Squash — Savvy growing in Southern climates: Cultivating the Coast with Kitti Cooper, presented by Saunders Yachtworks

By Kitti Cooper
Special to Gulf Coast Media
Posted 5/15/24

Southern Alabama boasts an ideal climate for gardening with its long, warm summers and mild winters, providing optimal conditions for growing a variety of crops. Among these, squash stands out as a …

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Squash — Savvy growing in Southern climates: Cultivating the Coast with Kitti Cooper, presented by Saunders Yachtworks


Southern Alabama boasts an ideal climate for gardening with its long, warm summers and mild winters, providing optimal conditions for growing a variety of crops. Among these, squash stands out as a versatile and rewarding vegetable to cultivate. In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive into the world of squash gardening, exploring the different varieties to grow, their health benefits, optimal growing conditions, pest management strategies and expert tips for maximizing your harvest.


Southern Alabama's climate is amazing for squash cultivation, offering an extended growing season and abundant sunshine. From summer squash to winter varieties, squash thrives in the region's sandy/clay soil and hot temperatures. By incorporating squash into your garden, you can enjoy a diverse range of culinary possibilities while reaping the nutritional benefits of this versatile vegetable.


When planting squash in your garden, consider the wide range of varieties available, each offering unique flavors, textures and culinary uses. Summer squash varieties such as zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan squash are popular choices for their tender flesh and mild flavor, perfect for grilling, sautéing or roasting. Winter squash options like butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash provide rich, creamy textures and sweet, nutty flavors, ideal for soups, stews and casseroles.

Fun fact: If you've ever used a luffa sponge, plot twist: that is from a squash! A luffa squash is edible when young and green, but when left to dry completely on the vine you can peel the skin back to reveal a beautiful luffa that is great for washing dishes or yourself after a long day in the garden.


In addition to its culinary versatility, squash offers an array of health benefits. Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, squash is low in calories and high in dietary fiber, making it an excellent choice for maintaining a healthy diet. Incorporating squash into your meals can support digestive health, boost immune function and promote overall well-being.


To maximize your squash harvest in Southern Alabama, provide optimal growing conditions for your plants. Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil, amending it with compost or aged manure to enhance fertility and moisture retention. Space them according to the specific requirements of each variety to allow air flow. Water consistently, especially during hot, dry weather, and mulch around the base of plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Water from below instead of above to help prevent powdery mildew issues where you see white spots on leaves.


Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers, each playing a crucial role in pollination and fruit development. Male flowers typically appear first and have slender stems with no swelling at the base, while female flowers have a small, swollen ovary at the base of the flower. To promote successful pollination, transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers using a small paintbrush or by gently shaking the flowers.

Adding flowers that drawn in pollinators into your garden is important for this reason and much more. Once you can identify the male and female flowers, after pollination the male flowers can be eaten.


In addition to combating pests and diseases, there are several tips for growing squash successfully in Southern Alabama. Rotate your squash crops annually to prevent soil depletion and reduce the risk of pest and disease buildup. Avoid planting squash in low-lying areas prone to waterlogging, as this can increase the risk of fungal diseases. Provide support for vining varieties by using trellises or stakes, ensuring proper airflow and reducing the risk of fruit rot.


Squash vine borers pose a significant threat to squash plants in Southern Alabama, tunneling into the stems and causing wilting, stunted growth and plant death. To combat squash vine borers, implement preventive measures such as wrapping the base of plants with row cover fabric or aluminum foil to prevent egg-laying by adult moths. Monitor plants regularly for signs of infestation, including wilting leaves, sawdust-like frass near the base of the plant and entry holes in the stems.

Squash vine borers are the larvae of a type of clear-winged moth known as the squash vine borer moth (Melittia cucurbitae). These moths are often mistaken for bees due to their similar appearance. Female squash vine borer moths emerge from the soil in late spring to early summer, typically around the same time that squash plants begin to vine and produce flowers. They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours.

The female moths lay their eggs near the base of squash plants, preferring to deposit them on the stems close to the soil line. Each moth can lay up to 200 eggs in clusters, which are small, reddish-brown and cylindrical in shape. After hatching, the larvae immediately begin to burrow into the stems of the host plant, where they feed and develop over the course of several weeks.

Adult squash vine borer moths are active for a relatively short period, typically from late spring to early summer, but their impact on squash plants can be devastating. Effective management strategies, such as physical barriers, BT oil and timely intervention, are essential for protecting squash crops from the destructive effects of squash vine borers.


Bacillus thuringiensis, shortened to BT, is a gram-positive bacterium that, during the process of sporulation, produces parasporal crystal proteins having insecticidal activity. These proteins are known as cry toxins.

When the bacteria is consumed by certain insects, the toxic crystal is released in the insect's highly alkaline gut, blocking the system that protects the pest's stomach from its own digestive juices.

Simply put, this is a bacteria found in the ground that is then fermented to disrupt the chemical composition of the stomach of soft bodied bugs such as leaf borers. In the same way kombucha is fermented to help our gut health, this is fermented to disrupt the gut health of plant destroying bugs.

The stomach is penetrated, and the insect dies by poisoning from the stomach contents and the spores themselves. This same mechanism is what makes BT harmless to birds, fish and mammals whose acidic gut conditions aren't effected by the bacteria's effect.

It is important to use this monthly during the growing season to get a head start on combating squash borers, and and don't forget to also spray the ground where the moths lay the eggs of the squash borers. Rotate where you plant your squashes yearly to help decrease the moths from laying their eggs in the same location every year during the fall/winter months, giving you a head start on combating the squash borers.


Pick squash when it's smaller. This is when the seeds are small and squash tastes best.

XXL squash are impressive but harder to navigate in the culinary world. These are produced when a squash/melon is left on the vine past its prime, AKA those squash you forget about, don't see or come back to after a few days away to find have grown massively.

It's exciting and huge but tough and bitter with giant seeds that are not nearly as good as the young tender ones. Squash contains a chemical called cucurbitacin, which is what makes melon varieties bitter and just yuck.

Fun fact: Plants naturally produce this chemical to make it nasty to bugs so their seeds can grow and reseed.


Cultivating squash in your own backyard offers an abundant harvest of organic homegrown squash. By selecting suitable varieties, providing optimal growing conditions and implementing pest management strategies, you can enjoy a successful squash harvest year after year. Whether you're a novice gardener or an experienced enthusiast, squash gardening in Southern Alabama is a rewarding endeavor that can enhance your culinary experiences and promote healthy living.