Squash and a billion questions

kathywiehlJuly 5, 2008

I planted squash and zucchini from seedlings in May and the plants are now a decent size. The leaves are nice and big and green but weren't producing female flowers, thus no veggies to be had. This was very discouraging to me so I began asking some local friends what to do. It was suggested to possibly use epsom salt instead of the all purpose fertilizer which I had been using and to pinch off the ends of the vines to encourage the females to grow on the lateral stems.

Well, I went outside and closely inspected my plants, pulling off a few dead leaves and attempted to pinch off the ends of the vines. In the process I came upon a nasty little vine borer, so I tossed two plants that were obviously infested.

I overplanted this year and still have about 4 plants, however none of them are producing female flowers. Well...I should take that back. Some of them are, but they aren't growing very fast. How long should I expect to harvest after first seeing a tiny fruit? I'm fully prepared to hand pollinate since we don't get many bees but the females blooms never seem to get big enough to open.

Anyway, I tossed the infested plants, bought a fruit and veggie insect killer at Home Depot and some epsom salt.

My plan of action is to watch the plants closely and treat weekly with instecticide and fertilize with epsom salts...do you think this will help?

Also, with the epsom salt...how often and how much?

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Why would you add the epsom salt? It is magnesium and sulfur. What do you believe either would do for the plant?

Are these in a container? If so how are you currently providing the calcium and magnesium?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 7:33PM
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Yes, they are in a container.

The person who suggested epsom salts told me this "Final thought -- I believe too much nitrogen relative to magnesium/phosphorus can cause fruit set problems. So if you're going fertilize more, you probably don't want to use an all-purpose fertilizer since those are loaded with nitrogen. Something like epsom salt instead. I hope you'll get some fruit soon"

Calcium? Am I supposed to be adding calcium somehow? I just assumed that my miracle grow potting mix, miracle grow all purpose fertilizer and daily watering would provide all that was necessary.

Now I'm very confused. Can someone please give me some instructions for growing squash in a container? This site says to water with fertilizer daily....I had been doing so once a week.

I'm really feeling frustrated and stupid right now.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 7:47PM
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valentinetbear(z6 PA)

I don't know why, but do know there is such a thing as too much Epsom Salt, especially in container plants. Tried to find out why, but best I discovered was the site listed below, although, obviously, they're a bit biased.

That being said, there is also too much fertilizing, too. Most of what I've read is to fertilize with water soluable fertilizers (Miracle-Gro, kelp, etc.) at half strength once a week, not full strength, twice a week like the directions say.

As for not having any squash, ever consider it's just not time yet? Don't know how your area compares to mine, other then generally hotter, but we've had three heatwaves already, and my squash (acorn squash) started growing (read my post "A Real Accidental Gardener" for why it started so early) in early April, and I'm just now getting the first few flowers in the last few days, and just saw evidence of our first female growth/fruit just today. The plant is a fairly hefty size, too.

We have no bee shortage, but, then again, not something to worry about until several flowers have come and gone without any evidence of emerging squash.

I do vaguely remember straight neck squash from last year, showing up with cute little baby squash for quite a while (1-3 weeks, maybe?!) before actually starting to grow to normal size. Once they start growing, it's shocking how quickly they grow, but certainly takes a week or two more before they're picking size.

As for bugs on them -- wow, you must have a lot of plants! (Urban gardener here, so have a SMALL yard. LOL) I'd just check out which kind of organic insecticide would kill the little creepy critters. (I know, supposed to pick them off and toss them in sudsy water, but, ewww, I can't touch bugs. Grosses me out!) Neem Oil might work, or insecticidal soap. Guaranteed it's not hard to learn which insecticide works for which bugs online. One thing, I'd not recommend though -- according to a recent news program, one possible cause of the demise of bees "could be" the new nicotine insecticide. (I get the willies from bugs, but still like seeing plenty of bees!)

I'm going to hope your problem is just not time for them to offer you squash yet, but hope others, who know more then me, can offer you other ideas. The nothing but Epsom Salt worries me though.

Here is a link that might be useful: Epsom Salt in the Garden

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 11:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

First - Epsom salts IS a fertilizer. It acts the same as any other fertilizer salt or combination of salts. It raises the electrical conductivity (EC) of the soil solution and contributes to the level of total dissolved solids (TDS). As the EC and TDS increase, it becomes more difficult for plants to take up water and the nutrients dissolved in that water.

There is another danger in applying only Epsom salts to your plants. As the ratio of Mg:Ca increases, Ca becomes increasingly unavailable for uptake - even though it may be adequately represented in the soil. This is called an antagonistic deficiency.

You should use Epsom salts on plants that you KNOW are deficient in Mg and only when Ca levels are such that they will support the additional Mg. You can induce BER in many crops, tomatoes, melons, and squash among them, even when adequate Ca is present in soils, simply by applying too much Epsom salts.

A little goes a long way. When I do apply it to soils where I have used gypsum as a Ca source, I apply at 1/8 - 1/4 tsp per gallon of water each time I fertilize.

IF you're using a commercially prepared soil, it's unlikely you have a Mg (or Ca) deficiency. If you're using a homemade soil and didn't apply dolomitic lime, it's likely you have both a Ca AND a Mg deficiency. What are you using for fertilizer?


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 9:09AM
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I'm using half miracle grow potting mix and half generic cheapo potting soil from our local garden center. I mixed in some osmocote when planting the baby plants back in May.

My fertilizer is Miracle Grow All purpose, applied once a week, though I'm still not sure how much to use so I may be doing it wrong. I totally understand how much per gallon of water, but do I pour the entire gallon into the pot? Half? Certainly that would affect something right? I've been doing half a gallon of fertilized water in each pot. The all purpose definitely has more nitrogen than anything else so maybe that was the problem?

Do you all think I should springle some lime around the plants and use the epsom salts for fertlizer? Certainly the way I was doing so wasn't working.

I do think it's well past time for harvesting a decent amount of squash. Nearly everyone else around here has been harvesting for weeks, yet I've had nothing.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 9:44AM
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Also, I know this shouldn't be so complicated. So many people have great luck growing squash in containers so I should be able to do it. Is there like a formula somewhere? A list that tells me exactly what type of soil, exact container size, precise plan for fertilizing, etc?

I see general advice given all over these forums and all the articles I read. I'm good at following recipes with clear instructions but container gardening seems to be something that is intuitive for everybody but me.

My tomatoes are doing great with the same treatment that the squash have been getting and my peppers are doing okay but not nearly as well as I'd hoped. I planted all of these things in May and when I bought the pepper plant it had a baby pepper on it and I harvested it but so far nothing else has grown though there have been lots of blooms and what look like teeny peppers that seem to have stopped growing.

I'm ready to toss all these plants over the deck and give up.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 10:18AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

My fertilizer is Miracle Grow All purpose, applied once a week, though I'm still not sure how much to use so I may be doing it wrong. I totally understand how much per gallon of water, but do I pour the entire gallon into the pot? Half? Certainly that would affect something right? I've been doing half a gallon of fertilized water in each pot. The all purpose definitely has more nitrogen than anything else so maybe that was the problem?

Your fertilizer is ok, but lets cut back to either half strength weekly or suggest strength every 2 weeks. If your plants are big and bushy, you prolly have enough foliage to make the fruit. You may also want to consider switching to a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer like 20-20-20, which is comparatively lower in N than the 3:1:2 ratio all-purpose you're using.

It doesn't matter if you apply the whole gallon to one container, or stop when about 10-15% of the solution has exited the drain hole. There is no additional benefit if you apply more than that. There can be harm though, if you aren't or are unable (because of risking root rot) to water thoroughly and flush the soil - carry-over from fertilization to fertilization is a possibility that would manifest itself first in necrotic leaf margins and tips.

I'm sorry to say there is no formula that applies to all situations, Kathy. Please don't give up. Container gardening can be soo much fun and soo rewarding. Please stick with it (if you really want to succeed, and a combination of experience and knowledge will slowly increase your satisfaction with your growing experience for a while, and then suddenly, it will all start to come together in a rush. I often compare the learning curve with putting a jigsaw puzzle together. The initial investment in gaining experience and knowledge is like getting the border completed. After the border is done - you KNOW how fast the rest comes. ;o) There are lots of people here willing to help you with the border, and even the rest of the puzzle, so stick around - ok?

I try to self-promote as little as possible & let those who have found value in things I've offered share their thoughts with others; but, in your case, I'm going to suggest two threads for you to read & understand. I honestly think that if you can come to understand what's in them, you'll at least have a good portion of the border assembled. The threads are Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V and
Fertilizer Program - Containerized Plants . If you do read them, I hope you find them helpful.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 11:04AM
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I'm really feeling frustrated and stupid right now.

Frustrated I can understand, but certainly you shouldn't feel stupid. It is a learning process that takes time and growing. It really isn't *that* difficult and you will be enjoying the fruit of your labor soon enough.

If you have been fertilizing with MG full strength every week, then you probably have over fertilized a bit which may be delaying fruit set. Not a huge deal, do as Al said and back off to half strength if you want to fert weekly and full strength if every other week. You should get fruit soon.

Your using 1/2 MG mix and 1/2 'cheap stuff' isn't doing your peppers any favors. Tomato and squash consume a pretty fair amount of water so they can probably take it, but peppers do best in a loose, lighter soil that drains well and spends most of it's time on the dry side of moist. This isn't possible to achieve with a heavy potting mix which the 'cheap stuff' certainly is. Instead the top few inches may dry down, but below it can be sopping wet and prevent good root health for the peppers. Again, not a huge deal, you can compensate by watering less often and using a wick if you think it necessary. (Read the links Tapla gave for more on using a wick to help plants cope with a potting mix that is too wet for plants).

Overall I think you are doing just fine and you will learn a lot before the next season starts. And I also think with a couple easy corrections (wick for peppers and reduce the fertilizer) you will have a fine crop this year too.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 11:26AM
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Thanks! I've got a wiggly babe in arms now but wanted to thank you for your advice.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 2:55PM
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