Growing and caring for citron squash (Cucurbita ficifolia)

The Cucurbitaceae family of plants ( cucurbits) provides us with a large number of species with highly demanded edible fruits such as pumpkin, melon, watermelon or cucumber, among others. We also find lesser-known plants that produce equally edible fruits, such as the Cucurbita ficifolia squash .

These types of plants are very common in South America, place of origin and highest consumption. Traditional varieties are still preserved as the first day or have been naturally improved through crosses.

The popularity of this pumpkin known as chilacayote , among other names, is due to the ease of its cultivation even in conditions of lack of water. However, on a nutritional level, it gives us properties very similar to the best-known and globalized fruits of this family of plants.


It is scientifically known as  Cucurbita ficifolia, being a cucurbit cultivated for its edible fruits and which is of some importance, especially in some South American countries. The pumpkin angel hair , as it is also known, is grown in colder areas with less water availability , where high yields of melon, watermelon or cucumber can not get, because they need higher temperature and water consumption.

Common names: cider squash, chilacayote, angel hair squash, lacayote.

Within the morphological characteristics of the plant, it is recognized as a climbing species  that produces large fruits (they can exceed 30 cm in length and several kg in weight), yellow flowers and dark brown seeds.

The current uses of Cucurbita ficifolia  are based almost entirely on food, also taking advantage of the green parts (leaves and stems) for animal forage. It is common to use this plant as a standard, since it gives greater tolerance to soils with lower temperatures and higher production.



All cucurbit species and, specifically, Cucurbita ficifolia,  are used to hot climates, with a temperature regime above 15 ºC, humid and tropical zones.

This plant needs warm temperatures and environmental humidity above 70% to be in full production conditions. The ideal temperature is between 18ºC and 25ºC.

Regarding  lighting, it  needs a lot of light, but it tries to protect from direct sun to avoid burns on the leaves and to reduce the environmental humidity in the leaf area.


Cucurbita ficifolia  is used to growing in areas with fertile , humid, well-drained and fertile-type soils . It is very important to have a good supply of organic matter (between 3 and 4 kg / m2), maintaining constant humidity and avoiding puddles.

The ideal pH is slightly acidic, with full availability of micronutrients, with a loamy or sandy loam texture.


It is necessary to maintain constant moisture in the soil throughout the growing period, especially during fruit production. The waterings must be frequent and with a sufficient periodicity to prevent the soil from drying out between watering and watering.

Basically it is to maintain a field capacity throughout its growth stage, avoiding at all times that water accumulates and promoting good drainage.

Irrigation of 30 to 40 minutes and contributions of 2 to 3 L / m2 in hot conditions and in adult plants.


Cucurbita ficifolia,  like the rest of cucurbit plants, is demanding in nutrients throughout its entire period. This climbing plant produces many shoots and leaves and large-caliber fruits, so it demands a high demand for nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium or calcium, among others.

It is important to fertilize throughout the development period and provide organic matter to improve the soil characteristics. In general, 3 to 4 kg / m2 every 2 or 3 years.

If we apply conventional fertilizers, a suggestion of application by irrigation can be the following:

  • 1.5-2 kg / 1000 m2 calcium nitrate
  • 2-2.5 kg / 1000 m2 of potassium nitrate
  • 0.75-1 kg / 1000 m2 monoammonium phosphate


The easiest way to multiply Cucurbita ficifolia  is through seed multiplication. As with melon, cucumber or watermelon, it is sown in pots or seedlings with coconut fiber substrate and in warm temperatures (18 ºC-22 ºC).


Citron squash is a climbing species . It can be grown in a creeping way, like melon or watermelon, or raised by stakes, as is the case with cucumber. If we have a very humid soil, it is best to use stakes, although the easiest way to plant it is directly in the ground, being able to place a protective mulch of straw or litter.



Common pests of citron squash are common in the cucurbit family. It is common for it to be affected, especially in hot weather conditions, by the following insects:

  • Aphids : they  are located on the top of the plant or new shoots, sucking the sap and weakening the plant.
  • Thrips: they  are located in the flowers and damage the freshly set fruits.
  • Whitefly :  small, white-looking flying insects located on the underside of the leaf that suck the sap.
  • Mites:  appear in conditions of low humidity and high temperatures (> 25 ºC).

All these pests require foliar treatments, being able to use ecological solutions such as potassium soap or natural pyrethrins.

As the same insects affect it as the cucumber crop, you can take a look at our article on integrated control in cucumber .


In very waterlogged soils with drainage problems (usually soils rich in clay), neck diseases, soft rot or Phytophthora are common . In areas with high humidity, the plant can suffer attacks of mildew, botrytis and gray rot.

To treat these diseases in an ecological way, copper-based solutions such as copper oxychloride or copper hydroxide can be used .

If there is a lot of humidity, the conditions can be met for bacteria to appear that affect the leaves and can kill the plant. This is the case of Erwinia or  Pseudomonas,  among others.

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