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.
Summer squash appears in many different fruit shapes and colors:
Scallop or Patty Pan is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges, usually white but sometimes yellow or green.
Constricted neck is thinner at the stem end than the blossom end, classified as either “crookneck” or “straightneck” depending on if the stem end is straight or bent, and is usually yellow.
Cylindrical to club-shaped Italian marrows, such as zucchini, cocozelle and caserta, are usually shades of green, but may be yellow or nearly white.
The varietal selection of summer squash has markedly changed in recent years and the number of varieties offered has greatly expanded as the result of new interest, hybridization and introduction of disease resistance.
Because summer squash develop very rapidly after pollination, they are often picked when they are too large and overmature. They should be harvested when small and tender for best quality. Most elongated varieties are picked when they are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. Patty Pan types are harvested when they are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Slightly larger fruit may be salvaged by hollowing out and using them for stuffing. These larger fruits may also be grated for baking in breads and other items. Do not allow summer squash to become large, hard and seedy because they sap strength from the plant that could better be used to produce more young fruit. Pick oversized squash with developed seeds and hard skin and throw them away. Go over the plants every 1 or 2 days.
Squash grow rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering.
Although summer squash has both male and female flowers, only the female flowers produce fruits. Because the fruits are harvested when still immature, they bruise and scratch easily. Handle with care and use immediately after picking. Be careful when picking summer squash, as the leafstalks and stems are prickly and can scratch and irritate unprotected hands and arms. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to harvest and wear gloves if possible. Some gardeners also pick the open male and female blossoms before the fruits develop. Especially the female blossoms, with tiny fruit attached, are a delicacy when dipped in a batter and fried.