How to Grow Butternut Squash: Plus Cooking Tips

How to Grow Butternut Squash: Plus Cooking Tips
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butternut squash on the vineButternut squash is a variety of winter squash that is easily grown in the garden and in containers by the home gardener.  Butternut is part of the cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins, gourds, melons, and other types of squash. Many cooks use Butternut instead of pumpkin to make their pies.

Though some gardeners start the seeds indoors, it's best to sow Butternut seeds directly into the soil after all frost has passed.  It's a tender plant that can't withstand the freezing cold weather. There are several methods that can be used to grow this delicious squash.

1. Plant the squash in small hills made from soil that has been amended with compost. Sow 4-5 seeds in each hill with about 6 feet between the hills. The squash will vine down and around the small mounds of soil and can be thinned to two plants on each hill. The plants will need a lot of space to grow, but they can be pruned and managed to a certain extent.

2. Butternut squash can be grown at the base of a sturdy trellis and trained to grow up a structure instead of along the ground.  Wood, plastic or metal trellises can be used.  Farm supply stores carry cattle feedlot panels, which are made of galvanized steel. These work exceptional well for vining vegetables. As the vines grow, they will need to be gently pushed through the sections of trellis or the panels.  Ties can be used to hold the vines in place if needed.

3. Smaller compact, or space-saving, varieties of butternut squash can be grown in containers that are 36-40 plus inches across and at least 18 inches deep. Start with 3-4 seeds planted near the center of the container, and thin later to the healthiest looking plant.

Butternut squash needs full sun to grow well, and a good, fertile soil that has been picked free of rocks and debris. Add compost and an organic fertilizer for an added boost to the soil. Mulch the plants as they grow and keep the soil free of weeds. During dry weather always water the plants at least once a week, more if they are in a container. The soil shouldn't be soggy but don't allow it to become cracked or bone dry either.

Harvest the squash when the stems are brown and dry. The squash will turn tan and the "lines" in the skin will disappear when they are ripe. Cut the squash from the vine, leaving 3-4 inches of the stem attached.  Some gardeners prefer to wait until after a light frost to harvest.

Butternut can be roasted in the oven by simply halving the squash, scooping out the seeds and placing it cut side down in a roasting pan or baking dish. Add a small amount of water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover with a lid or foil, and bake for 20-60 minutes at 350 degrees F.  The baking time depends on how it will be used.

Once the squash is done baking and has cooled, scoop it out of the shell carefully and transfer to a bowl. Another option is using a peeler to remove the skin and cutting the squash into cubes before baking.  It can then be seasoned while baking by drizzling olive oil over the squash instead of using water in the bottom of the pan. Be sure to season with herbs and spices before baking.

We have several butternut squash recipes here, including butternut squash soup!

The following combinations work well:

1. Nutmeg, butter and brown sugar
2. Maple syrup, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg
3. Combine with apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter
4. Thyme, drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
5. Sage, cranberries or dried cherries, and sweet onions
6. Rosemary, garlic, lemon juice and zest
7. Sage, cream or half and half, grated Parmesan cheese

Butternut can be used in the following manner:

1. Roast for an hour until the squash if very soft. Remove from the shell and mash. It can be used just as you would pumpkin for bread, pies or other dishes. Do not season ahead of time if you are going to use it in sweet recipes. One pound uncooked butternut squash will give you about 1 cup mashed.

2. Roast for 20-30 minutes and the squash will be tender but not mushy. It can then be cubed or diced and used in salads, soups, casseroles, stews or other dishes.

3. Roast the squash as mentioned but during the last ten minutes add fresh sage, and a handful of dried cranberries. When it's tender remove from the oven to a serving bowl, adding 2-3 tablespoons of butter. Toss with salt and pepper to taste.

Butternut squash is a versatile vegetable that can be prepared as you would acorn squash with sweet or savory seasonings. It's easy to grow, harvest and prepare, even for the novice gardener.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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