How to Grow Squashes Vertically

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Grafted gourd trained vertically up a trellis

Squashes have a reputation for being the gangly gangsters of the vegetable plot. Their sprawling stems spill out this way, that way and every way, dominating their patch and leaving little room for daintier darlings. But this needn’t be the case. Whether your squashes grow to be space-hungry divas or not is entirely down to how they’re brought up – a classic case of nurture over nature!

When I was lucky enough to tend a bigger garden than I do now I dedicated an entire bed to winter squashes. These hungry feeders were planted on top of pits filled with kitchen scraps, topped with a thick layer of nutrient-rich compost. The squashes romped away and produced some stonking fruits. Alas, now my smaller garden demands some lateral thinking – or rather, vertical thinking.

Train Squashes Vertically Up Trellis

My most memorable experience of vertical squashes was on a visit to Spitalfields City Farm in London. The farm is located in one of the most densely populated parts of the city where space is very much thin on the ground. Here, exotic snake gourds and kodu reached the rafters of the polythene tunnels. The forearm-sized fruits dangled down from above like giant lime-green truncheons, all supported by a system of netting straining at the weight. It was an impressive – almost intimidating – sight!

 Squash climbing up a support

If space isn’t on your side, then growing squashes upwards is the obvious answer. The easiest way is to train them onto trellis. A simple one-piece trellis can be secured against a sun-facing wall or strong fence.

Plant your squashes the same distance apart that they would grow at if left at ground level. The advantage of growing upwards is that you’ll be able to make much better use of the soil in the immediate vicinity of the squashes for growing other plants. You’re essentially giving yourself twice the growing area to work with.

Once your squash has put on growth, gently weave the shoots onto and into the trellis. Soft plant ties and string can help steer wayward stems in the right direction. Most squashes will then produce tendrils that will grip their supports like a mountaineer pulling himself skywards towards the peak.

Remember that squashes are prodigious feeders, so keep them well fed and watered. This is particularly important when training them upwards like this: plants left to trail along the ground often root at several intervals to help suck up more water and nutrients. A vertical vine has no such luxury.

Make Free-Standing Supports for Squashes

A wigwam trellis can add decorative structure to your garden. You could buy ready-made wigwam trellises and just heft these into position over your squashes. Much more fun is to make your own. Start by leaning four strong battens of wood (about 5cm/2in wide and at least 180cm/6ft long) into each other to form a teepee. Push them into the ground so they are at least 30cm (12in) buried; this will keep them rigid. Secure them at the top. You can now nail horizontal slats or tie in strong string or wire at regular intervals, starting about 20cm (8in) off the ground and continuing at the same distance until the top of the teepee is reached.

 Squash and beans vertically trained up a wigwam

Free-standing screens of trellis or horizontal wires are another option. Hammer in strong (and I do mean very strong) upright stakes or posts into the ground. They’ll need to be really driven home so they don’t budge under the weight of the squashes or wind. If necessary, add braces at the bottom for additional stability. Set the stakes a maximum of 150cm (5ft) apart.

Now secure wooden trellis, chicken wire or cattle panels to the uprights. Or, strain horizontal wires (thick gauge) or string (nylon is best) at similar intervals to the wigwam trellis above. The same system of supports would work well secured to existing uprights that form part of a strong fence or wall.

 Squashes climbing up an archway

Supporting Heavy Fruits

Summer squashes and smaller fruited winter squashes such as the acorn squash won’t require any additional support. Larger squashes, like the butternut, will. The heavy fruit can strain the stems and, in severe cases, cause it to come crashing back down to earth. The solution is to create a sling for each fruit.

A great way to do this is to use old tights/pantyhose. Simply tie the pantyhose to the screen, trellis or wires, then gently ease the young fruit into one of the legs. As it grows the fruit will naturally stretch the soft material, offering a handy cup for your fruit. You could also use lengths of cloth or netting – just leave adequate slack in the system for the fruit to swell. Or, train vines up and over archways covered in mesh to ‘catch’ the fruits as they develop.

Let me know if you’ve grown squashes vertically and, if you have, how you supported them. Oh, and please share which varieties worked well for you – I’m after a few ideas for my own garden!

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Comments

 
"Hi, I am really confused about what the "normal" spacing is for squash. The squash grow guide says 2 feet for summer and 3 feet for winter. Many other sites say more like 3-4 feet. If they grow 6-15 foot vines how does 3 foot spacing work? Or is that only true if growing vertical? I have a space around 4 feet wide and 20 feet long to try growing squash in. Thanks so much, its just so confusing. "
Kelly on Tuesday 10 May 2016
"Squashes can be left to sprawl. So yes, at 2-4 foot spacing they will inevitably become tangled, which is perfectly normal. The advantage of growing them vertically (though still at the same spacing) is that you can train the stems to a certain extent and free up more space around the base of the plants."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 14 May 2016
"How do you tell if a zucchini is a bush variety or a vining variety? I bought a heirloom black beauty and not sure which it is and want it to be a vining zucchini."
Cheryl Coates on Saturday 4 June 2016
"If you can't check the seed packet then the best way is to see how it grows after planting it. You will be able to tell pretty quickly. Bush tomatoes will have all their leaves emerging from a central point on the plant and will be stocky in habit. Vining varieties on the other hand will soon begin to sprawl. The stem will snake out across the ground and new leaves will emerge from all along the stem. If it's a vining variety, you can then leave it to sprawl, or you can always create supports for it to climb up."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 June 2016
"Great ideas! Any suggestions, better yet, pictures, of how to protect against squash beetles when growing vertically? Had an awful time with them this year. "
Paula Theriault on Tuesday 19 July 2016
"Hi Paula. Squash beetles can be a terrible nuisance! Check out this guide to controlling them: http://bigbughunt.com/bug-guides/us-and-canada/squash-bug/ "
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 19 July 2016
"Are there squash beetles in the UK? I've never had a problem growing squash although larger ones need a long season. "
Les Smith on Monday 20 February 2017
"Hi Les. No, there are no squash beetles in the UK, which makes growing them significantly easier!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 February 2017
"I so love your site, which I recently discovered. Living in The Netherlands, your weather and season changes are not so far different from ours. I was born and bred in New Zealand, which is quite a different kettle of fish as far as gardening is concerned! My question is about support. It's been a long time since I've worn flesh coloured tights (in the 1980's they were still in). I use my black tights, cut into thin strips to tie up all sorts of plants - but can a pumpkin, patisson or even melon, grow in darker tights? Thanks in advance, Veronica "
Veronica on Friday 5 May 2017
"Hi Veronica. If you are growing your pumpkin, melon etc. vertically - for example over an arch or up trellising - then the fruits themselves may need supporting. You can make simple 'hammocks' or nets out of tights. Cup them around the developing fruit then tie them in either side to your support. The colour doesn't matter - so, yes, black tights would be fine. I guess the black will shade the skin of the fruit a little, so they wouldn't colour up as well. But you could, if you have time, very carefully rotate the fruits within their tight supports so most areas of the skin get some sun, though I don't this is necessary. The tights can also be cut up to make ties, as you suggest."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 May 2017
"Hi I am trying to grow Zucchetta for the first time, and to be honest never gave the idea of support any thought as I got the idea from watching a TV show. Do I need to support these fruit? If I've planted them right, they will be dangling through the chicken mesh that the vine is to grow on. (The plants have been grown at height and I hope to train them to sprawl along a wire mesh ceiling/floor and have the fruits dangling, like on the show)."
Louise on Sunday 28 May 2017
"The fruits shouldn't need any additional support if the frame is sturdy enough. Once they're all growing and dangling down it should make for a very impressive display!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 June 2017

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