Acorn squash is easy to cook with. One can bake them in the oven, toss them in a salad, or blend them with milk to create a smoothie. There are endless ways to enjoy this gourd, whether your taste buds lean towards sweet or savory.
As a cucurbit, acorn squash is straightforward to grow, provided you get the timing right. So, when to plant acorn squash?
The growing season for this fruit is from March to November, though there are variations within this range. For instance, people in Texas may start their seeding in March, while those in Missouri and NC won’t begin gardening until May.
For more info on acorn squash and their planting calendar, read below.
|Name||Acorn or pepper squash|
|Days to maturity||80 to 100 days or 11 to 14 weeks|
|Hardiness zones||Zone 3 to 11, but do best in zone 5 to 9|
|Soil||Well-drained, with a pH of 5.5 to 7|
|Fertilization||Every three weeks with a balanced formula|
|Pests||squash bugs, squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies|
|Growing temperature||60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit|
Table of Contents
When to Grow Acorn Squash
Planting acorn squash outdoors is best done two weeks after the last frost and fourteen weeks before the first frost. This schedule allows the plant to germinate, which is vital, since acorn squash is exclusively propagated from seeds.
Plus, for fall harvest, fourteen weeks are enough for the fruit to mature and avoid frost-related decay. If you expose acorn squash to freezing temperatures of 32 degrees or lower, your entire harvest may become inedible.
So, look up the frost dates where you live and calculate your seeding dates. Aside from the guidelines above, it’s possible to sow acorn squash indoors two to four weeks before the last frost. Afterward, move the seedling outside two weeks after the weather warms up.
To give an example, Adrian, Michigan, in zone 6, has its frost dates on May 8 and October 9.
- Using the two-week or fourteen-week guidelines, people here should plant winter squash outside on May 22 or July 3.
- Alternatively, they may seed plants in containers on April 10 to 24 and move them outside on May 22.
How to Plant Acorn Squash?
Acorn squash don’t transplant very well due to their sensitive roots. That’s why it’s sensible to sow them directly into garden beds and not containers, unless you have a short growing season.
With that being said, it’s up to you to choose between seeding indoors and outside.
1. Plant acorn squash indoors
To cultivate squash from fresh seeds indoors, check out the tips below:
- First, prepare containers with a depth of 14 inches, a diameter of 24 inches, and drainage holes. You may also opt for biodegradable pots to minimize transplant shock; they don’t have to be very big — 4 inches in diameter will do.
- Once the pots are ready, fill them with organic potting soil and sow the seeds at a depth of 5 inch. Leave about an inch empty at the top of the containers.
- While sowing, limit yourself to three seeds per pot and water the soil so that it’s moist.
- Then, place the containers next to a sunny window or under grow lights. Six to eight hours of sunlight will suffice. As for the grow lights, aim for twelve to fifteen hours of exposure per day.
- Note that the temperature should be 60℉ at the time of sowing.
To warm up the soil, you may cover the top of the pot with a see-through plastic bag, as long as the bag has some holes for air circulation. Once sprouts appear, remove the plastic so that the plant has space to spread.
- The squash is ready for transplanting when it’s two or three inches tall. At this stage, trim off the weak seedlings and leave only one plant in each container.
- If you use peat pots, simply put them directly into the ground. As for seedlings in regular containers, harden them off for seven days before transplanting outside.
2. Plant acorn squash outdoors
Similar to planting in pots, sow seeds in garden beds when the ground measures at least 60 degrees. Go for well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8, and mix compost into the ground prior to seeding.
You should also till the soil at a depth of eight inches and create mounds that are 12 inches wide and 4 feet apart. The mounds will improve drainage and boost soil temperatures, both of which are helpful for those living in cool, rainy climates.
Ensure each mound is 4 inches tall, then poke two 1-inch holes on top of it — these holes will hold two seeds.
The plants in each mound or hill should be three inches apart, at least before you thin them down to one plant per hill. Note that thinning is necessary when the seedlings are two inches high, similar to growing squash in pots.
Finally, water the soil after seeding and continue to irrigate it with an inch of water per week. The sunlight requirement above also applies here (i.e. give the plant six to eight hours of sun rays per day).
Care for and Harvest Acorn Squash
1. How to care for acorn squash
Acorn squash vine prefers a range of 70 to 90℉, so pay attention to the weather as your plant develops. Temperatures above 90 degrees will prevent flowering, so once your squash reaches the 35-to-45-days mark, look out for heat stress. Tell-tale signs include wilting, rolled leaves, and sunscald.
This is especially important if you live somewhere hot like California or Florida. For instance, north and south California may experience temperatures of 95℉ or higher in August, right when winter squash are blossoming. Similarly, Floridians often grow squash in August and September, so it pays to be mindful of the heat here.
Covering the plant with shade cloths will help, as should frequent watering and weeding. Remember to irrigate in the morning to increase moisture absorption and prevent root rot. Don’t use high-pressure sprinklers; just water slowly until the top three inches of the soil is damp.
Also, treat the soil every three weeks with a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Mix the product according to instructions, or, if you use a granular formula, scatter it on the soil but not the stems or foliage.
Do not fertilize during the flowering stage, as it will hinder fruit development. At the same time, follow these basic tips for pest control:
- Remove squash bugs from leaves by hand.
- Use row covers to deter squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. The latter is also removable with vacuum machines.
- Spray water on aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies to get them off squash plants. Neem oil will also control the first two pests, while a mixture of soap and water should stave off whiteflies.
Note that depending on where you live, some insects may not be a concern at certain times. For instance, zone 7 and lower are unlikely to have whiteflies during the cold season. Meanwhile, zone 8 and hotter areas will need to contend with these bugs all year.
2. How to harvest acorn squash
Your acorn squash is harvestable when the fruit is reasonably tough and not easy to dent. The stems and vines or leaves should also be brown, and you should see deep orange at the bottom part of the squash near the ground.
To harvest, remove the fruit from the plant by cutting the stem, leaving only one inch of the branch behind.
What are the types of acorn squash?
Acorn squash is classifiable into three types: green, golden, and white. Of these varieties, green squash is the most common. They are available throughout the entire year, while their counterparts are mostly for sale during fall and winter.
How long does it take acorn squash to grow?
Acorn squash will mature in 80 to 100 days, depending on the variety. Here are the acorn squash growing stages to give you an idea of their development:
- From seed to germination – 3 to 7 days
- Seedling ready for transplant – 10 to 15 days
- Vegetative growth – 29 days
- Flowering – 30 to 45 days
- Fruiting – begins after flowering, ends after the 80th or 100th day
What not to plant with acorn squash?
Aside from the acorn squash planting time, know that it’s essential not to put your squash near these plants: root crops like potatoes and beets, brassicas like cabbage and cauliflower, and plants that will compete for nutrients like fennel, cucumber, and melon.
Acorn squash is full of antioxidants. They’re also rich in fiber and good for our digestive health, so if you’re looking to grow some gourds at home, we highly recommend these cucurbits.
Follow our tips on when to plant acorn squash, and make sure to care for them properly, whether it’s watering, fertilizing, or plant spacing.