Zucchini is one of the most popular vegetables you can grow in a home garden. It is classified as summer squash plants with the ability to grow effortlessly as well as provide gardeners with an abundant harvest. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the zucchini and the basic ways and tips to grow it through this article.
Quick Facts About the Zucchini
- Botanical name: Cucurbita pepo
- Type of plant: Vegetable
- Soil type and pH level: Loamy, should be well-fertilized and have good drainage; slightly acidic to neutral pH
- Sunlight requirement: Full Sun
- Color of the flowers: Orange and yellow
- Bloom time: Summer
- Water requirements: Regular and frequent watering
- Number of days to germinate: Around 4 to 8 days
- Number of days to harvest zucchini: Around 60 days
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 3 to 9
Short Description of the Zucchini Plants (Summer Squash)
Zucchini refers to a kind of squash, specifically a summer squash. Note that squash generally comes in two categories depending on how you use them and the time you harvest them.
This type is the one harvested during the autumn after or before the plants reach full maturity. One thing to note about the winter squash is that it has inedible leaves but such leaves are the ones that provide it with a much longer shelf life.
You can even find some varieties that can keep through the entire winter, which is the reason behind its name. Some varieties that fall under this type are acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squash, as well as pumpkins.
The summer squash is a warm-season crop that you can harvest during the summer, specifically the time before they get into full maturity. The fact that it involves an early harvest means that it has edible skin but a relatively shorter shelf life. It is in this type where the zucchini belongs along with the crookneck squash and the yellow squash.
The majority of the summer squash nowadays falls under the bush varieties, taking up minimal space. Winter squash, on the other hand, is classified as vining plants requiring more space. For the bush varieties, take note that they require thinning to around 8-inch to 12-inch apart during the early phases of their development.
Note that each type of summer squash needs the same care, which means that the tips and other information that we will tackle in this article relevant to the zucchini growing process are applicable to that type in general.
Varieties of Zucchini You Can Grow in your Garden
If you are interested in having zucchini squash in your own garden, then some varieties you may want to plant and cultivate are the following:
- Ambassador – This one is a dark green and cylindrical early variety. It usually takes around 50 days for you to begin harvesting it.
- Costata Romanesco – This nutty-flavored and great-tasting Italian zucchini takes around 52 days to mature and become ready for harvest. It is ribbed and comes in a gray-green color featuring some flecks of pale green.
- Eight Ball – This variety boasts of its buttery and nutty flavor that comes from its globe fruit in the shade of dark green. Harvesting season usually starts after around 4o days.
- French White – This specific type of zucchini features white fruits on tiny bushes appearing in small gardens. You can start harvesting it in around 50 days.
- Seneca – This variety comes with cylindrical and dark green fruits that come out of the plant’s small bush. You will have to wait around 42 days to begin the harvesting period.
The Best Time to Plant Zucchini
As a warm-season crop, you can’t expect zucchini squash to tolerate freezing temperatures of the frost. That said, the perfect time to begin planting this vegetable is during the early summer, specifically at a time when the temperature is 70 degrees F or higher.
The good thing about zucchini is that it is an abundant and quick grower, which is why you should expect it to grow around an inch or two every day. It can produce a max of 9 to 10 lbs. per plant. It takes around a couple of months to harvest and requires sowing and harvesting several times for every growing season.
Where Should You Plant your Zucchini?
The best spot for growing zucchini is that which allows it to get exposed to full sun. The place should also have well-draining soil and good shelter that can protect it from the wind for excellent pollination.
Also, take note that all squash plants are classified as heavy feeders. With that in mind, it is advisable to add some well-rotted manure or garden compost to the soil where you intend to plant zucchini before the actual process. Once you start planting the holes, it is also advisable to scatter in or spread some organic fertilizer.
Common Requirements for Growing Zucchini
As a vine, the zucchini tends to grow quickly while consuming plenty of space. In case your garden space is not that huge, you may want to use a trellis. The next sections of this article will tackle the common requirements, steps, and tips so you can begin to grow these plants.
It is crucial to decide on the specific manner or method through which you intend to begin your zucchini. Generally, you have two choices for the methods of propagating the plants. You can plant zucchini seeds directly or buy a small and pre-existing plant then just transplant it in your garden.
In case you go for direct seeding, it would be ideal to start the seeds around four to six weeks before the planting time in your outdoor garden. Alternatively, you can just grab the pre-potted or pre-existing plants that many gardeners find easier, more convenient, and quicker.
However, you may not get as much satisfaction and fulfillment as when you start the zucchini directly from seeds if you choose that approach.
One of the most important things to do when it comes to the zucchini growing process is to sow or set out the starts. In that case, remember that these plants require warm air and soil temperature that supports its growth. The ideal temperature, in this case, would be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, keep in mind that it would not be possible for the seed to germinate when it is in cold soil. This means that you should wait until its temperature gets to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit before you directly seed or set out the starts.
What you have to do is to prepare a sheet of plastic, preferably a black one, then lay it down on the soil as a means of warming it up. Do this before you sow or plant the starts. Also, keep in mind that zucchini plants started when the temperature is still cold and chilly will be at risk of experiencing stunted growth.
Ideal Planting Location
You also have to spend time searching for the ideal planting location for your zucchini. Note that it will survive in a location that receives full sunlight while also having more than enough room for it to spread out.
Look for a spot in your garden, which can provide your zucchini plants with a minimum of 6 to 10 hours of sun daily. It should also not have excessive shade. Pick a spot with well-draining soil, too, as these plants prefer a moist but not soggy one.
To improve the drainage capability of the soil, you may want to plant the zucchini in mounds. You may also perform bigger changes, like drainage systems and soil amendments. One more tip is to position the zucchini in a spot that has Southern exposure for it to receive maximum sun.
If possible, you should prepare the soil a few months in advance to support the zucchini’s best-growing conditions. Begin by mixing fertilizer and mulch so the soil will be able to receive vital nutrients.
Spend time testing the pH level of the soil, too. If needed, you have to amend it and make it meet the soil environment it prefers that is usually around 6 to 7.5 pH level.
Improve the acidity of the soil in case it has a low pH by mixing in pine needles or peat moss. To improve the soil’s alkalinity, especially if its pH level is high, mixing in lime can help.
It is also possible for you to integrate organic materials and nutrients into the soil. All you have to do is to till compost into it one month prior to planting. After that, use a mulch to cover it until the time when it is already time for you to plant.
For soil that has insufficient drainage, adding some sand is advisable. The reason is that it can encourage and support proper water drainage.
Starting the Seeds
If you do not prefer sowing the seeds directly to the soil, then you can begin the seeds indoors around four to six weeks before you need to transplant them outdoors. What you should do first is to grab the seeds, a soil-less potting mixture, and some seed trays.
Put one seed in every tray. Use around 1/8-inch of the potting mixture to cover it then water it adequately. Put the tray in a spot with enough sunlight and has a temperature of 60 degrees F or more.
Observe them every now and then. One sign that the starts are already ready for transplant outdoors is when you notice its second set of leaves sprouting.
When it comes to planting the zucchini, you should remember the importance of proper spacing. Make it a point to space your zucchini plants around two to four feet apart so there will be enough air circulation and to stop any disease from forming.
One effective strategy when planting zucchini is to do so on low hills – those that warm up easily during the spring. This method involves sowing around 3 seeds to a hill. Once you notice the seedlings having a single true leaf, begin thinning the starts to just a single one for every hill.
You can do this by using a pair of scissors to snip off those plants classified as the weakest. This is important to avoid disturbing the roots of the remaining one.
Another crucial aspect of growing your zucchini plants is pollination. Note that aside from managing the somewhat short lifespan of its blossoms, it is also crucial to make sure that the simultaneous opening of the male and female flowers.
Also, note that the female flowers are the only ones that set the fruit. Meanwhile, the male flowers will be there solely for the purpose of pollination. Initially, new zucchinis are capable of producing plenty of male flowers.
Many gardeners find this frustrating, especially if they witness the huge increase in the number of flowers without the formation and development of any fruit. However, you should avoid feeling too frustrated. Practice patience, instead.
Note that as soon as your zucchini matures a bit, you will notice that they begin to set flowers from the two sexes. The good news is that because there are plenty of male flowers initially, there also exist several pollinating insects. One sign that there are female flowers is the presence of small fruits behind the flower’s base.
In case you want to commit to harvesting your own zucchini, a wise advice is to prioritize pollination. What you can do is to get rid of the male flowers. You should then dust their pollen to the female flowers. This should contribute to proper pollination.
One quality of zucchini is that it is a quick-grower. It even has the ability to produce fruits around fifty to sixty days from the time you seed it. However, because the zucchini plants need to exert more effort to produce fruits, there is a high chance for the production to slow down throughout the growing season.
While several gardeners already feel that any excess in the production of zucchini is sufficient enough, you should still note that you can enjoy a steadier supply through succession planting. The success of this method will actually depend on the climate in your location.
Based on the climate, you may be able to begin new plants twice or thrice the entire growing season so you can enjoy a more consistent harvest. Fortunately, you can easily grow zucchini from seed. It is even unnecessary to begin the seed indoors.
The process only involves sowing the seeds directly in your garden after the initial round of zucchini matures. It is also highly likely for you to witness germination within just a few days.
A lot of gardeners execute the second planting often in the middle of July or August. The ones planted later in the season can also be expected to grow faster compared to spring planting.
The Actual Steps in Planting Zucchini
Now that you know the common requirements that will help you grow zucchini, here are the actual steps and tips once you are ready to plant this vegetable in your garden:
Step 1 – Prepare the plot
With the help of a gardening trowel, you should dig a tiny hole where you can plant your zucchini. In case you decide to start from seeds, stick every seed, which is not more than half an inch, beneath the soil.
If you are using zucchini starts, each hole that you need to dig should be a bit larger compared to the plant’s root ball. Set a space in between each zucchini plant that is around 75 to 100 centimeters, which is the same distance that you can use for row space. Thinning out the seedlings may also be necessary.
Step 2 – Plant the zucchini
Put every start or seed into each individual hole. Use around one-fourth or one-half inch of soil to cover the seeds. This cover is enough as it will still allow the seeds to receive sufficient sunlight and water that are necessary for the germination process.
As for the zucchini transplant, cover each one with sufficient soil. It should be enough to keep the root ball covered without getting into the stem. Complete the planting process by watering it heavily.
Step 3 – Maintain the plants
Make it a point to monitor the zucchini plants while they grow. While these vegetable plants are known for being relatively low-maintenance, you should remember that they still need some upkeep so they can retain their tip-top condition, especially in terms of production.
A part of zucchini maintenance is to pull out to remove all seeds from the site. In case the weeds keep on bugging your garden and the growth of your plant, add one layer of mulch.
It also helps to use a liquid growth fertilizer. Apply it for around three to four weeks to your plant to promote its healthy and successful growth. In case you witness dying or diseased branches or fruit, cut them off right away to ensure that any disease will not spread to other plants of your zucchini.
Growing and Cultivating the Zucchini in Containers
If you plan to grow these plants in a container, then make sure to pick a deep one. It should be deep enough that it would be capable of accommodating the huge and deep roots of the plant. The ideal size should be a minimum of 90 cm or 35 inches.
Make sure that the container or pot has excellent drainage capability. Use an organic potting mix in it together with quality compost and well-rotted manure, too. This should let the zucchini plants have an excellent start.
If what you decide to grow are bush zucchini varieties, expect them to have a positive response to container gardening together with regular watering. Also, take note that extra watering may wash out the nutrients of the soil.
With that said, ensure that you use an organic fertilizer to maintain the feeding. Your plant can also greatly benefit if you top-dress it using a handful of aged manure or compost in between each fertilizing session.
Additional Zucchini Growing Tips/Instructions
Your zucchini plant will also have a higher chance of growing successfully if you apply these additional tips:
Ensure that the plant does not fully dry out. It is even more important to water the zucchini once it begins to set fruit. Provide the plant with a generous soaking around once every week.
Exercise care and caution when watering, though. Ensure that the water stays off the leaves of the plant. This is necessary if you want to lower the risk of problems linked to mildew and fungus.
Fertilize every month during the summer
Upon reaching and growing into a decent and reasonable size, it is highly likely for the broad leaves of your zucchini to make the entire planting area weed-free. The reason is that the leaves can help shade out any plant that invades there. To make sure that your vines continue to thrive, fertilize them every month once the summer comes.
Pick off extra blossoms
Also, you should take note that you will have full control over the number of fruits you can take a hold of from every vine if you pick off the extra blossoms upon noticing the formation of some zucchinis. If you leave them alone, it is possible for the vine to continue producing the entire summer until the cold weather comes.
Note, though, that you do not have to let the blossoms go to waste. Since they are tasty and edible, it is possible for you to integrate them into your summer salad to give it some color.
How to Harvest Zucchini?
Provided you plant and care for your zucchini the right way, you will be on your way towards enjoying a bountiful harvest. You will know that your zucchini is ready for picking and eating if it has already reached a minimum of 4 inches long.
Pick it regularly as it can also lead to an increase in the production of the squash. That said, if your goal is to enjoy plenty of this summer squash, it is highly recommended to pick and harvest zucchini as soon as they mature.
However, if you are not in need of a large batch of squash, it helps to leave just one or two of this plant on the vine. Leave them during the entire growing season as it aids in slowing down the production process.
When it comes to the actual harvest, sever the squash using a sharp knife from its rough and solid stem – the one that keeps it connected to the bush. You may also love to add zucchini flowers to your salads. These flowers are edible and picking them may result in a decrease in the growth of zucchini fruits.
You can also expect this crop to continue growing until the first frost – that is if they are well-established the entire spring. Just cut off the stem to encourage growth if you have no plans of harvesting all the squash.
Storing the Harvested Zucchini
Upon harvest, you can store the zucchinis in a cool place for several days. These vegetables can last even longer, several weeks to be precise when stored in your refrigerator.
You will also be glad to know that the zucchini is capable of freezing well so you can add it into your winter soups and soups. To do that, just spend some time washing the zucchini first. After that, you can cut it into one-fourth-inch thick slices.
Blanch the slices of zucchini after that. It would be ideal to do steam blanching in case you own a steamer as it can help in preserving a larger number of nutrients. You should then steam them on top of boiling water for a minute.
Once done, you can plunge the steamed zucchini slices directly into iced water. Lay out each slice on a baking tray. After that, freeze them for around one to two hours.
You can then put them into freezer containers or bags so you can store them in the freezer without any problem. You will be able to keep the zucchini in the freezer for a max of 1 month.
Another great thing about zucchini is that both its flowers and fruits are edible. Also, note that even if male and female flowers are considered safe and edible, many prefer the male ones for eating since they are incapable of developing into a fruit.
Pests, Diseases and Other Problems
Your zucchini plants may also encounter problems related to pesky pests as well as some diseases, like powdery mildew and accidental damage. It is important to watch out for these problems to ensure that you will know how to deal with them or even prevent them from coming in direct contact with your plant as early as possible.
The squash bug has the tendency of feeding on sap. This may weaken the plants and threaten the production of fruits. In that case, keep the plants protected at the time when the squash bugs are highly active, specifically during the early part of summer.
To protect them from the squash bugs, just use fleece or row covers. You should then keep on checking the eggs a minimum of two times per week. Scrape off or rub the eggs. It is also possible for you to knock off the adult squash bugs or shake them from a plant so they will fall into a bucket containing soapy water.
Squash Vine Borers
You can often find the squash vine borer in the Eastern part of North America. The problem with these borers is that they tend to burrow into the plant’s stems, possibly resulting in root rots as well as the wilting of the foliage. Expect the squash vine borers to be extremely active during the early parts of summer, too.
Keep them out of your zucchini plants by using row covers. Alternatively, you can use foil to wrap the stems of the plant, thereby preventing the laying of the eggs at your plant’s base. Cut out the grubs.
You can do that if you use a knife so you can do vertical cuts on the stem. After that, use moist soil to bury the stem then stimulate new roots.
The powdery mildew is a pervasive fungal disease that often affects vine crops, such as zucchini. It is a pathogen, which causes the leaves to look like a talcum coating resembling a powder. This fungal disease is more of an aesthetic issue.
However, there are also severe cases wherein they can result in reduced production and photosynthesis. For the plants to overcome and deal with powdery mildew, make sure to keep the plants properly spaced. Provide each zucchini with sufficient room for proper air circulation and to let the wet foliage dry off.
Also, make it a point to plant and cultivate only those resistant varieties. This should help in fighting powdery mildew, a tenacious problem when it comes to growing the zucchini.
You may also use organic fungicides, specifically those based on potassium bicarbonate. The reason is that these products are effective in preventing powdery mildew from developing in the first place.
Cucumber beetles are usually the ones that can spread the bacterial wilt. It is the main reason why you have to keep insect pests, especially cucumber beetles, under control. Once your zucchini develops wilt, note that you can only do a little to solve it.
It may cause the leaves of your plant to turn yellow. Cucumber beetles may also cause the leaves to wilt directly to the ground, which may practically occur overnight. In that case, it would be much better to pull up and remove the plants before this problem infects the others.
This refers to an occasional problem that may affect your zucchini. In case its blossom ends turn black, there is a high chance that they will rot. The blossom end rot condition may be triggered by an uneven level of moisture in the soil, which is commonly characterized by the wide fluctuation between the dry and wet soil.
Calcium levels may also cause the blossom-end rot problem. You can correct this issue by watering the plant deeply then putting on a thick mulch on top of the surface of the soil. This should help in minimizing the evaporation. You can, therefore, help prevent rotting by continuing to make the soil evenly moist.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the key secret to growing zucchini?
The key to making your zucchini plant thrive and survive is to ensure that it is in fertile, well-drained, and loose soil. You will also have a better chance of success if you plant zucchini in small mounds or hills, similar to what you should do in pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers.
Aside from that, note that zucchini requires plenty of moisture for it to develop heavy crops. In that case, you need to provide the plant with a minimum of one-inch water weekly.
How many zucchinis can you get from a single plant?
Zucchinis are among those plants that can give you an abundant yield. Each zucchini plant is even capable of giving you an average yield of around 6 to 9 pounds, which is enough to serve one small family. Having more than one plant can, therefore, give you plenty of yields.
How long does zucchini take to grow?
In general, zucchini needs around 35 to 55 days from the time you planted it up to harvest. Expect its fruit to grow quickly, too, up to two inches daily. With that in mind, it is advisable to reap the fruits every other day throughout the entire harvest season.
Do you need a trellis for the zucchini?
You need to use a trellis if you plan to grow the zucchini in a raised bed garden. The reason is that it is easy for this plant to invade the space of the other neighboring plants growing in the garden bed.
Is it necessary to prune the zucchini?
Yes, there are several cases wherein you need to prune your zucchini plant. Note that your developing plant tends to derive its energy from the leaves that grow above them. Meanwhile, the leaves beneath them may just take away the energy from the remaining plants.
It is necessary to prune away damaged and diseased leaves as it can help in preventing and slowing down powdery mildew. It works in building better air circulation.
You may also need to prune larger leaves at the lower part of the plant, particularly those that do not contribute to their healthy growth. This is beneficial as it frees up some space, giving you to plant more of these vegetables even if the space is only small.
With all the details in this article, you are now equipped with all the information needed to grow zucchini plants. Hopefully, you can use what you have learned here to finally start a garden with zucchini plants in it and enjoy a bountiful harvest soon.