Is It Better to Start Squash From Seed or Transplants?

Squash is fairly easy to grow, it produces a lot and is versatile in the kitchen. But is it better to start squash from seed or transplants? Here are the pros and cons of each.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

It’s no wonder that summer and winter squash are two vegetables found in almost every garden. They’re fairly easy to grow, produce a plethora of food, and they’re incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Yes, sometimes squash vine borers and squash bugs can impact the harvest, but for the most part, growing squash is fairly straightforward. The biggest question gardeners face when growing this vegetable is whether it’s better to start squash from seed or transplants. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each technique.

There are several key factors to keep in mind when choosing whether to start squash from seed or transplants.

First and foremost, know the length of your growing season. If you live in the northern tier of our country, where the growing season is short, starting squash from transplants rather than seeds will allow the plants to mature and set fruit before the end of the growing season arrives. Some winter squash take up to 100 days to mature, so if you start them from seed sown outdoors, there might not be enough time for a good fruit set before fall’s first frost. By planting four-week-old transplants into the garden, instead of seeds, you’ll have a good jump start on the growing season.

Secondly, know your local wildlife. In my own garden I’ve had the occasional issue with voles, mice and birds digging up and eating my squash seeds before they can germinate. If you have garden critters that love plucking seeds from your soil for lunch, you might want to consider starting your squash from transplants instead of seeds.

And lastly, do realize that there are many pros and cons of each planting technique when it comes to summer and winter squash. Let’s take a closer look at these positives and negatives so you can determine the best method for you.

Pros and Cons of Starting Squash From Seed

The Pros

  • You’ll have a great selection of varieties when growing from seed. If you grow transplants purchased at a local nursery, you’re limited to the selections they grow.
  • When deciding whether to start squash from seed or transplant, it’s important to remember that growing squash from seed is a lot less expensive than buying transplants. The price of 30 seeds is equivalent to four to eight nursery transplants.
  • Squash grown from seeds sown directly into the garden won’t undergo any transplant shock and typically get off to a fast and healthy start.
  • The large size of squash seeds make them easy to handle and space properly. It’s a great project for kids, too.

The Cons

  • Newly germinated squash seeds are more vulnerable to pests, such as cucumber beetles, slugs and flea beetles. Bigger transplants are better able to tolerate insect attacks.
  • Seeds sometimes rot in the soil prior to germinating, especially if the ground is very wet.
  • Germination rates might be low if you use old seed or seed that hasn’t been stored properly.
  • Tiny seedlings are vulnerable to rabbits, deer, groundhogs and other wildlife who enjoy the succulent young plants.
  • Newly sprouted seedlings are more sensitive to unpredictable late spring frosts. You’ll need to protect the plants with cloches or floating row covers.

Pros and Cons of Starting Squash From Transplants

The Pros

  • The biggest pro to consider when choosing whether to start squash from seed or transplants, is that starting from transplants gives you a head start on the growing season. It means you’ll have fruits ready to harvest four to six weeks before growers who plant from seed, which, for market growers, means four to six weeks of early profits at the farmers market.
  • It’s very easy to ensure proper plant spacing when growing squash from transplants. You won’t have to do any culling of seedlings to ensure each plant has enough room to grow.
  • If you use plastic to cover field rows, popping in the transplants is fairly easy.
  • You can top the planting bed with straw or shredded leaf mulch immediately after planting transplants, rather than having to wait until seedlings grow large enough to mulch.

The Cons

  • Winter and summer squash seedlings resent being transplanted. The process stifles their initial growth rate and can set top growth back a week or two. To overcome this, use plantable peat pots or do not disturb the roots in anyway during the transplant process.
  • As mentioned above, buying transplants is far more expensive than buying seed.
  • Planting transplants requires more care, and therefore it takes more time than when planting from seed.
  • Varietal choice might be limited if you’re purchasing transplants from a nursery.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider before deciding whether to start squash from seed or transplants. But no matter which technique you use, a productive squash crop is within your grasp.

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