Many gardeners will tell you that zucchini practically grows itself, and the plants can produce an abundant harvest. Why else would there be a National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day? While zucchini is a prolific grower, that doesn’t mean it can’t use a little assistance from the gardener. Here are five tips to help you get a more reliable harvest throughout the growing season.
01 of 05
Plant in 'Hills'
In gardening, the term “hill” refers to a raised mound of soil. While you can plant zucchini in rows, hilling provides several benefits: hills of soil warm more quickly early in the season, if you want to sow seeds as soon as possible after the last chance of frost, plus hills provide better drainage than flat rows. Additionally, planting several zucchini in a hill allows for increased pollination. Whether you choose to buy seedlings or plant zucchini seeds directly in your garden, you should group two to three plants close together for best pollination. Plus, hilling allows you to dig compost in to the soil. Zucchini plants like rich soil, and hilling gives the plants an extra boost of nutrients they'll appreciate. Make sure plants receive an inch of water per week.
The reason this is important when growing zucchini is because its flowers need to be pollinated to form a viable fruit, and each female flower is only open for one day. No pollination means no zucchini. So, if you have multiple plants growing near each other, your chance of pollination greatly improves.
02 of 05
In addition to having to manage the short lifespan of zucchini blossoms, you also will need both male and female flowers open at the same time. Only female flowers set fruit. The male flowers are there strictly for pollinating purposes.
New zucchini plants tend to produce a lot of male flowers at first. This can be frustrating for gardeners when they see a lot of flowers blooming but no fruits forming. Be patient. Once the plants mature a little, they will start setting flowers of both sexes. And thanks to the early male flowers, there already should be plenty of pollinating insects in the area. You will know you have female flowers when you see tiny fruits directly behind the base of the flower.
If you’re really dedicated to your zucchini harvest, you can always take pollinating matters into your own hands. You can remove the male flowers and dust their pollen onto the female flowers to help ensure good pollination takes place. You can also use an artist's paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male flower on the the female bloom. Moreover, don’t waste those early male flowers. You can still pick them, dip them in batter, and fry them up for a great treat.
03 of 05
Don't Plant Too Early
Zucchini does not tolerate frost or cold temperatures. So you won't gain anything from planting too early. Even if fruits form during cold weather, they will have pitted skin from chilling injuries. Thus, you should wait until at least mid-spring to plant when the soil warms, depending on your climate. The danger of frost should be completely gone, and the temperature should be reliably above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you do plant a little too early, use row covers to protect your plants at night if the temperature dips below 60 degrees. Plus, keep these row covers handy in the fall to extend your harvest.
04 of 05
Try Succession Planting
Zucchini is a fast grower, often producing fruit 50 to 60 days from seeding. But because zucchini plants work so hard to produce fruits, it's only natural that the plants' production will slow over the growing season.
Some gardeners feel the initial glut of zucchini is more than enough. But if you like a steady supply, succession planting is the way to go. Depending on your climate, you should be able to start new zucchini plants two to three times throughout the growing season to have a consistent harvest.
Luckily, zucchini is extremely easy to grow from seed, and there’s no need to start seed indoors. You can directly sow seed in your garden once your first round of zucchini plants have matured and expect to see germination within days. Many gardeners do this second planting in mid-July or mid-August (or both). Plantings later in the season typically grow even faster than a spring planting.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Look Out for Squash Borers
Squash vine borers love zucchini. The adults emerge from their winter hideout in the soil sometime in late June to early July, and one of their first tasks is to lay their eggs at the base of squash plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the stems of the plants and start to feed. This cuts off the flow of water through the stems and can quickly kill your beautiful zucchini plants.
Adult squash vine borers look similar to wasps, but they're actually moths. Unlike most moths, though, these fly during daylight hours and lay eggs at the base of susceptible plants. To avoid squash vine borers you could outsmart them by not planting your zucchini until mid-July. If there are no zucchini plants in your garden, there is no reason for the vine borer moth to stop by and lay her eggs. Plus, if you do have squash vine borers in your soil, delaying planting for one year can break the cycle of them infesting your plants. The larvae will wake up and not have anywhere to feed, rather than feeding on your plants and eventually reproducing themselves. You can also add row covers to prevent the adults from laying eggs on the zucchini, but you'll need to hand-pollinate the flowers.
But if you really want early zucchini, there is another way to foil this pest, which requires using foil. You can wrap the base of each stem with a small piece of aluminum foil. You only need to cover about 2 to 4 inches of the stem where it comes out of the ground. If you wrap the foil securely, the larvae shouldn't be able to bore through it.
Growing Summer Squash and Zucchini in Home Gardens. University of Minnesota Extension