Beginner’s guide on how to grow zucchini in your garden

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The zucchini, I think almost everyone knows this versatile vegetable. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner in the garden, the appeal of growing zucchini lies in its simplicity and the incredible versatility it brings to your culinary creations. 

A round zucchini
A round zucchini with its flower still attached

If you’re new to gardening and looking to cultivate your own fresh, homegrown zucchini, you’ve come to the right spot! With a little bit of knowledge and some dedicated care, you can grow these vibrant green veggies right in your backyard. In this beginner’s guide, I’ll take you through the essential steps and tips to grow zucchini, ensuring a fruitful harvest and an enjoyable gardening experience. 

General information about zucchini plants

  • Zucchini plants are from the family Cucurbitaceae.
  • Zucchini plants are large plants with an average height of the plant of 1.3 – 2 feet (40 – 60 cm).
  • Location in the garden: in a sunny and warm place.
  • The minimum distance between plants is 3.2 feet (1 m) because of the large zucchini leaves.
  • Water the plants well, an inch of water per day, but make sure to wet them overhead, at ground level. The perfect soil is moist soil for a zucchini plant.
  • Harvest the zucchini early, the more you harvest the more fruit the plant will produce.
  • Some zucchini plants can also climb, which is recommended if you have a small garden.

Choosing the right location 

Zucchini plants thrive in the full sun, so choose a sunny location in your garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Ensure the spot has well-drained soil and is rich in organic matter. If the soil is heavy or clayey, consider adding compost or well-rotted manure to improve its texture and fertility.

A small zucchini plant

Popular types of zucchini

Black Beauty

  • Harvest the zucchini when it’s 0.5 – 0.6 feet (15 – 20 cm) long from June – August
  • Mature around 50 days after sowing
  • This variety has a dark green, firm fruit with a mild flavor

Golden Zucchini (Ola Gabriella)

  • Harvest the zucchini when it’s 0.6 – 0.8 feet (20 – 25 cm) long from June – September
  • Mature around 40 – 60 days after sowing
  • This zucchini is, like its name, golden/yellow, and has a fine texture and a mild taste
Golden zucchini
Golden zucchini’s

Round zucchini (Ola Redonda)

  • Harvest the zucchini daily, the fruit will be around 275 grams, to make sure the plant stays productive
  • Mature around 45 days after sowing
  • This zucchini is orb-like, light green, and has white specks
A round zucchini
A round zucchini

Planting zucchini seeds or seedlings 

Zucchini can be grown from seeds or seedlings. If using seedlings, transplant them carefully, taking care to not disturb the roots.

How should zucchini seeds be planted?

Like any seeds, you can either start them indoors, in a greenhouse, or outside directly in the soil. All three methods have their upsides and downsides, just make sure you choose the most convenient way for your situation.

​Prepare the soil optimally for the growing of the zucchini plants. Dig a hole where you want to plant your courgettes a few weeks before planting and fill it with compost. Be sure to choose a spot with well-draining soil. Put the remaining soil back so that the compost is well distributed and broken down. 

Starting zucchini seeds outside

If starting from zucchini seeds, sow them directly outside into the ground after the danger of frost has passed, also known as the last frost date, in your area. Plant the seeds about half an inch (1 cm) deep and space them 3 feet (~1 m) apart to allow enough ample room for the plants to spread. 

Starting zucchini seeds indoors

You can also plant the seeds indoors about 2 – 4 weeks before the last frost date. Use a seed tray, pots, or a soil block tool. Plant the seeds about half an inch deep (1 cm) and cover with some soil. Water the seeds daily and place them in a sunny, warm spot in your house or a greenhouse. This way you’ll keep your, hopefully soon sprouting seeds, moist and warm. Normally the seeds will germinate within 1 to 1.5 weeks.

​When your seedlings are ready to go outside, harden them off. The seedlings are then about 10 cm tall and have their first set of true leaves, in addition to the two cotyledons, several leaves. You can do this by taking them outside for a day before planting them in the ground.

Don’t panic when your seedlings look a bit limp, they can take a punch and most likely will thrive after some water and a day in the sun.

​Raised mounds

When you plant your zucchini seedlings or seeds consider planting them in raised mounds. A raised mound is nothing more than a spot in the garden where the soil is raised above the ground level in a mound shape.

​Planting your seeds or seedlings in a raised mound of soil has several benefits. You improve the drainage of the soil, which is perfect for zucchini plants to prevent the roots from rotting due to poor drainage. Furthermore, you’ll promote healthy root development because the soil in the raised mound will be loose.

Providing adequate water 

Zucchini plants require regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry spells. However, be cautious not to overwater as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. Apply a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth. 

​When you water the zucchini make sure you do so at ground level. Providing the zucchini plant with overhead water makes it vulnerable to all kinds of pests and diseases.

Which fertilizer can you use when growing zucchini?

Using a fertilizer is a personal choice. You could choose to just let your zucchini grow in the soil with some compost or you could choose to use some (organic) fertilizer. 

​Because zucchini is a plant that will produce fruits you must use a 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer. This is a well-balanced fertilizer that will support the zucchini in growing steadily, because of the nitrogen, but also in bearing lots of fruit, thanks to the phosphorus and potassium.

​If you choose not to use a fertilizer your zucchini yield will be lower than when you are using it, zucchini plants are heavy feeders so some extra nutrients won’t hurt. However, a zucchini plant has a great yield, and when you have the space to grow a few plants, your yields will be enough to keep your family fed the whole summer without making use of fertilizer.

Supporting and pruning zucchini plants

As zucchini plants grow, they can become quite large and spread out. Consider providing support for your plants by using stakes, trellises, or cages. This helps to keep the leaves off the ground and promotes better air circulation. This in turn will reduce the risk of diseases of the plant. 

It’s also a good practice to prune the plant by removing any yellowing or damaged leaves or fruits. This way the plant will focus its energy on growing healthy fruits instead of putting energy into damaged ones.

Pollinating your zucchini

The pollination of zucchini plants works as follows. Your plant will form two different kinds of zucchini flowers. It will form a male and female zucchini flower on the same plant. The male flowers have stamens filled with pollen, while the female bloom has a pistel or stigma.

A male flower of the zucchini plant
The male flower of the zucchini plant has stamens which are filled with pollen

After the pollen is distributed over the pistel the female flower will form a fruit, or in other words the zucchini.

A female flower of the zucchini plant
The female flower of the zucchini plant has a pistil or stigma

​In the ideal world, you would have lots and lots of pollinators such as honeybees, butterflies, and bumblebees in your garden. These little friends of a gardener will make sure all the female flowers are pollinated and they will all produce zucchini’s. Unfortunately, not every garden has enough pollinators which means your plants will have poor pollination, and thus produce a lower yield of fruits.

​To be absolutely sure your female flowers have good pollination, you can take the male stamens with all its pollen, or a feather or a paintbrush if you don’t want to damage your plant. Use these utensils to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower. And that’s it! No higher science, this is the best way to pollinate your zucchini plants.

Pollen on a paint brush
Use a paintbrush to pollinate your female zucchini flowers yourself if you don’t have enough pollinators in your garden

Harvesting zucchini 

Zucchini grows rapidly, and it’s essential to harvest them at the right time. Pick the zucchini when they are still young and tender, about 6-8 inches in length. 

​Waiting too long may result in oversized, tough fruits. Use a sharp knife or pruner to cut the zucchini from the plant, leaving a short stem attached. Regular harvesting encourages continuous production throughout the growing season.

Pest and disease management 

Like any plant, zucchini is susceptible to pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for common issues such as powdery mildew, squash bugs, squash vine borers, or cucumber beetles. 

​In general, you can prevent the above-mentioned pests and diseases by practicing good garden hygiene by removing plant debris and weeds. Furthermore, you should rotate your crops every year (annually). This means you shouldn’t put a member of the Cucurbits family in the same spot every year. If you however do encounter a pest or disease check out these paragraphs below for some tips to prevent too much damage to your plants.

Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is a common problem you’ll encounter when growing zucchini. A large range of plants is susceptible to this fungus. You can encounter powdery mildew when growing zucchini, cucumber, squash, pumpkins, lettuce, peas, roses, and even apple and pear trees. 

It manifests as a powdery, white fungal growth on the leaves, stems, and even fruits of the plant. This affliction is caused by various species of fungi. This unwelcome visitor thrives in warm, humid conditions, making it a significant concern, especially during the growing season. 

Powdery mildew spots on the zucchini leaf
If you see these white spots on your zucchini leaves you should take appropriate action agains the powdery mildew

Powdery mildew affects the plant by inhibiting photosynthesis, stunting growth, and weakening the overall health of the zucchini plant. If left unaddressed, it can significantly reduce yields and compromise the quality of your precious harvest. 

Zucchini plant with white markings but no powdery mildew
Avoid confusing these white markings on the zucchini leaves with powdery mildew; these leaves are in good health and entirely typical for a zucchini plant.

Prevention and treatment of powdery mildew:

  • Prune affected leaves and stems of the plant to improve air circulation.
  • Avoid overhead watering but water at the base of the plants.
  • Practice proper spacing between the plants.
  • Mix equal parts of milk and water and spray it on the affected plants.
  • When there is no sign of recovery, remove the plant entirely to prevent the powdery mildew from spreading to other plants.

Squash bugs

These bugs are a common garden pest that can be devastating for your zucchini plants. Squash bugs have a flat body with a brown or gray color. They can multiply quickly and cause damage to the leaves, stems, and fruits of the plant. 

Upon encountering a squash bug I would recommend immediately picking it off the plant and disposing it in a bucket of soapy water. Check the undersides of the leaves to see if there are any eggs, if so remove them all.

A ladybug on a leaf
A great way to prevent and manage squash bug populations is to introduce natural predators like ladybugs

Squash vine borers

The squash vine borer is an insect that looks like a red and black wasp. It lays eggs at the base of the zucchini plant. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the stems and vines to feed on the inner tissue of the plant. This will cause the flow of nutrients and water to be disrupted causing the plant to weaken and eventually die.

Make use of row covers to shield plants during the egg-laying period, often around late June to early July. Inspect the base of the plant on frass (insect poop, looks like sawdust) or entry holes in the stems for the presence of this insect in your garden. If you spot an infected stem remove it from the plant and bury or destroy the larvae to prevent it from returning to your plants!

Cucumber beetles

These beetles are small and have a yellow-greenish or black body with stripes or spots. They feed directly on the leaves, flowers, and fruits of your zucchini plants and carry diseases that will infest the plants when they feed on them.

The result of an infestation of these beetles can be stunted plant growth, lower yields of produce, or even the death of your plants.

How to prevent and manage the cucumber beetle:

  • ​Use floating row covers for your young plants.
  • Handpick and put the beetles in soapy water when you see them.
  • Mix 1 ml of neem oil with 100 ml of water and spray on the infected plants.
  • Remove heavily-infested plants from your garden.

Regularly inspect your plants and take appropriate action at the first sign of infestation or disease. By planning your garden in a well-thought-out way and using permaculture, pests can be repelled naturally. 

Companion plants of the zucchini

Two great companion plants for zucchini are Marigold and Borage. The zucchini’s hostile insects will be fought off by the ladybugs and hoverflies that are attracted to the flowers.

A flower of the Marigold plant
A great companion for zucchini plants is the Marigold flower also known as Calendula

Pollinators are drawn to these flowers, this will lead to visits from pollinators for your zucchinis as well!

A flower of a borage plant
Borage is also a great companion plant for your zucchini plants

Did you know you can also eat the flowers of the marigold and borage plants? These flowers are edible and often used in salads, soups, and other dishes.

I hope you’ll be able to start planting your zucchini seeds and growing delicious zucchini in your vegetable garden after reading this beginner’s guide! Growing zucchini can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, providing you with an abundance of fresh and delicious fruits.

By following these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating healthy zucchini plants and enjoying the fruits of your labor in no time. 

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