Harvesting squash is not difficult, but it can be hard to know exactly when to do it. In this post, you’ll learn how to tell when both summer and winter squash are ready, the best time to pick them, and how to do it the right way.
Though the actual steps for harvesting squash are very straightforward, determining when they are ready can be a bit more challenging.
It’s important to get to them at the right time for the best flavor and texture. Plus, you must pick them the correct way so they will last as long as possible.
Below I’ll show you all you need to know about how and when to harvest your squash for the biggest and best yields. Plus I’ll give you some storage and preparation tips too.
When To Harvest Squash
Before going into the details of exactly when to harvest squash, first I need to point out that there are two distinct types: summer and winter.
This is a very important detail because the timing of when they are ready is very different between to two types. Below I’ll go into details of each so you can pluck them at the perfect time.
When To Harvest Summer Squash
You can harvest summer squash (like green or yellow zucchini, patty pan, scallop, etc) at any size, and they will continue producing all season long.
But it’s best to do it while they are small and tender. If you wait too long, they will get very large, and become grainy and seedy. Learn all about how to grow it here.
When To Harvest Winter Squash
On the other hand, winter squashes (like butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, acorn, delicata, etc.) need to stay on the vine longer. They’re usually ready all at once in the fall.
Wait to pick them until either the plant dies back on its own, or right before the first hard frost. When they’re allowed to fully ripen on the vine, they will be nice and tender, and taste much sweeter.
Related Post: How To Preserve A Carved Pumpkin & Tips To Make It Last Longer
How Do You Know When Squash Is Ready To Be Picked?
I’m sure you could have guessed this by now, but winter and summer squashes each have different signs that they are ready to be picked. Let’s look closer at both.
How To Tell When Summer Squash Is Ready
As I mentioned above, the best time to pick summer varieties is when they are small and tender.
Harvest narrow fruits like zucchini and yellow squash when they are 4-6” long. The ideal size for rounded ones, like patty pan or scallop, is 3-6” in diameter.
How To Tell When Winter Squash Is Ready
All types of winter squash should stay on the vine until they have fully ripened. The way to tell when they are ready is by their size, texture, and color.
They will feel solid, have a hard outer skin, and the colors will be rich and vibrant. You should also hear a slightly hollow sound when you gently tap on them.
Related Post: How To Pollinate Squash By Hand For Maximum Production
How To Harvest Squash
Now that you know how to tell when each type is ready, let’s look closely at exactly how to harvest squash for the best results.
How To Pick Summer Squash
Though it’s tempting to try pulling or twisting squash off the vine, it’s best to use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut them off instead.
Breaking or twisting them off is risky because you could damage the vine, or ruin smaller fruits that are still maturing.
How To Pick Winter Squash
It’s even more important to harvest winter squash properly, or they won’t store well. Use heavy duty pruners to cut them off, leaving 2-4” of the stem intact.
Also make sure you handle them carefully. Don’t carry them by the stem, and never drop or toss them into a pile. If you damage the thick outer skin or the stem, they will likely rot in storage.
Harvesting Squash Blossoms
In addition to the fruits, you can also harvest squash blossoms. Only pick the male flowers though, because the females are the ones that bear fruit. Check out this guide to learn the difference between male and female flowers.
Pluck them when they are still in bud form. The best way to do this is to use precision shears to cut them as close to the base of the stem as possible.
Related Post: Growing Squash Vertically – Everything You Need To Know
How Often Can You Harvest Squash?
You can harvest squash as often as they are ready. Summer varieties will continue producing fruit all season long, until frost kills them. The more you pick them, the more you will get.
Winter types, on the other hand, usually ripen all at once. Gather them either after the plant dies back in the fall, or right before the first frost.
How Many Squashes Do You Get Per Plant?
The exact number of squashes you’ll get per plant is hard to predict. It depends a lot on the specific variety, the weather, and how healthy the vine is.
Summer types tend to be very prolific, with high yields. In comparison, you don’t usually get as many from each plant with winter varieties.
What To Do With Squash After Harvesting
After harvesting squash, you can either eat them right away, or save them for later. Both types are delicious in a wide range of recipes, or simply roasted, fried, grilled, or sauteed.
It’s best to eat summer squash as soon as you can, because they don’t store well. They will only last for one to two weeks in the fridge.
Winter types, on the other hand, can last for 3-5 months in dry storage if you keep the temperature between 50-60°F, but they must be cured first.
How To Cure Squash For Long-Term Storage
Before you can store winter squash, you must cure (or dry them) first. This will ensure they stay good for the longest amount of time, and also prevents rotting.
For best results, don’t wash them beforehand. If it’s raining or wet outside, bring them into the house or garage so they’ll dry faster. Otherwise, you can leave them in the sun to speed up the process.
It takes anywhere from 10-14 days for them to fully cure. You’ll know they’re ready when the stem turns brown and dries out.
You can also test it by gently pressing a fingernail into the skin to check if it’s hard. If it’s still soft, let them cure a little longer.
FAQs About Harvesting Squash
Below are some questions people often ask about harvesting squash. If you don’t see your answer in this list, please ask it in the comments below.
Can squash get too big?
Whether squash can get too big or not depends on the type. Summer varieties can get too large if left on the vine past their peak, while winter types will stop growing once they reach their harvestable size.
Will squash ripen off the vine after it’s picked?
Yes, winter squash will ripen off the vine after it’s picked. However, summer types don’t technically ripen, and they are edible at any size.
Can you pick squash too early?
Yes, you can pick squash too early, but only winter varieties. Summer types are more tender, less seedy, and taste sweeter when they are picked early.
Does a squash plant die after harvesting?
No, a squash plant does not die after harvesting. It will stay alive all the way through frost, or until the vine naturally dies back on its own as the weather cools in the fall.
Harvesting squash is easy and doesn’t take much time. Now that you know when and how to do it, you’ll be able to enjoy them at their peak of freshness every time.
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More About Harvesting
- When To Pick Cucumbers & How To Harvest Them
- When & How To Harvest Kohlrabi
- How & When To Harvest Sage Fresh From Your Garden
- Harvesting Brussels Sprouts – Everything You Need To Know
Share you tips for harvesting squash in the comments section below.
I have a Cushaw squash plant that grew through the fence into my neighbours yard. She ‘cleaned her garden plot by pulling off my squash plant and throwing the growing squash over the fence into our garden. will it ripen and where is the best place to keep it to have it do so if it will? ( Just so you know I was more than happy to let her harvest it for herself)
Amy Andrychowicz says
Oh no, that’s a bummer. Depending on how large the squash are, they may still ripen off the vine. Just leave them out on the counter or in a cool/dry location.
Thanks. Hoping it will ripen and not just rot. Still have a larger one ripening on the vine. Maybe they will be ready at the same time