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Garden Help Desk: What’s wrong with my squash?

By USU Extension - | Sep 10, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Squash are insect pollinated. If gardening practices include the frequent application of pesticides, it can discourage bees from working the blossoms.

Some of my squash shrink up instead of getting full size. What is wrong?

Poor pollination is the most likely cause. If the problem is only now and then, an occasional wet or cloudy day may have discouraged the bees that pollinate squash blossoms.

If you’re seeing shrunken squash fruits on a regular basis, something may be happening that discourages squash bees from visiting your garden. Routine use of broad-spectrum insecticides is one common reason why bees and other beneficial insects don’t visit a garden. Changing that habit often solves the problem. Many pests, like aphids, thrips, and spider mites can be effectively controlled with applications of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap, both of which are much safer for beneficial insects. During the summer when daytime temperatures are high, wet oil and soap-based sprays can scorch the leaves, so it’s best to apply these sprays in the very early morning, or even better — in the evening, so the sprays have all night to dry before high temperatures return.

If you aren’t using insecticides in your garden, but still aren’t seeing bees in the blossoms in the mornings, you may need to do some hand-pollinating by transferring pollen from fresh male blossoms to fresh female blossoms with cotton swabs or soft paintbrushes. Morning is the best time to do this. Male blossoms are held on slender stalks. Female blossoms have a miniature squash fruit at the base of the flower.

I think my potatoes are ready to harvest. What’s the best way to do that and get them ready for storage?

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

When multiple shriveled or poorly developed squash are close together on the vine, with healthy fruits before and after the poorly developed fruit, the cause is often a weather event such as cool, wet weather that discourages bee activity, or an episode of extreme heat that has damaged pollen.

If your potato vines have yellowed and died down, there’s no reason you can’t start harvesting. If the vines haven’t died back yet the potatoes may continue to increase in size a little bit before the vines finally die back to the ground. If your potato vines have begun to yellow and die back, make sure you decrease your watering, as too much soil moisture later in the gardening season can increase the chances your potatoes will spoil during storage. Of course, you also could have been harvesting small new potatoes at the edges of the planting rows for the past several weeks if you’d wanted to, because potato vines usually begin forming tubers once they’re mature enough to flower during the summer. New potatoes should be used within a few days of harvest.

Once you’re ready to harvest, let the soil dry out for a few days and then carefully lift the potatoes from the soil using a spading fork if you have one. No matter what garden tool you use to loosen the soil and lift the potatoes, do it carefully so that you avoid damaging the tubers. Potatoes that have been bruised or nicked during harvest won’t store as well as unblemished potatoes. Set aside tubers that have been damaged during harvest to be used first.

After you get your potatoes out of the ground you should gently brush away excess soil and put the tubers in shallow containers in a cool, dark area to cure and toughen up their skins for about two weeks. Don’t leave your potatoes laying out in the garden after you’ve dug them up; they will start turning green if they are left out in the sun. That greening on the tubers causes the potatoes to develop a bitter taste and can also make you feel ill if you eat too much of it.

Once your potatoes have cured, they’re ready to go into storage. Don’t wash your potatoes before you cure and store them, as that will just encourage decay during storage. Sort through the potatoes and set aside any damaged potatoes to be used first. Store the potatoes in a dark, cold (but not freezing) location with good air circulation. Check your potatoes frequently so that you can collect and use any sprouting tubers sooner rather than later. Remove and discard any soft or spoiling tubers from your storage containers.

Female squash blossoms have a "miniature fruit" at the base of the blossom.

Mature, flavorful squash fruits are the result of health squash plants, good garden practices, favorable weather and plenty of bee activity.

Male squash blossoms are held on a slender stalk.


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