Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

How to Grow Chayote Squash

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 10, 2020

What is a chayote squash, you ask? Bright green, spiny, pear-shaped chayote squash may just be a new reliable staple crop for BC coastal gardens.

A green pear-shaped spiny chayote squash hangs on the vine. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash

What makes chayote squash so unusual is that it has a mild taste like a summer squash and the texture of a cucumber, but is able to withstand cool fall temperatures. In maritime south coast British Columbia, chayote squash is hardy on the vine until early November.

Chayote Squash—Ancient Crop

Chayote squash typically grows as a perennial in tropical and subtropical climates, but is now adapting to northern locales as an annual. This bright green pear-shaped squash has long been cultivated throughout Mexico, Central and South America. The Aztecs called them chayotli. Other names include mirliton (Caribbean), choko, or custard marrow. In the southern U.S., some people call them vegetable pears.

How to Grow Chayote Squash

Chayote squash vines on a trellis. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash vines grow vigorously and require a sturdy trellis.

Chayote squash is easy to grow. This fast-growing vine is very productive, which makes it a perfect staple crop. Vines can grow 6 to 9 metres (20 to 30 feet) in a season, and produce as many as 50 to 100 squash per plant.

Chayote can grow as an annual as far north as plant hardiness zone 7. In zones 8 and warmer, it will overwinter if you cut the vine to ground level and apply heavy mulch. Chayote has a 150 day growing season between hard frosts.

—> To find your zone, visit Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones or US Plant Hardiness Zones.

The seed of the chayote squash is viviparous, which means it sprouts while still inside the fruit. So, unlike most garden squashes that grow in our area, you will need to plant the entire fruit, not just the seed.

Planting Chayote Squash from Seed

Start with two whole unblemished squash (often available from Asian markets). Put them in a cool, dry, dark place, such as a cupboard, and wait until they sprout (about 3–5 weeks). Continue to store them in the dark until the sprouts are about 5–8 cm (2–3 inches) long.

A chayote sqaush sends out a shoot from its seed inside the fruit. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash sprouts from inside the fruit. To start a new plant, you need to plant the entire fruit.

Now, place the entire fruit in a pot with the sprout facing upwards out of the soil. Set the pot in a warm, sunny place indoors and water it. Chayote squash does not like excessive water. Let the top of the soil dry out between waterings.

In May, once the weather is well above freezing, plant the squash outside. Amend the soil with manure or compost, and situate the chayote squash in full sun. Space the plants about 3 metres (10 feet) apart. Chayote will grow into a large vine, so it needs a sturdy trellis with overhead space for hanging fruit. The vine will grow all summer before it blossoms.

Once outdoors, chayote squash needs about 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water per week. Allow the top of the soil to dry completely before watering again. Chayote plants are very susceptible to rotting. Rather than watering frequently, they do best with a deep, even watering every one to two weeks.

When to Harvest Chayote Squash

Two spiny green pear-shaped chayote squash hang from the vine. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash on the vine.

In our south coast British Columbian maritime climate, chayote squash usually flowers around the beginning of September. From flower to fruit, it needs about a month of frost-free weather. Harvest the fruits in October and early November (before hard frost).

Chayote plants are cold hardy down to 0º C (32 F). Let your vines to grow until the first hard frost damages the leaves. Light frost kills the leaves, but not the roots or the fruit. Hard frost finishes off the entire plant—roots and fruit.

We’ve found that the roots do not survive the winter in south coast BC. Here, treat chayote as an annual and start your new plants indoors each spring. In areas without hard frosts, chayote roots can stay alive through the winter. If you live in a frost-free zone, mulch them heavily and look for them to send up new shoots the following spring.

Stored in a cool, dry place, the chayote squash harvest will last well into winter and provide delicious eating.



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7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2023 September 15
    SeaTac Gardner permalink

    Our family has been growing both the dark green smooth skin and dark green spiky skin for over 10 years. We got our original chayote plant from California. Do not try to grow the imported chayotes from the supermarket. They will never have enough time to flower and fruit, so it would be very disappointing to see them grow healthy vines but no flowers. I highly recommend buying from a local seller in your area.

    We pot our chayotes up indoors in February and plant them outside in the ground at the end of April. We usually get flowers by early August and harvesting from end of August until frost. They are heavy feeders, so you will need to apply compost every 3-4 weeks to ensure continuous harvest. So far, we have harvested 60 chayotes from 3 plants. We have about 100 big and small chayotes on the trellis.

    When frost hits, we harvest all chayotes and cut the vines down to ground level. We apply heavy mulch and cover with a large cardboard box. The plant will grow back next spring if the roots don’t rot, so your soil has to be in a dry spot. My parent’s plants are about 8 years old. My plants die each year due to my compact and wet soil, so I have to start new ones each spring. Check out your local Facebook Marketplace for chayotes to grow for next spring.

    Located in Washington 98168 Zone 8b

  2. 2022 May 6
    Marie permalink

    I am in Lynn, Massachusetts and I tried it last year. It grows just like a summer squash and vines everywhere, but never flowered or grow fruits. I am trying again this year and see. Mwen

    • 2022 May 10
      David permalink

      I had chayote last 2 years in Fairfax, VA. I had plenty of fruits at the end of season around October. you can also eat the young stems of the vines. It is actually one of the favorite vegetables in Taiwan, China and Vietnam. We cook them with shrimps and mushrooms just as you cook with green beans. Those chayote with lots of spines (just as the picture on this article) last longer to the winter season than those without spines. Good luck!

  3. 2022 March 5
    Here in Zimbabwe, Africa, we grow it in our home yard garden, we call it Chuchu, the leaves taste just like pumpkin leaves. permalink

    Great fruit, can be mixed with any relish dish.

  4. 2021 October 7
    jin il kim permalink

    I’m living near by Toronto ON.CANADA.
    I tried to grow Chayote Squash and it grew about
    3m long, But never blooming and no chayote squash at all.Could you tell me why?

    • 2021 October 7
      BC Farms & Food permalink

      We’ve seen this happen on the west coast as well. It appears that some Chayote squash varieties are not yet adapted to our colder climate. Chayote often comes from warmer places like Mexico, where the growing season extends much longer. Look for a local source of chayote, from someone already growing it in your area, and start your plants from that. In south coast BC, we’ve had good success with the spiny varieties.

    • 2022 April 1
      Sherene permalink

      I believe I know the answer to your question. I am also in the Toronto area. I tried chayote for the first time last summer And was successful – to a point. I planted 2 varieties. The prickly one which I bought from an Filipino vendor on kijiji bore lots of fruit where I could sell some. I bought the smooth skin variety from the supermarket and started from germination . They both started out well. Filled up the area they were trellised on. But only the ones with the prickly exterior flowered and bear an abundance of fruit. The smooth skin one never flowered. I learnt from my Filipino friend that the smooth skin one will never bear fruit in Toronto. Its not the right weather conditions for that variety. If you want the one that will grow in Toronto, and the taste is the same, you can find it from the same person I bought from on kijiji by just searching for “chayote”. You will be happy if you follow his instructions. Good look.

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