Pumpkins and squash come in an array of colours, shapes and sizes. Read on to learn more about the edible and ornamental varieties available to grow here in the UK.
Although perhaps most popular around Halloween for carving, pumpkins and squashes (Cucurbita) are available all year round and in many edible and ornamental forms. The different types of pumpkins, squashes and gourds are all members of the Cucurbitaceae family and squashes can be further separated into summer and winter types. However, some cucurbits are poisonous, such as gourds, which have minimal flesh and should not be eaten.
Squash varieties: edible types of squash
Edible pumpkins and winter squash varieties are generally ready to harvest in the autumn. Find out all about harvesting pumpkins in our dedicated article. There are many ways to use pumpkin and squash in the kitchen, for example, you can simply roast them or use them for making warming and nutritious soups. However, winter squashes should not be confused with summer squashes, which include courgettes and patty pans (Cucurbita pepo). Below are our favourite types of squash to grow for eating.
A subspecies of squash, Cucurbita moschata are available in a wonderful range of colours and shapes. From yellow to green and even blue, Cucurbita moschata are both decorative and edible. The butternut squash is perhaps the most widely known and grown example of Cucurbita moschata.
- ‘Autumn Crown’: small round semi-flat ribbed fruits, weighing 1.5 to 2kg. Deep orange flesh with a butternut-coloured skin. Early-ripening. Sweet flavour with a melon-like aroma.
- ‘Crown Prince’: small round semi-flat fruits, weighing 2 to 4kg. Striking blue-grey skin. Bright orange flesh with a sweet, yet nutty flavour. Stores well. Has received the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
- ‘Futsu Black’: small round ribbed fruits, weighing 1 to 3kg. Intense black skin ripens to orange-brown. Creamy and nutty flesh. Stores well when fully ripe.
- ‘Harrier’ F1: British-bred butternut squash hybrid. Smaller fruits, weighing around 800g. Early ripening. Stores well.
- ‘Muscade de Provence’: large round semi-flat fruits, weighing 5 to 10kg. Green skin that turns brown as it matures. Excellent flavour that is sweet, yet slightly spicy. Stores well.
- ‘Waltham Butternut’: typical butternut squash shape, weighing 1.5 to 2.5kg. Smooth tan skin protects its slightly sweet orange flesh. Stores well over winter.
Cucurbita pepo includes some summer squash and the familiar pumpkins we associate with Halloween traditions. Here are some of the commonly available Cucurbita pepo cultivars you can grow at home:
- ‘Baby Bear’ F1: a small globe shaped pumpkin with 6 to 8 fruits per plant. Pumpkins weigh around 1.5kg each. Bright orange flesh and skin with a sweet flavour.
- ‘Cornell’s Bush Delicata’: elongated cream and green striped fruits, weighing 0.5 to 1kg. Pale flesh with a nutty and sweet flavour.
- ‘Jack Be Little’: miniature orange pumpkins around 8cm in diameter. Ideal for stuffing and baking with minimal waste.
- ‘Jack O’ Lantern’: a classic Halloween pumpkin that is ideal for carving. Fruits weigh around 4 to 7kg. Light orange skin with a pale flesh that is good for soup.
- ‘Rocket’ F1: large pumpkins with bright orange ribbed skin. Can weigh around 5 to 9kg. Fruits store well if fully ripened before harvesting.
The Cucurbita maxima group of squash contains some of the most ornate cultivars as well as some of the largest. Here is a selection of Cucurbita maxima cultivars to grow:
- ‘Atlantic Giant’: enormous orange fruits that can weigh up to 300kg. Tasty flesh is ideal for soups.
- ‘Buttercup’: slightly flattened round shaped fruits that are dark green and weigh up to 1.5kg. Firm flesh with a sweet flavour. Popular for making pumpkin pies.
- ‘Little Gem’: small dark green fruits which can weigh 1 to 2kg. Heavy cropping. Pale flesh with a high sugar content makes for a sweet flavour.
- ‘Red Kuri’: deep orange-red drop-shaped fruits that weigh 1.5 to 3kg. Also known as the Hokkaido pumpkin. Flesh is golden with a nutty and sweet taste. Stores well.
- ‘Sunshine’: round orange-red fruits weighing 1 to 2kg. The pale yellow squash flesh has a sweet and nutty flavour.
- ‘Turk’s Turban’: flattened form with an orange lower layer and green streaked ‘hat’. One of the most ornamental squash available. Nutty flavour.
Tip: squashes and pumpkins are hungry plants. Along with a fertile soil, they benefit from being fertilised with a high potassium feed when the fruits begin to swell. Our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food is potassium-rich, providing squashes with the nutrients they need for fruiting. It is easy to apply when watering.
Ornamental pumpkin and squash varieties
Some pumpkins and squashes are purely grown for decorative reasons and are called gourds. Gourds are often known for their weird or warty appearance and can be painted or even varnished to help preserve them. However, with little flesh to eat, some are also inedible and should not be consumed.
As previously mentioned, some Cucurbita varieties are not only edible but can be delicious. However, there are some types that should not be eaten and are only used for ornamental purposes. These gourds are often sold as mixed packets of Cucurbita pepo and you can sow them in the same way you would normally plant pumpkins. Mixes often contain a diverse selection of crown, drop, dumpling, warty and winged shapes in an array of colours including green, orange and white.
Tip: as well as being fertilised, squash require a rich and fertile soil to perform well. Our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost is ideal for growing pumpkins and squashes as it contains the essential nutrients to encourage a good harvest and being peat-free is environmentally friendly.
- Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
- For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Poisonous types of squash and pumpkin
Some gourds should not be eaten as they contain bitter-tasting cucurbitacins, which can be toxic and cause nausea and vomiting. Along with these inedible gourds, some squashes can also develop a bitter taste through cross-contamination or plant stress and should not be eaten for the same reason. If you discover that your squash is bitter, you should discard and not consume it.
To get your prize fruits ready to harvest before winter arrives, you will want to care for pumpkins and squash correctly, which you can read more about in our expert article.