Squishy squash? Water might be your problem

I brought in a crookneck squash to the nursery and explained how half of the squash that started on my plant this season seemed fine, but then the ends turned mushy and completely decayed. Last year, I thought it might be the ants that were enjoying my squash. This year I don’t have any ants that I can see. Do you have any thoughts on what is happening?

— Brenda

Summer squash softening and rotting is usually from one of two things. Far, far, far and away the most common are watering issues. If the soil dries out too much between irrigations, or if it stays too wet, it interferes with root function and water uptake and the plant will pull water from the fruit, resulting in soft squash.

Do a little poking around down in the soil to check soil moisture. Make sure that it’s soaked deeply (8-12 inches) when you do water, then allow the soil to dry slightly before soaking it well again.

To check that, dig down 3 or 4 inches and feel the soil at that depth. There should still be moisture down there (if there isn’t, you need to be watering more often), but there should also be some significant dryness as well.

There should be enough moisture to hold it together, but it should be on the verge of being too dry to stick together.

One thing that I’ve found helps this is to put a 2- to 3-inch-deep mulch layer on top of the ground around your plants. It should be a coarse, fluffy material like chopped leaves, straw, wood chips or cedar mulch.

It helps cut down moisture loss from evaporation so you don’t have to water as often, which means you probably will have to adjust your watering schedule.

In addition to evening out soil moisture, it helps to prevent weeds in the garden and moderates soil and root temperatures.

The second possibility is squash bugs. If they become numerous enough, they can begin feeding on the fruit, resulting in soft fruit.

However, they’re also causing lots of damage to the plant itself, which is what clues most people in to the problem well before the fruit starts looking like this.

What is the best fertilizer to use on rhubarb, and when should it be put on the plant? My mother always said chicken manure was best, and I used to get it from a couple who raised chickens. They have since moved and I have been buying regular manure, but this past year the plant did not do as well as in previous years.

— Donna

 

The primary nutrient your rhubarb needs is nitrogen. You can do it organically like you have been with the chicken manure.

If that’s what you’d like to stay with, there are several commercial products on the market. If you want to consider a commercial fertilizer, choose a high-nitrogen, slow-release product. Depending on the formulation, one of these will give a nice, even fertilizing to the plant for six to 12 weeks.

I like to do most fertilizing in the spring when the plant starts to push out new growth and you have water available to soak things in after applying it.

Depending on the age of your plants, it may be time for you to consider digging them up and dividing them. Older plants often start to peter out over time, and dividing gives them a new lease on life.

It’s a bit early, I think, to do that; wait until mid- to late October. Dig up the plant and cut the clump into several smaller pieces. Rework the soil by mixing in some compost or soil pep and replant them, spacing them out so they have room to grow.

It may cut down on your harvest a bit next year, but it’s worth doing in the long run.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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