How to Grow Zucchini in Your Backyard Garden
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Zucchini is a fun, fast-growing vegetable to have in the garden! Learn how to grow zucchini with tips from a vegetable gardening pro.
Gardeners always have a story or two to share about zucchini. This summer crop grows so prolifically that it’s no wonder there are endless zucchini recipes out there: quick breads, sautes, salads, casseroles and pasta dishes.
Learn how to grow zucchini, no matter what size garden you have, and what to do with that bumper crop!
What Is Zucchini?
Zucchini is a type of summer squash, and belongs to the plant family Cucurbita pepo, which also includes winter squash, cucumbers and pumpkins. Long and dark green, sometimes with stripes, zucchini are sometimes called green squash, and in the UK are known as courgettes. Even though they’re thought of and prepared as a vegetable, zucchini are technically a fruit.
There are two types of zucchini plants you can grow.
- Vining Zucchini: Vining zucchini grow along the ground and require several feet of space between plants. This type can also be trained to grow vertically if you have a very sturdy support.
- Bush Zucchini: Bush zucchini plants are more compact, and only need a few feet of space. They can be grown in containers, and that makes them perfect for smaller gardens and backyards.
How to Grow Zucchini
Zucchini will feed voraciously throughout their growing season, so choose a planting location that gets full sun, and has well-draining soil with lots of nutrients from compost or aged manure. Your plant will need consistent, frequent watering; choose a spot that you can easily water on a regular schedule.
Josh says that zucchini seeds can be started indoors, or planted directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Since zucchini only need 40 to 55 days to produce, you’ll still have a summer crop even if you sow them directly in the ground. Plant the seeds a half inch deep in the enriched soil, and be sure to space them two to three feet apart. Keep the soil moist until the plants germinate.
Starting Zucchini Indoors
To start zucchini seeds indoors, plant one or two seeds in a pot. Josh recommends pots that are about four inches wide and deep, because the plants won’t do as well if they get root bound before being moved outside. The seedlings can be transplanted to the garden after the last frost.
Growing Zucchini in Containers
Bush varieties of zucchini do well in containers. Choose a large planter, 18 inches wide or larger, to have enough room for the plants and roots. Fill the container with rich potting soil, and plant one to three seeds in the center of the pot, about a half-inch deep. As with zucchini in the garden, give your container a full sun location and consistent watering to keep the soil moist as the seeds germinate and the plants grow.
Growing Zucchini on a Trellis
To train zucchini plants up a vertical trellis, choose a sturdy support or fence material that can support the weight of the squash. The zucchini plants will go in the ground in front of the trellis. As the vines get long enough, position them up on the trellis, and even lightly tie them to help keep the vines in place.
As the zucchini form and grow larger, make sure they have enough support. Create little hammocks to secure the zucchini to the trellis, using pieces of fabric or old stockings.
Tools You Need to Grow Zucchini
Caring for Zucchini Plants
Give the plants a deep watering every week, watering the soil at the base of plants and keeping leaves dry. Your zucchini plants will need lots of water, as they grow and set fruit. Add a layer of mulch around the plants to help keep the soil moist.
Zucchini produce male and female flowers, and these need to pollinate together for zucchini to form. It’s normal for the plants to create a lot of male flowers early in the season that drop off. Eventually, the plants should have both types of blooms: the female flowers have a thicker stem behind the blossoms that looks like a tiny zucchini. If your blooms continue to fall off without setting fruit, you can help by hand pollinating: brush pollen from a male flower onto the stigma inside the female flowers.
As the zucchini fruits begin to form and grow, continue to keep the plants consistently watered. (We know… we’ve said that a lot, but it really is important!) You can also add fertilizer around the plants since they feed heavily as they grow and produce fruit.
It’s a good time to bookmark most popular zucchini recipes, ever!
When to Pick Zucchini
As common as the stories of gardeners getting too many zucchini are the stories of monstrously oversized fruits! Zucchini will continue growing for as long as you leave them on the plants. Unless you’re trying to grow the largest in the county to enter at the local fair, pick your zucchini frequently
The right time to harvest zucchini is when they’re between eight and ten inches long because they’re tender and have the best flavor at this stage. Use sharp garden shears to cut the zucchini off the plant, and cut at an angle so that rainwater can’t pool on the cut stem.
How many zucchini will you get from your plants? Well, getting tender zucchini isn’t the only reason to harvest them when they’re small. Josh from PanAmerican Seed says that the more you harvest, the more zucchini your plants will produce throughout the season. When zucchini are allowed to stay on plants and grow larger, the growing and setting of new fruits slows down.
Store your picked zucchini for seven to ten days by keeping them in the refrigerator. They’ll last longer if you keep them dry, so store them unwashed and in your crisper drawer to control humidity.
Tips for Growing Zucchini
Watch out for pests
Josh warns that there are two garden pests to watch out for around your zucchini plants. One is the squash beetle, a brownish-gray bug that resembles a stink bug. You might spot egg masses on the undersides of leaves, or see yellow spots on leaves where they feed. Scrape eggs away and drown the bugs in soapy water. Squash vine borers, larvae that hatch from moth eggs, are another common pest. They damage plants by eating stems from the insides out. Look for eggs near the base of stems, or cut away wilting stems where the larvae are feeding. Neem oil can be used to control adult squash beetles as well as the egg masses of vine borers.
Give zucchini space
One common mistake that beginning zucchini growers make is planting them too close together. Josh says gardeners need to remember that small plants will soon be sprawling, and need room to grow! Space between the plants also improves airflow and that can keep some diseases (like powdery mildew) from taking hold.
This is the other mistake that Josh sees gardeners make with zucchini. Your zucchini will taste better and your plants will give you more when you pick them often. And if you wind up overrun with zucchini? Local food pantries will gladly take your excess produce. Or, keep those zucchini tall tales alive by donating them to your willing (and sometimes reluctant!) neighbors.
How to Use Your Zucchini
Now that you have your own homegrown zucchini, it’s time to learn how versatile this squash really is. Healthy zucchini recipes include dishes like Tilapia with Zucchini Noodles and Zucchini Kabobs with Chicken. Dice up fresh zucchini with other garden vegetables to make a vibrant Pico de Gallo Salsa. Slip some extra veggies to your kids by making this Zucchini Pizza Casserole.
You probably know that zucchini can be shredded and used to make a moist quick bread, but there are so many other sweet zucchini dessert recipes! Like this German chocolate-style cake made with grated zucchini, complete with coconut and brown sugar frosting.