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By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Summer squash is native to North America, where it was commonly cultivated by Native Americans. Squash was planted as a companion to corn and beans in a trio known as the “three sisters.” Each plant in the trio benefited each other: the corn provided support for climbing beans, while the beans fixed nitrogen in the soil, and the large bushy leaves of the squash acted as a living mulch, cooling the soil and helping it to retain moisture. The prickly squash leaves also helped to deter unwanted garden pests, such as raccoon, deer and rabbit. Bush types of summer squash are excellent for this trio of companion plants, rather than vining and sprawling types. Keep reading to learn more about summer squash plants.
Most summer squash today are varieties of Cucurbita pepo. Summer squash plants differ from winter squash because most summer squash varieties bear their fruit on bushy plants rather than vining or sprawling plants like winter squashes. Summer squashes are also harvested when their rinds are still soft and edible, and fruit is still immature.
Winter squashes, on the other hand, are harvested when the fruit is mature and their rinds are hard and thick. Because of the thick rinds of winter squash vs. the soft rinds of summer squash, winter squash has a longer storage life than summer squash. This is actually why they are known as summer or winter squash – summer squashes are enjoyed only for a short season, while winter squash can be enjoyed long after harvest.
There are also different summer squash types. These are usually categorized by the shape of the summer squash. Constricted neck or crookneck squashes usually have yellow skin and a curved, bent or angled neck. Likewise, straightneck squashes have straight necks. Cylindrical or club-shaped squashes are typically green, but can be yellow or white. Some, but not all, zucchini and cocozelle varieties of summer squash fall into the cylindrical or club-shaped categories. Scallop or patty-pan squashes are round and flat with scalloped edges. They are typically white, yellow or green.
If you are new to the world of growing summer squash, all the different kinds of summer squash may seem overwhelming. Below I’ve listed some of the more popular summer squash varieties.
Zucchini, Cocozelle and Italian Marrow
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Summer squash (also known as vegetable or Italian marrow), is a tender, warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout the United States anytime during the warm, frost-free season. Summer squash differs from fall and winter squash in that it is selected to be harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures. It grows on bush-type plants that do not spread like the plants of fall and winter squash and pumpkin. A few healthy and well-maintained plants produce abundant yields.
During the height of summer, you can find zucchini and summer squash at the market that still have their flowers attached. It's a fabulous two-for-one—the edible flowers along with the fresh zucchini. Simply remove the flowers and chop them up use the ultra-tender zucchini to make a simple shaved, raw zucchini salad and then toss with the flowers.
You may also come across the flowers sold on their own, which have a delicate but distinctive zucchini/summer squash flavor. They are traditionally battered and fried, but are also delicious stuffed with rice or even in an omelet.