Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) typically produces fruit on a compact bush plant, while winter squash (Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita moschata) can be either vining or bush, depending on the cultivar. All prefer full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8. The appearance of the fruit of a bush and a vining variety of the same type of squash does not vary, but the amount of fruit it produces and the appearance of the vine does.
Bush squash generally yield vines that spread to 3 feet and produce squash near the base of the plant. These compact plants are ideal for gardeners with limited space as they typically produce well in a small space. Bush varieties are also well-suited for container or raised bed gardens. Because the vine is short, the fruit can be found easily, making harvesting bush varieties easier than harvesting vining varieties.
Vining squash produce long sprawling vines that may reach lengths of 15 feet or more. These squash plants produces fruit along the entire length of the vine. While the size of the fruit is typically the same as the size of the same type of squash grown on a bush variety, the vining plant generally produces a higher yield. The vines of vining squash sprawl across the garden or climb trellises.
Summer squash includes zucchini, patty pan, yellow crookneck and straight neck squash. These squash are harvested when they are small, and eaten steamed, stir-fried, raw, or added to casseroles and other dishes. Summer squash grows on a non-vining plant. The fruit has a thin skin and cannot be kept in winter storage. Seedlings or seeds labeled as summer squash or zucchini produce a short, compact plant that spreads to approximately 2 to 3 feet and are referred to as bush varieties.
Winter squash includes a variety of hard-shelled squash that are used in making pies and desserts, or eaten cooked and mashed as side dish. Winter squash, such as buttercup and butternut squash, may grow on either long vines or a compact bush plant, depending on the cultivar. Seedlings and seeds are labeled with the term "bush" if they produce a non-vining plant. If the term bush is not indicated on the label, the squash plants will produce vines at least 5 to 6 feet long.
Identifying seedlings as bush or vining squash is difficult as the foliage is similar on all squash. As they mature, watch for the emergence of tiny green tendrils or side vines that begin to emerge. These indicate the plant is developing vines, and needs room to grow or a trellis to climb. Note the location of the first blooms if you are still unsure. Bush-type plants produce blooms at the base of the plant, while vining varieties produce blooms along the vine.