Growing zucchini can bring you an abundant harvest of fresh zucchinis throughout the warmer months. In this article we’ll cover all you need to know for planting zucchini, caring for them through to harvesting and storing zucchini. So read on for how to grow zucchini at home.
Zucchinis are also known as courgette, summer squash, and baby marrow. They belong to the cucurbitaceae family which also includes cucumbers and pumpkins.
The zucchini plant grows to about 1 meter in diameter, so plan for plenty of room in the garden for them to spread out. Once seeds are planted, zucchinis can be ready to harvest in as little as 8 weeks. And if left to grow to their full maturity, the zucchini fruit can get to 3 feet (1 meter) long. But they are best harvested around 6-10 inches (15-25cm) in length.
Zucchini is usually a vegetable cooked up into savory dishes. But zucchini can also be used successfully in zucchini desserts and sweet recipes.
There are many zucchini varieties. They are generally long and thin in appearance but they can come in round varieties also. Zucchinis can range from deep green through to many variations of green, white and yellows, and even orange. Here are some of the most common types available for growing in your garden.
Black Beauty Zucchini – This is a popular choice with very dark green skin and creamy white flesh. Harvest within 50 days at around 6-8 inches (15-20cm) long. Black Beauty is a compact bush variety ideal for containers or small gardens.
Caserta Zucchini – A light green variety with dark green stripes. Caserta has the advantage of remaining tender when grown to larger fruits. It’s a compact high-yield variety that only needs a small space.
Cocozella Zucchini – Has the appearance of outdoor cucumber. A flavorsome option, which can easily grow to marrow size. It grows as a compact bush that is good for containers and small gardens.
Dunja Zucchini – Glossy skin quick to harvest variety with a high yield of dark green fruits. Has some powdery mildew resistance.
Fordhook Zucchini – Cylindrical, smooth medium mottled green fruits, good textured flesh. Fordhook is a vigorous variety that can spread up to 5 feet (1.5 meters).
Gadzukes Zucchini – A highly attractive compact upright Zucchini that produces slightly ridged fruits, so when you slice crossways, the resultant pieces are star-shaped. The sweet flavor lends well to a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
Gourmet Gold Zucchini – Medium-sized open bushy zucchini plants. Produce yellow-skinned fruits. A virus-resistant variety that produces fruits over a long harvest time.
Magda Zucchini – Pale green with a nutty flavor and dense flesh, the fruits are small at 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) making them ideal for picking and a wonderful option for grilling and frying.
Patio Star Zucchini – This variety has been bred specially as a compact variety for container growing. The leaves are extra attractive, being dark green with silver veining. Patio Star comes to fruit early and continues to produce through a long season.
Raven Zucchini – A bush variety producing deep green fruits at about 2-3 per week during the season. Advisable to harvest at 10 inches (25 cm) or under for tender skins.
Round De Nice Zucchini – Round varieties are the same in texture and flavor to long thin zucchini, however, the shape makes a nice change when creating dishes. These zucchinis can be sliced into rounds, stuffed like bell peppers or tomatoes, or diced and sliced.
Summer Green Tiger Zucchini – Voted best-looking and best-tasting zucchini. Attractive uniform fruits with dark green tiger-like stripes. Best harvested at around 8 inches (20 cm).
Ideal Growing Conditions for Zucchini
Climate for Growing Zucchini
Zucchini plants need lots of warmth to help them thrive. So wait until the temperature warms up before planting them. They grow best when the temperature is 65-78°F (18-26°C).
Growers in warmer growing zones are fortunate to have the option of planting two zucchini crops, one in the spring and one in the fall. Those in cooler zones will usually grow as a summer crop.
Ideal Soil for Growing Zucchini
Free-draining soil, rich with plenty of organic matter is ideal for zucchini plants. Amended soil with compost and aged manure to increase soil fertility and to give the zucchini plants the best start.
Sun Requirements for Zucchini
Zucchinis grow best in a full sun position. They will tolerate minimal shade but benefit from as much light and sun as possible. So position your zucchini plant where it will receive around 8 hours of sunlight a day.
Water Requirements for Zucchini Plants
Zucchini like a steady supply of water and, for that reason, benefit from drip irrigation systems. Alternatively, water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry. The yoyo effect of drying out and being watered, drying out, and being watered can make zucchini plants susceptible to blossom end rot and weakens them against other disease attacks. So try to be consistent with your watering.
Also, when watering, take care to not splash the leaves, which may leave the zucchini plant susceptible to disease.
Fertilizer for Zucchini Plants
A good base of organic matter, such as compost and well-rotted manure, gives zucchini plants a good start. Then you can start feeding them a month after planting with a good organic fertilizer.
Growing Zucchini by Seed
Zucchini is very easy to grow. And starting them from seed is a simple process. For a head start on the growing season, start seeds indoors 4 weeks before the last expected frost date. Consider a heat mat and grow light to assist in germination. Here’s how to start zucchini seeds:
- Prepare planting pots with good quality seed-raising soil.
- Plant 2-3 seeds 1/2 inch (12 mm) deep into each planting hole and cover over with soil.
- Gently water the seeds in.
- Seedlings will begin to sprout within 6-10 days.
- As they grow, pot them on into individual pots or where they can be 4 inches (10 cm) apart.
- Plant the zucchini seedlings outside as long as the outside temperature has warmed to consistently above 65°F (18°C). Seedlings need a ‘hardening off’ period where they are gradually exposed to the outside elements. You can read more on this process in our article How to Harden Off Seedlings.
How to Grow Zucchini in the Garden
- Wait until the soil temperature has reached a consistent 65-70°F (18-21°C) degrees. Prepare the soil by adding a good layer of organic matter such as well-rotted manure and good compost. To assist with water drainage, plant zucchini plants into small soil mounds or hills. Simply create a 30 cm diameter mound, 10 cm high, to plant the seeds into.
- Plant 2-3 seeds 1/2 inch (12 mm) deep into each planting hole around 40 inches (100cm) apart.
- Water in well and keep the soil moist but not soggy until the seeds germinate in 6-10 days.
- When seedlings develop 2-3 sets of true leaves, thin to the strongest two zucchini plants per planting mound. Cut excess plants at the base, or gently transplant them to another area of the garden. Zucchini plants will need plenty of airflow as they mature, so thinning the plants out is an important step.
- After the first month, feed monthly with an organic fertilizer.
If you are growing zucchini by purchasing seedlings from a nursery, simply follow the same steps above.
Most zucchini varieties spread out to about 3 feet (1 meter) or more. A space-effective method of growing zucchini is to grow vertically by training the plant up a trellis.
Growing Zucchini in Containers
When planting zucchinis in containers, you should select deep containers to accommodate the large deep roots of zucchini. At least 35 inches (90 cm) is ideal.
Ensure the pot or container has excellent drainage and along with an organic potting mix, use some well-rotted manure and good quality compost to get the plants off to the best start. Bush varieties of zucchini respond well to container growing along with regular watering.
Additional watering can wash out soil nutrients, so keep up the feeding with an organic fertilizer. Topdressing with a handful of compost or aged manure between regular fertilizing is also beneficial.
Zucchini Plant Pollination
As the zucchini plant produces flowers, look at the flowers carefully. Flowers that grow with zucchini fruit at the base are female flowers. The flowers that grow from a thin stem are male flowers and will not grow into fruits.
As your zucchini plant grows, male flowers will appear first. Followed by female flowers. Bees and other beneficial insects will pollinate the zucchini plant by transferring pollen from one flower to the other. Even ants perform this job, so watch your plants carefully to see the process in action.
Zucchini fruit not successfully pollinated will shrivel and eventually die. You may notice them failing to grow and turning yellow. This is a result of failed pollination.
How to Polliniate Zucchini Plants
You can help increase the rate of successful zucchini pollination by transferring the pollen yourself. This is called hand pollination and it’s a very simple process.
- Method one: take a very small paintbrush or q-tip and gently brush inside the flowers, transferring pollen from one flower to another. If you can recognize the male flower, brush inside and then brush inside the female flower to transfer the pollen.
- Method two: harvest a male flower and peel off the petals to reveal the inside stamen (the long bit inside the flower, covered in pollen). Take the male flower and gently rub the pollen inside the female flower. Then simply discard the male flower.
This process is actually fun and rewarding once you know what to look for.
Most varieties of zucchini are ready to start harvesting in around 8 weeks. They may take a little longer if the weather is not ideal or in hotter zones when the watering is not kept up.
Zucchinis can almost grow overnight and when you’re not watching, they can get away from you. They are best harvested between 6-10 inches (15-25cm) in length. And when you know your zucchini plant is fruiting, it’s a good idea to check them daily.
To harvest the zucchini, you simply cut across the stalk with a sharp garden knife.
If you’re looking for ways to use your zucchinis, here is some recipe inspiration:
Once harvested, zucchinis keep for a few days stored in a cool place or for a few weeks in a refrigerator.
Zucchinis also freeze well for adding to winter stews and soups. Here’s how:
Wash the zucchini well and cut into ¼ inch thick slices. Blanch them – steam blanching is ideal if you have a steamer as it preserves more nutrients. Steam over boiling water for one minute. Then plunge them straight into iced water. Lay them out on a baking tray and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. Then transfer to freezer bags or containers and return to the freezer to keep for up to 12 months.
Of course, the zucchini flowers are edible as well as the fruits. While both the male and female flowers are edible, often the male flowers are selected for eating, as they don’t develop into a fruit.
It’s easy to have a bountiful harvest of zucchini with a little bit of gardening know-how. Provide the ideal growing conditions and you will be rewarded with loads of garden-fresh zucchinis for the season.