst of the elements by covering them during heavy rains or the threat of frost. If your area suffers from high winds then erecting some kind of barrier to protect the vines will be beneficial.
How to Grow Butternut Squash
How to prepare your soil for growing this type of winter squash?
When growing butternut squash, it is important to start with the correct type of soil. They are greedy plants and need a rich, well drained soil with a pH of between 6.5 – 6.8.
Although the plant needs a lot of water and is tolerant of most soils, heavy clay soils can cause them to become waterlogged, so laying down good drainage will be essential to prevent your seeds and plants from rotting. Pumpkins need good, friable soil, so take time to dig over your land before planting.
If you live in an area with heavy clay soil, then using a product like Terra Ultra Organic Soil Conditioner can help break up hard pan, reduce clay density and balance the pH level of your soil.
Alternatively, if your soil is extremely poor and dense, you could create a raised growing area. To do this, you will need to lay pebbles and sand at the bottom for good drainage and cover this with a 10” – 12” layer of topsoil and composted material. Fortunately, pumpkin roots don’t go down very deep, so this should be enough to keep your pumpkin plants happy.
Prepare your pumpkin patch in the early spring, as soon as the last frosts have finished and the soil has started to become warm. Add a good quality nitrogen rich fertilizer and about 4” of manure to provide the vital nutrients your pumpkins will need.
How to Plant Butternut Squash Seeds
Sow butternut squash seeds in 6” peat pots and place them in a warm place with good lighting – eg. by a bright window or under a fluorescent lamp. Placing the pots on a heating pad can also help the seeds to germinate faster.
Plant pumpkin seeds, with the pointed end downwards, at a depth of around 1”. Water the seeds lightly after planting, so that the soil is moist but not saturated. Then water the seeds on a regular basis to maintain the level of moisture in the soil. The seeds should start to sprout between 5 – 10 days after planting, depending upon the amount of light and warmth.
Butternut Squash Seedlings
Once seedlings start to grow, you will need to thin them out by retaining the strongest and discarding weaker ones. Allow around 20 square feet for each plant to spread out and grow.
Transplant butternut squash seedlings with care since they don’t like being disturbed. Using a stick or pencil, make a narrow hole in the soil where the seedling is being replanted. Gently life the seedling out of its present position and insert it carefully into its new home. Tuck the soil gently round the seedling to support it and give it a light watering. While seedlings are still very immature it’s a good idea to cover them with a plastic clothe in order to protect them from inclement weather, until they are strong enough.