A favourite low-cal pasta replacement loaded with vitamin C and fibre, spaghetti squash has reached a new level of popularity in a carb-conscious world. The protein-rich seeds can be seasoned and roasted for a healthy snack, and the spaghetti-like strands suit many different flavours, from savoury to sweet. If you’ve ever grown a pumpkin, growing spaghetti squash will be no problem whatsoever.
These vegetables are quite hardy and user-friendly, and take only about 90 days to mature. This makes them perfect for the somewhat impatient gardener.
Spaghetti squash grow to 8-9 inches long and 4-5 inches around. As such, plant your seedlings and seeds about 4 feet apart, and 8 feet from the next row. These plants prefer warm soil with good drainage. They also require plenty of space to stretch out, since they have a vining habit.
Train them to grow up a trellis or fence if you need to save space. Otherwise, let them sprawl over a patch of lawn that you can spare temporarily. Just keep in mind that they’re heavy fruits, so it can be a bit of a challenge keeping them supported on the vine!
Though it’s classed as a winter squash, the name is a misnomer as these squash will not grow in the
winter. You’ll need to start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, and transplant them into the garden after all
danger of frost has passed.
All your efforts will be rewarded after about two weeks, when those seeds start to germinate. Like other squash varieties, spaghetti squash likes to live on “hills”. Quite simply, these are mounds formed of soil and well-mixed compost.
Transplant seedlings in groups of three to these hills two weeks after the last frost.
Ensure that the soil is properly warmed before planting seeds directly in your garden. Place a sheet of black plastic over the soil, then plant three seeds per hill. Spaghetti squash love sunlight, so make sure your garden has plenty of it to help these giants grow.
Caring for Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash produce male and female flowers. Therefore, you’ll need a minimum of four strong plants to make sure you get your fruit at the end of the growing season. Each plant should produce four or five squash, so if you don’t want quite that many of one variety, you can always plant another type of squash nearby to help with cross-pollination.
At the beginning, it’s important to keep the squash bed weeded. In addition, during the hot summer days, water your plants regularly to keep the soil moist. As the leaves grow, the shade created by the plants will stave off the
weeds by themselves, so you won’t need to keep weeding all the time. Pinch off the flowers to help direct the plants’ energy towards growing fruits.
Diseases and Pest Problems
Growing spaghetti squash is quite simple, but these plants are prone to a few issues. We’ll touch upon certain fungi and blights that trouble them, as well as pests to be aware of.
Squash are at risk of rotting if they sit in one place for too long. You can prevent this by laying the fruits on top of a board as they develop. This will keeping them off the moist soil, allowing air to circulate properly.
Powdery and Downy Mildew
These fungi likely won’t kill your plant, but it will do some damage to the leaves. This mildew takes the form of white, powdery spots and residue that cause foliage to wilt. Our article on caring for tomato plants has tips on how to eliminate powdery mildew, so be sure to read it!
This fungus, which causes the plant to die back, is mostly found in Eastern North America. Generally, it’s caused by excessively wet and rainy conditions. Fight this off by spraying weekly with a sulfur-based fungicide. Remove and burn any affected plants to prevent the disease from spreading.
Insects and pests
Below are some of the worst offenders for spaghetti squash, and remedies for getting rid of them. If they’re really giving you trouble, consider staking up the vines to keep the plants off the ground and away from trouble.
These gray-brown grubs range from 1/2 an inch to 1/4-inch long, and can be found in the soil and picked out. To keep them from munching on leaves, roots, and stems, put a paper collar around the plants’ bases and sprinkle the soil with wood ash.
Aphids are tiny, oval-shaped, yellow-green insects that like to hide out underneath leaves. You’ll know you have these on your plants if your squash leaves start to curl under. Treat the leaves with insecticidal soap.
These mites feed on plant juices, causing the leaves and vines to become stippled in colour. The stripes can range from pale green to brown, with silvery spider web patterns. Spraying with water or insecticidal soap helps, and introducing ladybugs and lacewings—both fond of spider mites—will help eliminate the problem.
You’ll know you have caterpillars when you see telltale chew holes in leaves and vines. The best thing to do is just hand-pick the caterpillars off the plant.
Spotted or Striped Cucumber Beetle
If the leaves have been skeletonized and have holes, you’ve got cucumber beetles. They cause a variety of diseases, including Fusarium Wilt, and Bacterial Wilt. The spotted variety is green and yellow, about 1/4 “ long with black spots and a black head. The striped variety is the same colour with wide black stripes on the wing covers.
To get rid of these, hand-pick them off, then mulch and sprinkle wood ash around the plants.
Aptly named, the squash bug sucks juices from plants and prefers squash. It’s a black/brownish bug with a shield-shaped shell, and can be trapped underneath boards, hand-picked, and destroyed.
If you’re putting effort into growing spaghetti squash, try tucking them in amongst corn, squash, cucumbers, and beans/peas. The traditional “three sisters” guild plants work very well planted in the same garden neighbourhood.
This type of companion planting can help produce a successful crop, since each plant benefits from the other and creates a nice rich soil. Also, squash vines help to make it hard for insects to reach the other vegetables. Your squashes will benefit from the shade created by the corn. In turn, they’ll create shade and mulch to ward off weeds and keep moisture in the soil.
Marigolds and Nasturtiums
Besides adding nice colour to the garden and acting as attractants for bees, these help to repel insects like aphids, and nematodes. Nasturtiums are particularly good at repelling cucumber beetles and squash bugs, as well as enhancing the crop’s flavor.
Bad company for squash
Anything that needs sunlight won’t do very well with squash, since the large leaves and vines dominate the landscape and quickly choke out smaller plants. Also, never plant tomatoes near any kind of squash, since they’re quite sensitive to growing conditions.
Brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower also don’t do well when planted near squash, as they need a more neutral soil. Check out our comprehensive guide to companion planting here.
Harvesting and Storing
Get excited! About 50 days after the first blossom appears, the squash will reach its full size with a hard and dull-colored rind. At this point, the rind won’t be easily scratched with a fingernail. It should be quite long and large—about 8-9 inches long—and as unwieldy as a watermelon.
Cut the stem from the vine with a good pair of pruning shears. Then wipe the rind off with a solution of bleach and water (10-90 ratio) to kill any mildew that may be clinging to it. Store in a cool, dark, dry room in a single layer, so none of them are touching. These squash will keep for several weeks, or even longer.
If you grew your squash from heirloom seeds, you can save those seeds for next year’s harvest. To do this, scoop them out of the fruit you’re preparing and into a bucket of water. This will help to separate the seeds from the fruit. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a paper towel so they can dry.
Make sure they’re completely dry, (this takes 3-7 days) otherwise they’ll go mouldy and be wasted. Store them carefully in an envelope or a glass container labelled with the variety and the date.
It’s so nice to be able to grab a spaghetti squash or two from the pantry and roast them on a cold winter
day. After roasting, you can combine the noodle-like flesh with your favourite sauce, add it to soup, or use it a breakfast bake with eggs and spinach. You can even try it in a low-carb gratin!
This versatile squash is a gift that keeps on giving long after harvest, and the mild flavour lends itself to a variety of different dishes. Enjoy!