If you love zucchini, then you probably look forward to all the summer and autumn dishes you can prepare with it. Growing zucchini in your garden is easy. These plants fruit very abundantly in the right circumstances, with little care required.
Before you know it, you’ll be swimming in delicious, nutritious zucchini fruits. Let’s dig in!
Growing Zucchini Methods
Before we jump into learning about growing zucchini, you need to decide how you will grow them.
One of the greatest, most life-changing gardening tips I ever received was from my Sicilian godmother.
She taught me about growing zucchini plants vertically, instead of allowing them to spread all over the ground. This cut down on countless soil-borne pathogens, as well as insect predation. We’ll go into more detail about these issues further on.
Zucchini also do very well when grown in straw bales! This growing medium allows their roots to spread out. Furthermore, it holds onto much-needed water better than many soils do, and is less hospitable to standard soil pathogens.
Figure out how you plan to grow your plants before planting or buying any seeds. This way, you can set up your garden space long before your zuke babies are ready to go outside.
Seeds or Seedlings?
Once you’ve decided on the growing zucchini method that works for you, you’ll need to think about whether you’ll start them by seed or purchase seedlings. There are pros and cons to both, depending on what you’re looking for.
If you’re growing from seed, you’ll have a wider variety of cultivars to choose from. There are dozens of different ones to try out, ranging from yellow to gray or green, long and skinny to round and plump, etc.
If you’re in a rural location, you may only have limited access to seedling varieties instead of a smorgasbord to choose from if you go with seeds.
That said, seedlings take less effort to cultivate than seeds. Someone else has already gone through the trouble of germinating and coaxing these little gems into viable plants.
When you buy seedlings from a reputable nursery, you’ll be able to get a feel for their overall health. This is far more convenient than the crapshoot that may ensue from growing your own plants.
As an added bonus, seedlings purchased from a local nursery are likely those grown from fruits that thrived in your area in the previous season. This means that they’ve been proven to do well in your local environment! This reduces the risk of failure to thrive due to climate incompatibility.
If you decide to grow from seed, start them indoors four to six weeks before your last spring frost date. Don’t overwater them, or you may rot the seeds before they have a chance to germinate.
Alternatively, the seedlings may suffer from damping-off disease and fail to thrive.
Sun and Soil Requirements
Growing zucchini plants need a lot of sunshine. They thrive in hot summer weather, and require at least eight hours of direct sunlight per day. I grow mine in south-facing yards, where they’ll get the most abundant light throughout the growing season.
Additionally, these babies are heavy feeders. As such, they do best when planted in hills or mounds that have been amended with plenty of aged compost. The best zucchini I’ve ever grown were cultivated in Hugelkultur mounds that had more manure in them than a senate.
Aim for loamy, well-draining soil that has a pH level of around 6.5. Aged compost and manure are your best friends here, as are perlite or volcanic rock for drainage.
Zucchini plants must have adequate calcium in the soil before they flower, or else their fruits may suffer blossom end rot. We’ll go into more detail about this in the “potential problems” section below.
Watering and Feeding
Growing zucchini plants like water, but their roots don’t like to be waterlogged. As such, keep them on a regular watering schedule that allows the surrounding soil to remain slightly moist but not sodden.
Additionally, regular watering will lessen their chances of nutrient depletion and keep them growing happily as they flower and fruit.
In terms of feeding, they like to have a lot of nitrogen during their foliar cycle, plus the aforementioned calcium to help with blossom production.
During their blossoming and fruiting periods, they’ll need more potassium and phosphorous. Whether you amended the soil with compost and manure or not, your plants can absolutely benefit from nutrient boosts during the growing season.
You can either brew up some compost tea or use a high-quality 4-4-4 NPK ratio commercial fertilizer. Down to Earth makes an excellent option out of organic materials in a compostable box. Pick up a five pound box at Amazon.
Which is the Best Zucchini Cultivar for You?
If you have your heart set on growing zucchini, then you’ll need to choose the type that’s best suited to the space you have available. These plants are prolific and will spread in every direction faster than you can blink.
Furthermore, they often produce more fruits than most people know what to do with. This is why we try to give our friends and relatives zucchini whenever possible during the harvest season!
When you’re trying to decide which cultivar to grow, take two things into consideration:
- How you like to prepare your zucchini
- How much space you have available
Some zucchini fruits grow to enormous sizes, while others are quite tiny. If you only have a small garden, container, or patio to work with, then plants that sprawl 15 feet in all directions may not be ideal for you.
In contrast, if you have a large yard or homestead, you can bring out the big kids. Larger plants that produce abundant, huge fruits include ‘Fordhook,’ ‘Black Beauty‘ (my personal favorite), and even ‘Giant Zucca.’
Potential Problems, Pathogens, and Predation
As with all other plants, zucchini have issues that may arise during the growing season.
As mentioned earlier, one of the most common growing zucchini problems you’ll come across is blossom-end rot. This occurs when the plants aren’t able to draw enough calcium from the soil during the blossoming period.
Insufficient calcium uptake can be caused by depleted soil or inconsistent watering.
Be sure to water your zucchini plants on a regular schedule, and work plenty of calcium into the soil before planting your seedlings. Do a soil test beforehand, though, because most soils aren’t deficient in calcium.
If you find that your soil is deficient in calcium, work in a calcium amendment into the soil or side-dress plants if you’ve already planted. Something like calcium nitrate fertilizer will work.
Failure to Fruit
In order for growing zucchini plants to produce fruit, the blossoms need to be pollinated. This can be a problem since female flowers are only open for 24 hours and then fall over in sadness if they haven’t been fertilized.
If there aren’t enough male flowers around for pollinators to roll around in, you won’t get any fruits. You can counteract this in two ways: by cultivating a lot of plants and by hand-pollinating your female flowers.
Male flowers appear first and will go to waste if there aren’t any female ones around. You can harvest these early bad boys, stuff them, and fry them into tasty snacks. Once the female flowers appear and open up, use a soft-bristled art brush to transfer pollen from the male stamens onto the female stigmas.
Play some Barry White or Sade tunes while doing so if you think that’ll increase the chances of successful pollination.
Our guide to hand pollination will walk you through the process.
Another bane of zucchini growers is the dreaded powdery mildew. It typically makes an appearance in periods of hot, humid weather, and can quickly spread to infect your entire crop.
You can reduce the risk of powdery mildew by growing your zucchini vertically rather than letting it spread across the ground. Since the leaves and vines don’t make contact with the soil, they’re far less susceptible to soil-borne pathogens.
Additionally, prune away excess leaves so there’s plenty of air circulation and direct access to mildew-killing sunshine. Inspect your plants daily, and if you see any mildew spots on leaves, remove them and burn them immediately.
Zucchini Mosaic Virus
This is another pathogen that’ll wreak havoc on your zuke plants. If your leaves are deformed, and your fruits have blisters all over them, then you’re likely dealing with this virulent cucurbit disease.
There’s no treatment for it, nor can it be fended off effectively. If it appears, you’ll need to pull up and burn all the plants immediately. Then let that area go fallow, or don’t plant any cucurbits there for about five years.
Squash Vine Borer
It would be a vast understatement if I simply said that I detest these insects. They wreak havoc on all cucurbit species and vex countless gardeners annually. Vine borers (Melittia cucurbitae) are the larvae of a several moth species.
The adults lay eggs on the undersides of zucchini, squash, and pumpkin leaves, and once they hatch, the larvae wriggle their way into the stems to feast as they mature.
Once they’ve gorged sufficiently, leaving your plants wilted from their inability to uptake nutrients, they’ll wriggle down into the soil to pupate into their final form.
There’s no cure here, so you’ll need to burn any affected plants. Check for eggs on the undersides of leaves daily, and scrape them off into a jar of vinegar to kill them if you find any.
If all of your plants are affected, pull them all out and destroy them. Then turn the soil over to a depth of about 10 inches and let birds eat any grubs that end up exposed. Don’t plant any cucurbits there for two to three years.
In terms of predation, several years ago, I lost about half of my golden zucchini harvest to local critters, much to my abject dismay.
I’d look out the window early in the morning to see Charlotte, my resident marmot (groundhog), gnawing merrily on one while giving me the stink eye. Then, when I went to go harvest what was left, I saw that squirrels had gnawed on the best and brightest of the lot.
Growing zucchini vertically is great for lessening some predation, but the squirrels will still climb up to get to them.
A former neighbor of mine taught me a great trick for keeping all critters away from zukes, melons, and other large fruits: create individual chicken wire cages for them.
Wrap a protective band around the stem so the wire doesn’t hurt it (e.g. with a bit of masking tape or a cardboard TP roll taped into place. Then, create a chicken wire tube and fasten it around the growing fruit. You can use wire or string to keep this in place.
This way, the fruit gets plenty of sunshine and air circulation, but the critters can’t get to them. Thanks again, Mr. Zhang!
Harvesting and Storage
When harvesting your zucchini, always cut it off the stem with a sharp knife rather than twisting or tearing it off.
Even if it’s mature and “loose” enough to be twisted free, this damages the mother plant in the process. Instead, use a clean, sharp garden or kitchen knife to slice each fruit free at the base of its stem.
You can store harvested zucchini in the fridge for up to a week before it’ll start to go off. If you have an abundant harvest, chop, slice, or spiralize your zukes, blanch them briefly in boiling water (for about five to seven minutes), and then freeze them.
Your zucchini can also be used to create fritters, breads, and other baked goods, which can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.
Alternatively, you can dehydrate thin zuke slices into chips and store these in airtight containers or transform your fruits into jam, jelly, or pickles. These can then be processed via water bath canning and stored in the pantry for up to a year.
If you follow the instructions in this guide, and inspect your plants daily to ensure their health and wellbeing, you’re far more likely to have a healthy, abundant zucchini harvest next season. Happy growing!