Signs That It's The Perfect Time To Pick Summer Squash For A Delicious Harvest

Summer squash plants are prolific producers that will reward you with squash all summer long. You can even plant them in the middle of summer and still get a bountiful harvest. However, you'll need to know when to pick summer squash to get the most out of your plant. Harvesting too late can cause the plant to decline and become less productive. Depending on how many plants you're growing, you'll likely have some ready to harvest almost daily. You'll know squash are ready when you can nick the skin with your fingernail, and when they're 3 to 10 inches long (depending on their variety) — more on that later. 

Since you'll be harvesting squash nearly every day, it's important that you practice good hygiene in the garden. Don't pick wet plants since water can transmit diseases. Removing fruit from the plant will create an open wound; if a water-carrying disease makes its way in, you'll have a sick plant. Be sure to use clean shears for similar reasons. When you harvest the squash, leave at least 1 inch of the vine on the fruit to help it store longer in the fridge. 

Pick summer squash when they're the right size

Summer squash comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are long and slender while others are short and squatty. They can be curvy, straight, spherical, or shaped like a spinning top. You'll need to research your squash variety to know when to pick it, otherwise, you might let it get too mature while you wait for it to get bigger.

Most types of squash are ready to harvest 40-50 days after planting. Patty Pan squash, the short and round kind, is typically ready when it's 3-4 inches in diameter. Because these are so short, you'll need to watch the width rather than length. Long varieties like crookneck squash should be 6-8 inches long. Ideally, they should be 2 inches in diameter. Some longer varieties like zucchini can get up to 10 inches long and still be a good size for harvesting. If you're ever unsure when to harvest, it's always better to get them when they're on the smaller side.

Pick summer squash when they're the right tenderness

One of the differences between growing winter and summer squash is that summer squash is picked early while it's still tender and developing. When the fruit is allowed to mature, the plant will produce less and less until it dies off. Mature summer squash becomes tough and hard to eat, so allowing them to mature fully is a lose-lose situation for you and the plant. You can use the tenderness of the fruit to determine when you should harvest in addition to the size. Your fingernail should be able to poke through the skin with very little force. If it can, then you know it's ready to harvest and enjoy.

If you can't poke your fingernail into the skin, then the fruit is too mature. Pick the squash from the plant immediately so it doesn't slow down production. You may be able to use overly matured squash in baked goods or recipes where you stuff them, but the fruit could still be too tough to eat. If the seeds have hardened, you likely won't be able to enjoy it.