I’m not going to sugar-coat this here: gardening can be a bit traumatic, even devastating at times. We pour so much love and energy into planting and tending our plant babies, only for tragedy to strike.
For example, zucchini plants might be fine one day and be bereft of fruits or flowers the next. If your zucchini fruits are falling off, that might be enough to leave you crying in the dirt for a while.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is happening.
1. Poor Pollination
The entire point of a plant’s flowering and fruiting cycle is to continue its lineage. Namely, to pass on its DNA to ensure that there are plenty of future baby plants.
If a plant’s flower hasn’t been pollinated properly, then there may be a problem with the fruit. For example, it might start growing well but it doesn’t develop internal seeds.
If this is the case, then the plant will instinctively know that this fruit won’t carry on its genetic material. As a result, it’ll choose to abort the fruit by dropping it. Quite simply, it won’t put the energy and time into growing a fruit that won’t be fertile in turn.
To counteract this issue, make sure that you cultivate your zukes with plenty of beneficial flowering plants as companions. Nasturtiums, dill, borage, and yarrow are ideal because they’ll attract pollinators while fending off unwanted insects. This will increase pollination significantly while reducing the pest population.
As a last resort, you can always get down and dirty and pollinate the flowers yourself. Just get a clean paintbrush and transfer pollen from the male flowers’ anthers onto the females’ stigmas.
2. Calcium Deficiency
If your soil doesn’t have enough calcium in it, your fruiting plants can end up with blossom end rot. What happens is that the bottom end of the fruit (where the blossom drops off) doesn’t heal properly after it releases the bloom. As such, that area on the fruit ends up decomposing. This causes the entire fruit to die from the bottom up.
When and if blossom end rot shows up, the parent plant will drop the affected fruits. This way, the rot won’t seep up into the branches and kill the mother plant.
The best way to avoid this issue is to ensure proper calcium content before the plant flowers. Once the flowers develop, it’s too late to save the fruits. You’ll notice that your zucchini fruits are falling off as soon as they start to form.
Should you discover blossom end rot in any of your fruits, remove them all, along with any existing flowers.
You can’t just go adding calcium, however. Many times the soil already has enough calcium but the plant can’t access it because the roots aren’t receiving consistent water. Before you can fix the problem, you need to make sure you’re irrigating regularly.
Then amend your soil with calcium.
Once a new set of flowers develop, they’ll be able to draw up enough calcium to form healthy fruits.
Are your zucchini plants getting at least eight hours of direct sunlight? How about enough water? Or maybe they’re getting too much water?
Have there been unusual temperature fluctuations recently? Or are you growing your zukes in containers?
Zucchini plants that experience stress will often drop their fruits in an attempt to survive. Furthermore, it’s quite easy for zukes to experience stress, as they’re fussier than many other Cucurbitaceae family members.
They need full sun, just the right amount of water, and enough space to stretch their roots. If they don’t get all of these factors, they’ll have “oh HELL no” moments and throw their fruits to the ground in fits of pique.
Check the soil around your plants on a daily basis to determine the water levels. If the soil feels dry, give them a good soak. Alternatively, if it feels saturated with water, let it dry out a little bit.
Additionally, remember to always water your zukes at ground level. If you water from above, you run the risk of creating environments ideal for powdery mildew to take hold.
4. Insect Activity
Squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and squash vine borers can all wreak havoc on your zucchini plants. If they have damaged the stems, for example, they might weaken to a point that the fruits cause them to break. As such, it’s not that the zucchini fruits are falling off per se, but that their stems are snapping.
Similarly, if squash vine borers have done too much damage to the vines and roots, the plants may drop their fruits. They’re simply too sick (and tired) to be able to keep channeling nutrients into fruit development. All their energy is going into staying alive.
You can pick squash bugs and beetles off leaves and drop them into soapy water. Neem oil is a great insecticide for fending these jerks off. As for vine borers, check the zuke stems to see if you can find their holes. If so, you can cut them out and drown them.
Neem can protect against these too, as can other protective measures. For example, you can trap them in yellow bowls of soapy water. This is because they’re attracted to the color yellow (as in squash flowers), and will drown themselves rather enthusiastically.
5. Animal Pests
Your zuke fruits might not be falling off per se. Instead, they might be knocked off by nocturnal visitors.
While small mammals like squirrels and mice can damage young plants, larger ones can cause real damage in the garden. We have a lot of raccoons out here, and I’ve lost tons of produce to their grabby little hands. Similarly, if deer or larger animals decide to wade through your vines, they might knock fruits off left, right, and center.
Deter herbivores by planting alliums around the periphery of your beds. You can also scatter carnivore poop around the area to fend them off. As for raccoons and foxes, your best bet to keep them away from your zukes is to fence off your grow beds.
6. Insufficient Support for Heavy Fruits
Some zucchini fruits get much larger than others. I once missed a ‘Cocozelle’ zucchini beneath heavy foliage and it grew to 15-inches long with a five-inch diameter! If your zucchini fruits are falling off, it’s possible that they’ve gotten too heavy for the vines to support them.
Offer your zukes additional support from above, if possible. The technique my grandmother taught me was to create slings from them made from old pantyhose. This might look a bit funky in the garden, but it works effectively well. Essentially, you’re aiming to lessen stress on the vine from weighty fruits. By doing this, they’re less likely to break off and fall.
As you can see, there are several reasons why your zucchini fruits are falling off. Even better, once you’ve determined the cause, there are fairly easy fixes for each issue. You’ll be up to your neck in zucchini before you know it! Then you just need to get creative with cooking and baking so none of it goes to waste.