This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more information.
Not only are zucchini delicious, but they also pack a hardy dose of nutrition. They’re easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen. Even the zucchini flower is edible.
So, it’s no wonder this veggie is often a favorite of gardeners (myself included).
Zucchinis are sometimes called courgettes and are scientifically known as Cucurbita pepo. Ancestors of zucchini originated in Mexico and South America. These ancestors then made their way to Italy. Here, there were cultivated into the great vegetable you see today.
Interestingly, zucchini is actually a fruit. At least in the botanical sense. This is because a zucchini develops from the flower of the plant. Vegetables, in contrast, come from other parts of a plant. But for all practical purposes, we treat zucchini as a vegetable.
Zucchini are summer squash and harvested when the fruit is immature and the rind is still tender.
- Nutritional Information
- Common Zucchini Varieties
- Planting Your Zucchini
- Type of Soil
- Light Requirements
- Watering Your Zucchini
- Maintaining Your Zucchini
- Harvesting Your Zucchini
- Pests That Affect Zucchini
- Diseases That Affect Zucchini
- Zucchini Recipes
- Final Thoughts
How to Plant and Grow Zucchini
1. Nutritional Information
A medium-sized zucchini averages only 33 calories. It’s easy to see why zucchini are often a desired vegetable.
In addition to being low cal, zucchini also pack a nutritional punch. According to the USDA, each medium zucchini has,
- Calcium, Ca 2.31 mg
- Magnesium, Mg 3.63 mg
- Phosphorus, P 10.2 mg
- Potassium, K 50.5 mg
- Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 3.75 mg
- Folate, food 2.2 µg
- Vitamin A, IU 53.9 IU
2. Common Zucchini Varieties
There are a number of zucchini varieties, bred for their shape, color, or planting conditions. Here is a list of 5 common ones.
- Black beauty – classic dark green with white flesh and a very popular choice with gardeners.
- Raven – deep green in color and the plant is compact making it suitable for smaller spaces.
- Round zucchini – shaped like a round ball (and extremely cute!).
- Cocozelle – has a distinctive skin of light and dark green stripes.
- Dunja – is dark green in color and the plant leaves tend to be more open with smaller spines, making the fruit easier to pick.
The above is just a sampling of zucchini varieties. If you’d like to know of other types of zucchini, take a look at this article from Lacademie.
3. Planting Your Zucchini
You can start your zucchini in a pot and then transplant the seedling. Alternately, you can sow the seeds directly into your garden.
Regardless of which method, most zucchini plants grow to the size of a small bush. So, it’s important the spot you pick is large enough for the plants.
Tip: If you have limited space, consider climbing your zucchini.
Zucchini prefer a temperate climate. Because of this, it’s very important you plant your zucchini after the threat of frost has passed.
And it’s usually a good idea to plant several zucchini plants instead of only one. By doing this, you’ll help with pollination.
Planting Zucchini From Seedlings
If planting from a seedling, start your seedlings indoors 2 to 4 weeks before you expect the last frost. Plant your seeds 1” deep, with one seed per 4” pot.
You can always buy seedlings from a garden center if starting your own doesn’t appeal to you.
Your zucchini seeds should sprout within two weeks. Once you have a thriving, green seedling, it’ll be time to transplant that zucchini into your garden.
When you remove the seedling from its pot, the roots should be visible, but not rootbound. Don’t wait too long before transplanting your zucchini. If you do, you chance your seedling becoming tall and spindly, and the leaves yellowing.
Zucchini doesn’t always transplant well, as their roots can sometimes be delicate. If you wait too long before transplanting, you may not have a successful transplant.
Before moving your zucchini plants to the garden you’ll want to harden them off. This means acclimating them to the outside and the direct sunlight before transplanting.
To do this, place your seedlings outside in the full sun for a couple of hours each day. Then bring them back inside. Over the next few days, keep increasing their exposure until they’ve adapted to at least 6 hours of sunlight.
Once hardened off, they’re ready for transplanting.
Using a trowel, dig a hole in your garden large enough to accommodate the plant and the dirt in the pot. Then gently remove the seedling from its pot and place it in its new home.
Seedlings should be planted at least 2 – 3 ft apart. More space between the plant means there’s greater airflow. This reduces the chances of disease. Also, the flowers will be easier for pollinators to locate.
Planting Zucchini From Seeds
Zucchini plants grow quickly so there is no need for you to start them indoors if you don’t want to. They can just easily be directly seeded into your garden.
My gardens were in a northern location, where the growing season was short. We even had the occasional frost into June. Yet, even in this setting, I always planted my zucchini seeds in my garden. I never had any problems with my zucchini plants growing and producing lots of fruit by the end of the season.
If planting your zucchini seeds in a row, plant your seeds about 1 inch deep, 2 – 3 feet apart.
Some gardeners like to hill their zucchini. With this method, you’ll create a small mound and plant 3 – 5 seeds per hill. The mounds should be 3 – 4 feet apart. Once the seeds germinate and the plants reach several inches tall, thin your plants by removing all but the healthiest seedling.
Planting Zucchini in Containers
If you’re growing your zucchini in a container or a pot, the pot should be at least 20 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep. This is to accommodate the large size of a zucchini plant.
Plant 2 – 3 seeds per pot. And, like hilling, once the seeds have sprouted and grown a bit, thin the plants keeping only the strongest seedling.
4. Type of Soil
Zucchini plants are abundant producers. This means they’re hungry for nutrients. They’ll do best in rich, well-draining soil.
Although zucchini will grow in poor soil, they won’t grow as well or produce as great a yield.
Consider mixing compost or mulch into the soil before planting your zucchini. This will add nutrients to your soil.
You can add a slow-release fertilizer, such as chicken manure pellets, to the soil before planting. Do this alone or in addition to the compost. This will help feed the soil as the season progresses.
Zucchini like water, but they don’t want to become waterlogged. So it’s important your soil is well-draining.
When it comes to container gardening use a good container or potting soil mix. These types of soils are made from a combination of materials, such as sand, organic matter, and perlite. This combination helps keep the soil loamy, yet well-draining.
With containers, don’t use regular garden soil because this type of soil can become too dense and heavy for a pot. Use lighter soils for containers.
5. Light Requirements
Zucchini are sun lovers. At a minimum, they need 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, they’ll do better if they can get 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Keep this in mind when choosing your planting spot.
6. Watering Your Zucchini
Water zucchini deeply and consistently.
On average, your zucchini will need about 1 inch of water per week and the soil should be moist roughly 4 inches down. So water thoroughly to keep that soil from drying out.
Depending on your location, as the summer progresses you may need to water your zucchini 2 to 3 times per week. This is especially true in southern climates.
Zucchini in containers need an extra careful eye on soil moistness. Containers can dry out very quickly. It’s critical you check your zucchini often for water, perhaps even daily.
If you’d like to know more about container gardening, then take a look at my article on the subject. I’m sure you’ll find it helpful.
As with containers, monitoring newly planted seedlings is also especially important. It’s vital seedlings receive plenty of water to help them grow and produce flowers and fruit.
7. Maintaining Your Zucchini
In general, zucchini plants are easy-growing plants that don’t need a whole lot of extra care. Give them water and sunlight, and they’re happy.
And, not only are they fast, easy growers, but they’re also vigorous growers. In other words, a zucchini plant can produce a lot of zucchini.
In order for a zucchini plant to produce zucchini, it needs pollination.
Zucchini plants produce individual male flowers and female flowers. They produce the male flowers first, then the female flowers follow. Without pollination, a zucchini plant won’t produce a zucchini.
When you see a small zucchini fruit rotting at one end, it often means the female flower wasn’t properly pollinated. The fruit is not viable. So, the fruit starts to rot and eventually drops off.
Ideally, you want pollinators, such as bees, in your garden to pollinate your zucchini flower.
However, sometimes there aren’t enough pollinators. If that’s the case, or you’re concerned about pollination, you can try your hand at pollinating your zucchini yourself. Take a look at this video by GrowVeg to find out how you do this.
With zucchini, fertilization is not an absolute must. But, if you’d like to fertilize your zucchini you can use either a slow release or a water soluble fertilizer.
Slow release, as the name suggests, means the fertilizer releases slowly over time. In contrast, water soluble fertilizers give an immediate boost to your plants.
Slow release fertilizers are usually in pellet or solid form, and you mix the pellets into the soil. Water soluble fertilizers are mixed with water and sprinkled over your plants.
Remember, if you’re adding plenty of compost or mulch to your soil you may not need to fertilize.
Personally, I never fertilized my zucchini. But, my zucchini was always planted in heavily composted ground. Some plants can’t take excessive compost – it’s too rich for the plant. Luckily, that’s rarely a problem for these prolific producers!
The best time to fertilize your zucchini is at the beginning of the growing season. This is when the plant is establishing its roots. Then fertilize again when you start to see flowers. At these times, the plant uses a lot of energy and can use those extra nutrients.
Use a balanced fertilizer, meaning the numbers on the fertilizer are all the same, such as 10-10-10. These numbers stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Although zucchini are hungry plants and do well in spots with a lot of organic compost, you want to be careful with chemical fertilizers. Too much can burn a plant’s roots. Always read the instructions and use no more than the recommended amount.
General Care Tips
In addition to pollination and fertilization, there are a few other general care tips to keep in mind.
1. After your seedlings have settled in, you can mulch around their bases to help retain water.
2. Zucchini leaves are large. You can thin out overlapping leaves to help improve the airflow. Cut the leaves where they emerge from the stem. You can remove up to one-third of the plant’s leaves at one time.
3. If you’re growing your zucchini in a container, you may need to provide some type of plant support, such as a cage or stake. This too will help with the airflow.
4. Remove any yellow or damaged leaves.
5. Check your plants regularly for pests.
6. Weeds will take advantage of all that rich soil, so weed often.
8. Harvesting Your Zucchini
Whether starting in a pot or planting in-ground, your zucchini seeds should begin sprouting within two weeks. And within 35 – 55 days you should start seeing blooms. Those blooms will soon turn into little zucchinis.
And once zucchinis start appearing, they grow fast. So, it’s important you check your zucchini plants often at this point. Failing to do so will result in your zucchinis growing quite large.
Not only do you need to frequently check your plants, but you need to pick your zucchini often.
By regularly harvesting, you encourage more flowers. This, in turn, means you’ll have more zucchini.
When zucchini continues to grow, that signals to the plant it’s time for the plant to stop growing. The plant spends its energy on supporting those large zucchinis, instead of making more flowers.
In general, the best size to pick your zucchini is around 6 – 8 inches long.
9. Pests That Affect Zucchini.
The three most common pests that affect zucchini are the squash vine borer, squash bug, and the cucumber beetle.
Squash Vine borer
The squash vine borer is a type of moth that lays eggs at the base of a zucchini’s stem. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the stem.
There are several signs you may have a squash vine borer problem.
- The leaves have started wilting.
- There are holes at the base of the stem. These holes may have green or orange/yellow sawdust-like “frass” (their poo) coming out of them.
- The stem is starting to rot at the feeding site.
To help prevent a squash vine borer from becoming a problem, you can wrap the stem in aluminum foil. Or try carefully cutting out and removing the larvae from the stem.
Too, you can sprinkle deterrents, such as diatomaceous earth, around the stocks of the young plants. Repeat this process after it rains.
For more information on the squash vine borer take a look at this article from the Wisconsin horticultural division of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A second pest to watch out for is the squash bug. This bug has a flat back and is fairly large. They’re usually dark grey to brown in color. Squash bugs can be mistaken for stink bugs.
These bugs mate early in the summer and lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. Squash bugs attack young tender plants and can cause them to wilt and die.
Later in summer and fall, this pest does not cause as much damage. This means it’s very important you watch for them early in the season. The key is to catch them as soon as possible so they don’t damage your young plants.
If you see squash bug eggs you can scrape the eggs off or remove the leaf. Once these bugs are adults pesticides tend to have little effect.
This article from the University of Minnesota’s Extension Office discusses squash bugs in more detail.
Cucumber beetles are about 1/4 of an inch long and can be striped or spotted. The striped cucumber beetle has a particular taste for cucurbits, such as zucchinis.
Signs of cucumber beetles include,
- Seedlings are being eaten off.
- Yellowing or wilting leaves
- Holes in the leaves of the plant.
A big concern with cucumber beetles is they can carry and spread bacterial wilt disease to your plants. This makes them a double threat. Often it’s the disease that causes the plant’s demise, rather than a chomping from these pests.
To learn more about cucumber beetles take a look at this article from Eorganic.
The above three are not the only insects that can affect zucchini plants. This article from the Old Farmer’s Almanac can help you identify other pests to watch out for.
Although it’s not always possible to completely protect your plant from bugs, here are a few things you can do to help prevent pests from becoming a major problem.
- Inspect your plants regularly.
- Keep your plants healthy. The healthier and sturdier the plant, the less damage it’ll suffer from pests.
- Consider releasing beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps.
- Look at utilizing companion planting methods.
- Don’t plant your zucchini in the same area two years in a row if you’ve had problems. Pests, especially the squash vine borer, can overwinter in the soil and then emerge in the spring.
10. Diseases That Affect Zucchini
When zucchini leaves get wet and don’t dry timely, powdery mildew can develop. It’s the most common disease to affect zucchini. This fungal disease turns the leaves powdery and white.
It’s one of the reasons why it’s so important zucchini plants have good airflow.
Tip: to help prevent powdery mildew try spraying your plants with cow’s milk. Using a mixture of 40% milk to 60% water, spray your plants as a preventative, before mildew has gained a foothold.
Usually, powdery mildew is not fatal to the plant. But severe cases can interfere with photosynthesis and result in a reduced yield. Plus it’s just yucky to look at.
If you do see powdery mildew clip the leaves early on to try and contain the disease.
Other diseases that can affect zucchini plants include bacterial wilt, leaf spot, or leaf blight. Check out this article from The Gardener’s Path. It has more information on identifying and controlling zucchini diseases.
11. Zucchini Recipes
Zucchini is a delicious, versatile vegetable. Here are just a few ways to make use of this tasty edible.
12. Final Thoughts
- Zucchini plants are easy to grow.
- They like deep, consistent waterings.
- Zucchini need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, preferably more.
- Pollination is key to a zucchini plant’s success.
- Good air circulation will help prevent disease.
- The squash vine borer, squash bug, and cucumber beetle are three common zucchini pests.
- Powdery mildew is a common zucchini disease.
- Zucchinis are very versatile and can be used in many recipes.
If you enjoyed this beginner’s guide on how to grow zucchini, feel free to share it.