The common joke about gardeners ending up with far too much zucchini sounds like a good problem to have! And is there really such a thing as too much? You can eat zucchini as a side dish, shredded into desserts and breads, pickled, dried as chips, and turned into dips. You name it, you can probably find a way to work zucchini into it. With that in mind, here's how to grow an abundant crop of zucchini.
When and How to Plant Zucchini
While you can easily find zucchini starts at most garden centers and nurseries, this is one of those vegetables that is so easy to start from seed that you get far more bang for your buck if you buy seeds instead of starts. Plus, you can try out unique varieties that you can't find in most garden centers.
When to Sow Zucchini Seeds
You don't have to have indoor grow lights or worry about starting them indoors; zucchini does best when it's sown directly into the garden after your last frost date and once the soil has warmed.
If you live in a cold area and it takes a while for your soil to warm up in spring, you can get a jump on the season by covering the area where you'd like to plant zucchini with black plastic, then cutting holes in it to sow your seeds into. This warms the soil faster, and the plants will appreciate the additional warmth.
You can even succession-sow zucchini, planting a couple seeds every week or two through early summer to ensure that you have a steady supply.
How to Plant Zucchini
Planting zucchini and other summer squashes (such as crookneck squash) is simple.
- Choose a spot in full sun with good, well-drained soil. Zucchini need fertile soil to grow and produce well, so if you can amend it with compost or rotted manure before planting, your plants will thank you.
- Sow the seeds about one inch deep, either singly or in "hills" or groups of three to four seeds that are sown close together. If you plant single zucchini plants, plant them at least two to three feet apart; for hills, space each hill five to six feet apart.
- Water thoroughly.
- Zucchini seeds germinate in seven to 14 days.
How Many Zucchini Plants to Grow
If you really want to make sure you don't have an excess of zucchini to deal with, a good rule of thumb is to plant one to two plants for each person in your household, and maybe a few more if you like to preserve or you'd like to have zucchini to give away.
Once you've got your zucchini planted, growing them is fairly easy. There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind as the season goes on.
Summer squash roots reach fairly deep into the soil, and the entire area should be kept quite moist. Mulch will help preserve moisture as well as inhibit weeds.
Zucchini plants are heavy feeders. Aside from amending the soil with plenty of compost or composted manure at planting time, zucchinis need two additional feedings (unless your soil is rich and fertile -- if it is, just adding compost at planting time will be all they need).
Fertilize zucchini plants with a balanced fertilizer according to the package directions when the seedlings emerge, and then again when the plant starts blooming. This should be enough to keep the plants blooming and producing fruit happily all season long.
Zucchini Pests and Diseases
There aren't many pests that bother zucchini. However, cucumber beetles attack when the squash plants are very small. Cover them with row covers or some similar material that will let in light and air but keep the beetles out, and be sure to anchor the edges of the cloth securely. The same row cover barrier will keep the other two possible pests, squash bugs and squash vine borers, away from your plants as well.
As far as diseases, the biggest issue you'll have to deal with is powdery mildew, especially if conditions are wet or humid.
Zucchini and summer squash have the sweetest taste and the best texture when they are very small, about six inches long. Cut the fruit from the vine, leaving a piece of stem with the fruit.
Zucchini left to mature on the vine become very large, with a tough skin and flat taste. Leaving them on the vine discourages production of new flowers and fruit. It's best to harvest every day at the height of the season.
Summer squashes are best used fresh. They can be held about a week in the refrigerator, but they do not keep for a long period.
Growing Zucchini in Containers
Most zucchini varieties can be grown in large containers. Something like a half whiskey barrel, large washtub, or a five gallon bucket will work well. You'll only want to plant one plant per container, and make sure the soil stays well-watered. You'll likely also want to feed container-grown zucchini plants monthly with a balanced fertilizer.
Zucchini and Summer Squash Varieties to Grow
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing which varieties of summer squash and zucchini to grow in your garden. And while zucchini is a popular and reliable choice, the colors and shapes of other summer squashes are worth a try as well.
'Costata Romanesco' is an heirloom Italian zucchini variety that is widely considered to be one of the best-tasting zucchini varieties available. It has pale green skin with darker green flesh, and it's much denser and less watery than other varieties. It's ready to harvest in around 52 days.
This variety of yellow summer squash is reliable, delicious, easy to grow, and provides a nice, steady crop of squash. They're good for shorter season gardens, because they're ready to harvest in about 43 days.
If you want to grow a zucchini that's adorable in addition to being delicious, check out 'Eight Ball,' as well as its yellow counterpart, 'One Ball." The fruits of these zucchinis grow to about two to three inches in diameter and are ready to harvest in around 50 days.
Pattypan squashes are scalloped, flying-saucer shaped summer squashes that taste just like zucchini and have the same general texture, so can be used interchangeably in recipes. The outside of 'Peter Pan' is a gorgeous, light green, and the plants produce steadily all season long. They're ready to harvest in about 50 days.
If you're looking for something unique, try growing 'Trombocini' summer squash in your garden. This is another Italian heirloom variety, but it produces long, strong trailing vines, strong enough to hold the often-massive, curving green squashes. They're perfect grown either trailing along the ground or up trellises. They have dense flesh and really wonderful flavor, and they're ready to harvest in about 80 days, making this one of the longer-season summer squash varieties.
Ronde de Nice
'Ronde de Nice' is another round zucchini variety, much like 'Eight Ball,' but this is a French heirloom variety. It has pretty pastel green skin, and the fruits can be harvested at any size from one inch in diameter up to five inches in diameter. They're ready to harvest in around 48 days.
Bountiful and Easy
Zucchini deserves a place in just about every vegetable garden. Whether you grow one plant or a whole row of them, it's fun trying out different varieties and finding your favorites.