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Know the Differences Between Summer, Winter Squash

Summer and winter squash are the two main categories of squash.

Summer squash, such as zucchini, are harvested in the summer when the plant is still immature. It has a thin skin that can be eaten. Winter squash has thick skin usually considered to be inedible. Types of winter squash include pumpkins, butternut squash and spaghetti squash.

The name winter squash can be deceiving because they actually are harvested in the fall. They are called winter squash because these plants have a long shelf life and can survive for weeks or months if stored in a cool, dry place. They store well during the cold winter months.

Summer squash are very prolific plants, and once you start picking them, you will be outside picking more every day. They do not tolerate frost well, however, so pick everything before the first frost arrives.

Winter squash usually are ready to be harvested in late September or October. They have a much longer growing season because they need to reach full maturity before being picked.

While summer squash should be eaten within a few days after harvest, winter squash has a much longer shelf life. Acorn squash is the exception to this, only lasting for a couple of weeks.

Botanically speaking, squash are a fruit, but they are used on a menu as a vegetable.

Summer squash are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamins B2s and B6. Eating squash can help improve digestion, lower blood sugar levels, support a healthy heart, and protect against oxidation and inflammation.

While summer squash also are a good source of vitamin A, winter squash have an even higher amount of the vitamin due to their large amount of carotenoids. Vitamin A promotes skin and eye health.

Winter squash also is high in fiber and vitamin C, similar to summer squash. The seeds in a winter squash also are especially high in vitamin E, which is a very powerful antioxidant.

For more information on safely growing, processing and selling squash and other specialty crops in North Dakota, visit NDSU Extension’s Field to Fork website at



Abigail Glaser, NDSU dietetics and management communication student

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist

Staughton, J. (Jan. 27, 2020). 7 Amazing Benefits of Squash. Retrieved from

What's the difference between summer and winter squash, anyway? (July 29, 2017). Retrieved from

This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 14-SCBGP-ND-0038. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

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