Did you know the zucchini is a type of summer squash? It’s one of the best beginner veggies to grow in the garden, offering you bountiful harvests all summer long. Zucchini is easy to grow, doing well in various soil conditions, making it a versatile veggie for any patch.
If you give your zucchini plants room to grow, the right soil conditions, and plenty of sunlight and water, they’ll turn into monsters. In fact, one of the actual drawbacks of these plants is keeping up with the output.
When these plants get going with the fruiting cycle, it’s challenging to keep up with all the squash they produce. Many growers resort to preserving or just giving away large portions of their crops. There are legendary urban myths of growers leaving bushels of zucchini on their neighbor’s doorsteps just to get rid of them.
Zucchini is a great choice for the garden. There are so many ways to enjoy this vegetable in your meals. There are so many ways to prepare your zucchini, from zoodles and sautés to roasting or just pickling.
The zucchini plant is another member of the “Cucurbitaceae family,” which also includes the likes of the cucumber, pumpkin, and gourd. The young fruit on the plant is suitable for eating, skin and all. As the fruit grows, the rind toughens, requiring peeling for use in many dishes.
Zucchini does well in the grater, with a thicker flesh than that of the cucumber. It’s also inspired the “zoodle,” noodles made from peeling zucchini.
Since the zucchini plant grows and produces so vivaciously, some beginner gardeners make the mistake of letting the fruit get too big. As the zucchini grows in size, it starts to turn woody. Woody squash is only suitable for use as animal feed or compost.
Zucchini come in several varieties, with each one having unique visual and taste characteristics. Most varieties grow well in USDA zones 3 to 9, giving them a wide range across several US states.
This guide gives you everything you need to know about growing zucchini.
History and Cultivation
As mentioned, zucchini is a type of summer squash, and it goes by many monikers. Outside of the United States, most countries refer to the zucchini as a “courgette.” The zucchini has Mexican ancestry, dating back to the first crops produced there some 7,000 years ago.
Currently, the cocozelle, scallop, crookneck, vegetable marrow, straightneck, and zucchini are the most common crops globally. While the zucchini might have Mexican ancestry, the first use of the fruit in cooking comes from the Italians.
The fruit gets the name “zucchini” from the Tuscan region dating back to its first use in the 1840s. Another variety of zucchini also emerged in Milan and received widespread adoption in cooking in the 1850s.
Today, the zucchini, and all summer squash, grow in gardens worldwide, and they are a huge agricultural crop with plenty of demand in the US, Turkey, India, and Japan.
How to Grow Zucchini
Growing zucchini is somewhat easy, and you don’t need a green thumb to grow the largest, highest-production zucchini plants. For this reason, it’s a great starter for the beginner gardener. While the zucchini grows readily, it requires the right location to thrive.
If you give the plant full sun conditions, nutrient-rich soil, and plenty of water, you can expect outstanding results. However, one of the issues with zucchini getting so big is that many new gardeners end up planting the seedlings too close together.
As a result, the plants become susceptible to disease. These pathogens also overwinter in the soil, and they can infect your next crop. Always ensure you give the plants plenty of room to allow airflow between the foliage. If you do experience any disease on your crop, cut it out or remove the plant and throw it away in the trash, not the compost heap.
Soil Conditions for Your Zucchini
Don’t plant your zucchini in areas where you previously planted other cucurbits. This strategy prevents your plants from contracting any soil-borne disease that overwinters to return when the ground thaws and you start planting.
The soil should have a slightly acidic touch, with zucchini plants preferring a pH in the range of 6.0 to 7.5. They like the full sun, and the more sun they get, the bigger the plants grow and the more they produce.
Planting Your Zucchini
When planting your zucchini, it’s best to wait until when evening temperatures are consistently above 55F at night, and there is no threat of frost. The gardener can start their squash from seeds or pick up some seedlings from the local nursery.
Starting from seed is simple, and all you need is seeds, some high-quality potting mix, small containers, and growing light. With the right setup, you can start your plants four to six weeks early to get a jump on the growing season.
However, many gardeners don’t bother starting early. The plants produce so much fruit that they generally don’t need the extra capacity.
Spacing and Mulching
When planting, make sure you keep rows at least two feet apart to allow for optimal airflow through the leaves when the plants mature and fruit. Start mulching around the base of the plant after it finishes producing two sets of leaves.
Keep mulching with every two sets produced after that. Mulching with leaves, compost, or other organic materials helps to drive nutrients into the soil and reduce water evaporation from the ground. Remember to leave a few inches from the main stem to where you start mulching. This strategy stops mulch-borne pathogens from infecting the stem of the plant.
Watering Your Zucchini
You’ll need to water your zucchini plant around one to two inches per week. Keep the soil moist, but don’t overdo things and waterlog the ground. Waterlogged roots develop bacterial diseases and root rot, killing the plant and your harvest.
For the best results, use drip irrigation setups to feed water to the beds without over-saturating the soil.
Fertilizing Your Zucchini
If you have nutrient-rich soil in your veggie garden, then you’re not going to need to make any special amendments. However, growing heavy-feeding plants like tomatoes in last year’s season might mean you need to amend the soil to restore the nutrient value for your squash.
Most zucchini plants only require a slight fertilizer boost right before they start blooming. Applying a diluted liquid fertilizer at 50% strength is all you need to support the plant’s nutrition. Make sure you plant the timing of your harvest so you’ll be around.
The last thing you want is for the plant to start fruiting while you’re away on summer vacation. Coming back to a garden full of rotting, baseball bat-sized zucchini isn’t an attractive “welcome home.”
Managing Disease and Pests
Zucchini is easy to grow, and they are fairly resilient against pest infestations and disease infection. Since the plants grow so fast, they are already well-established in the garden by the time the bugs show up.
As mentioned, most gardeners don’t give their plants an early start. However, if you start early, you’ll have plants that are so big that vine borers will look for other options by the time they arrive in the garden.
The biggest issue with squash is infection with diseases. White powdery mildew is a common problem with squash that are too close together in the garden. It’s also an issue if there’s not enough airflow moving between the leaves.
WPM shows up fast in damp conditions forming on the leaves, causing a white, powdery look to the foliage that eventually kills the plant. As mentioned, you’ll need to remove all infected material and throw it away in the trash to prevent reinfection.
Areas with a previous pathogenic infection should rest for the following growing season. Rotation strategies help you get the best production out of your crop without the risk of disease.
Harvesting Your Zucchini
It’s best to harvest your zucchini when they have a firm rind and a glossy appearance to the skin. The ideal length for your zucchini is between four to six inches long, with eight being a stretch.
The smaller the size of the zucchini, the sweeter and juicer the fruit.
Picking them at the four to six-inch mark provides the gardener with small seeds they’ll barely notice when eating and a creamy texture and mouthfeel. Zucchinis are great for sauteing and spiraling at this age, and you can eat them all the way until they get to the size of around 10-inches.
However, the larger the fruit, the less tender and juicy the zucchini. Bigger fruits require the gardener to peel the skin before cooking, and you’ll probably have to scrape out the seeds. Unlike the cucumber, the zucchini has woody seeds that aren’t palatable.
Cut the zucchini straight off the vine using kitchen scissors, pruners, or gardening shears. Leave an inch of the vine on the fruit to help the fruit stay fresher for longer after picking. If you keep harvesting the plant, it keeps producing, with the average zucchini plant producing about eight pounds of fruit over the growing season.