by Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever heard of chayote squash?
It isn’t a vegetable found on many grocery store shelves. In fact, chayote is technically a fruit. Since it’s prepared as a vegetable, we’ll address it as such in this article.
Chayote belongs to the gourd family. It also has a unique flavor profile which is a cross between a cucumber and summer squash with a slight nuttiness to it.
Are you interested in trying this unique produce? If you’d like to grow something new and fascinating, don’t skip over chayote. I’m going to fill you in on all you should know to grow this easy-to-produce vegetable.
Here’s how you can go about growing chayote around your home or garden.
Growing Conditions for Chayote
Chayote is a warm weather crop. Therefore, it will need 150 days free of frost to reach its full potential at harvest.
This vegetable grows on a vine and produces pear-shaped fruit. You can eat almost every part of the plant including the root, leaves, and fruit.
It’s important to ensure you plant chayote where it will thrive. This plant needs full sun and loose, well-draining soil.
Chayote can grow in partial shade. However, it will have a negative impact on the harvest of this crop. It’s also important to note that chayote can’t grow in every planting zone.
As you can probably imagine, there are some planting zones which don’t receive 150 frost-free days in a year.
For this reason, chayote grows best in planting zones seven and higher. It can only overwinter in planting zones eight and higher. Even in planting zone eight, chayote is considered a tender perennial.
Take all of this into account before adding chayote to your growing space. However, if you can supply the necessary growing conditions, you could be well on your way to enjoying a new vegetable at harvest time.
How to Plant Chayote
Planting chayote is a unique experience. You won’t start with a pack of seeds as you would other crops. Instead, you must start with an entire fruit.
Chayote seeds germinate best inside the mature fruit from an established plant. Therefore, you’ll plant the entire chayote squash in the ground. You don’t need to order the produce from a special shop.
Instead, if you can find a local grocer who sells chayote, you may purchase one straight from the shelf. Do try to find a squash that has a tougher skin. This will benefit you during the planting process.
Once the chayote is purchased, don’t plant it immediately. Instead, leave it on the counter, in full sun, for a few weeks.
During this time, the squash should produce a sprout. Wait until it’s approximately a half foot in length before planting.
When your chayote is ready to plant, ensure all threat of frost is over and the weather is warm. You want the temperatures to be in the mid-80’s at the time of planting. This typically occurs about a month after the last frost date.
At the appropriate time, dig a hole that’s about a half foot deep. Amend the soil prior to planting. Place the rounded end of the chayote into the hole first.
Plant the squash at an angle, and ensure the pointed end, with the sprout, is at soil level. This way, when you cover the planted chayote, the sprout will be the only thing protruding from the ground.
If you’re growing multiple plants, ensure you leave ten feet of space between each of them.
After your chayote is in the ground, water it on occasion. It’s recommended to grow chayote in full sun because it not only helps your harvest, but it will also protect the plant while it grows.
Chayote is susceptible to rot. Therefore, if it’s watered only when it’s dry and planted in a sunny location, there’s less chance of rotting.
Wait until three true leaves form on the sprout of the chayote, after the time of planting. When this occurs, pinch the end of the sprout to create the first true branch of the new plant.
If you’d prefer to grow chayote in a container, especially if you live in one of the lower recommended planting zones, you may.
Your container should be two feet deep. Otherwise, you’ll plant the chayote the exact way as mentioned above.
Growing chayote in a container will prove helpful if there’s a dip in temperatures prior to harvest. You can move the plant indoors and save it from harsh conditions.
Hopefully these tips will prepare you to plant your chayote successfully and get the growing process started on the right foot.
Caring for Chayote
As in-depth of a process as it is to plant chayote, oddly, it isn’t nearly as in-depth to care for it. If you can water, fertilize, trellis, and mulch this plant, it should do fine in your care.
Let’s discuss the details of what chayote needs from you when growing in your garden. To begin, it’s recommended to water chayote deeply.
This requires you to water the plant for longer periods of time, fewer days of the week. In watering your chayote this way, you’re encouraging the plant to develop stronger root systems.
As the days progress, and the plant doesn’t receive any additional water, the roots will begin searching for more moisture in the ground around them.
Therefore, they dig deeper and ultimately form a stronger root system. You’ll know it’s time to add more water by testing the soil with your fingers.
Insert your finger into the soil around the chayote. If it’s damp to the first knuckle, it isn’t time to water again. If not, add more water.
After you get the hang of watering this plant, it’s time to discuss how to keep it fed.
Chayote plants should be fertilized one time per month. Halfway through the growing season, you should also side dress your plants with more compost. This will ensure they have all they need to prosper during the growing season.
It’s also important that you place a trellis behind your chayote. This is a vining plant which will sprawl out and take up a lot of room if not contained.
Not to mention, if you leave chayote squash resting on the ground, it could lead to rot. Therefore, it’s wise to use a sturdy structure to support this plant. You can do this whether planted in a container or in the ground.
The final thing you must do to care for chayote is mulch. This is important for two reasons. First, the mulch can help the plant retain moisture.
It can also protect it when the temperatures drop. For instance, if you live in planting zone eight (where chayote is a tender perennial) it would be useful to cover the plant with mulch to protect it from freezing during the cooler portions of the year.
By taking these few steps, your chayote should be healthier for it. In turn, you should also receive a better harvest.
Garden Pests and Diseases Which Impact Chayote
Now that we know that chayote is an easy plant to care for, it should thrill you even more that it doesn’t have many enemies.
In fact, there are no diseases which typically attack chayote. However, they are threatened by aphids. You can treat this pest with an insecticide.
It’s also useful to spray your plants, forcefully, with a water hose. By staying on top of an aphid infestation, you’re doing what’s typically needed to keep your chayote plants healthy and productive.
How to Harvest Chayote
The final step in raising chayote is harvesting. When the fruit is approximately six inches wide, it might be nearing the time of harvest.
Press your fingernail into the skin, and if it feels tender, you’re ready to begin harvesting the fruit of the plant.
Don’t pull the fruit from the vine. Instead, use a sharp knife to remove each squash and be sure to leave a small stem.
This will ensure you don’t cut into the flesh which should help the chayote last longer once removed from the plant.
Once you’ve harvested the fruit, it’s important to store them correctly. Chayote can’t handle extremely cold temperatures or it will damage your harvest.
Instead, if you have a fridge that you can control the temperatures, set a portion of the appliance to be around 50-degrees Fahrenheit.
You should also store chayote in a sealed container or bag to keep the humidity levels up around the harvest.
By storing chayote squash using this method, they should last approximately thirty days from the time of harvest.
If you’ve ever considered raising chayote, you should now be prepared to try it. You have all the information needed to create the right growing conditions and care for maturing plants as well.
Use this information to expand your culinary horizons. By growing a unique product in your garden, you could create a plethora of delicious meals and potentially find a new favorite food. Give it a try and add chayote to your garden the next growing season.