The ultimate zucchini guide is where you'll find tips for growing this versatile summer squash, including the best varieties to grow and dealing with pests and diseases - plus a ton of recipes to preserve and cook with zucchini (and other summer squash).
This zucchini guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you'll find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking a specific fruit or vegetable (both fresh and to preserve). See more fruit and vegetable guides here. Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
So let's talk zucchini (also known as 'summer squash') - is it divisive where you live? Does it have the same reputation as it does here in Oregon where it is the butt of summertime jokes? ("Don't leave your car window open in the summer or you might find a bag full of zucchini in your seat!")
It definitely has the reputation as a love-it-or-hate it vegetable, which I believe is directly related (in my case at least) to piles of mushy squash that were served with frightening regularity during the summers of my youth. Although I never served zucchini like that to my kids and they don't like it except in sweet baked goods. So there's that.
Whatever the consensus, zucchini is a versatile vegetable that's as good in savory dishes as sweet. It's also usually very easy to grow and prolific. When picked at small and medium sizes, it produces pretty normal amounts - it's when ignored and left to grow giant clubs that the bad reputation comes from.
Let's all determine that if we're growing summer squash to pick them small! When we do, we won't be overwhelmed and will have the perfect vegetable to use in all the recipes you'll find at the end of this ultimate zucchini guide - they are keepers for sure!
Wait, is zucchini summer squash? What is summer squash?
Summer squash is harvested before the fruit is fully mature, giving it an edible skin and so a shorter shelf life than winter squashes like pumpkins, butternut and acorn. In addition to zucchini, other summer squash varieties include straightneck squash (or yellow summer squash) and crookneck squash.
All of the following growing guide tips apply to all summer squash and most of the recipes and preserving techniques do as well.
Is zucchini nutritious?
Like all vegetables, zucchini is low in calories. It is also high in anti-inflammatory properties, with antioxidants, vitamin C, and a pectin fiber that's great for heart health and reduces inflammation. It's a great source of potassium and helps improve digestion. So even though it seems to just be mostly water sometimes, it is a vegetable that should be a part of every healthy diet.
Ultimate Zucchini Guide: Plant & Grow
Types and Varieties of Zucchini & Summer Squash
- Eightball Zucchini Summer Squash (Hybrid 35 days) - a fun to grow ball-shaped zucchini.
- Cashflow Zucchini (Hybrid 47 days)
- Black Zucchini Summer Squash (Heirloom, 50 days)
- Golden Zebra Summer Squash (Hybrid 50 days) - super easy to see to pick and avoid the large clubs!
- Chiffon Squash (Hybrid, 42 days) - how about a white summer squash?
How to Grow Zucchini
- You can start seeds indoors, but squash don't like to be transplanted, so it's best to direct sow them into the garden.
- Plant only 1 or 2 plants (really!) - they produce a LOT.
- Plant when the weather warms, from a few weeks after your last frost date up until midsummer (sometimes planting later will minimize issues with squash borers).
- Add an organic fertilizer to the soil and plant in rows 2-3 feet apart or in hills of 2-3 seeds with hills 5 feet apart. TIP: Even planting in hills, I thin the seeds to the strongest plant, as I've found I get the best harvest from one plant that is not competing with another (pictured above - use a knife or pruners to clip the second plant out to avoid disrupting the roots).
- Water consistently (once a week) and deeply (4 inches) for the best fruit production. TIP: soaker hoses are your friend here as they help to keep the water off the plants and help decrease the chance for mildew.
Zucchini Guide Growing Problems
We tend to think anyone can grow zucchini and there's always just too much of it, but I know from experience in my own garden that that's not always true. There are problems that can happen in the garden that can make it hard to grow zucchini.
Here are a few issues and some ideas on how to deal with them:
1. Lots of Blossoms, No Fruit
Squash plants produce male and female blossoms and both must be open at the same time for bees to pollinate from the female blooms to the male ones. Male flowers sit atop tall, slender stems and female flowers come from the base with a swollen end that turns into fruit. Male flowers typically open first on a plant and about 7 to 14 later the females bloom (all the flowers last for one day). If your plant is blooming but no squash are forming, check to see if you have both male and female blooms present.
Solution: If pollination does not occur, you can use a q-tip to transfer pollen from the male blossom to the female.
Summer rain can cause a gray mold or botrytis on summer squash. Often it occurs when dead blossoms start to rot in rainy weather.
Solution: If you spot gray mold on fruits, cut the stems and toss them into the compost pile. During long rainy spells, gather fallen blooms if you can easily reach them to reduce the chances of the disease developing.
3. Blossom End Rot
These are darken, sunken spots on the bottom of the fruit. It’s not a disease but a symptom of calcium deficiency which occurs due to uneven watering (wet-dry cycles in soil), too-high nitrogen, or root damage. (Note: it's safe to eat squash with blossom end rot—just cut away the problem area).
Solution: Treat plants with a calcium spray; keep soil consistently moist (using mulch helps - either organic or plastic); test soil when the growing season ends and amend as needed.
4. Wilting Leaves
It's common during midday heat for squash leaves to wilt even though soil may have adequate moisture. Check plants again in the early evening to see if leaves have revived.
Solution: Mulch around the base of vines to help retain soil moisture.
5. Squash Vine Borer
If squash vines wilt overnight, the plants have probably been invaded by the horrible squash vine borer. The adult insects lay eggs on the base of vines and undersides of leaves. The eggs are tiny red specks and easily visible. Adult squash vine borers are red and black moths that hover around the base of squash plants, laying eggs onto stems.
Solution: Check vines weekly and squish any eggs you see. If vines wilt, yank them up and cut open the stem base to look for borers. Do not put borer-infested vines into your compost. Destroy them. You can also cut out the borers by slitting the vine above the hole and then burying the area in soil. Use floating row covers during the early season; dust the base of vines with a light coating of diatomaceous earth (works on the larvae that typically ruin the plant, but not the adults).
6. Squash Bugs
Grayish-brown, hard-backed squash bugs weaken plants by sucking plant juices and hatching dozens of young.
Solution: Hand-pick and kill the adult bugs and squish the eggs found on the underside of the leaves. My brother-in-law has had good success using duct tape to remove the eggs from the leaves. Place old boards under the plants in the evening and gather squash bugs found hiding beneath them first thing in the morning to dispose of.
7. Powdery Mildew
This is what I deal with the most - the late season white powdery substance that appears on the leaves. This is a fungus disease and once the disease starts, spraying fungicides controls it, but can’t cure it.
Solution: #1: Pruning - prune affected leaves all the way to the stem. Most should be growing below the current crop and the fruit won't need them. #2: Homemade prevention strategies - spray plants with diluted milk or baking soda. These have university research behind them but require faithful application before any mildew appears.
When the season ends pull the squash vines and destroy them - don’t add to the compost pile.
Zucchini Guide Harvesting Tips
- Harvest when small!! Try baby sizes as well as 6-8 inches.
- Use a knife to cut the fruit from the plant. Twisting or pulling can result in the top part of the fruit breaking off or pulling up the roots.
- Check daily or every other day to avoid large clubs of zucchini.
- Store in the fridge for up to 10 days well.
- Yes, you can eat the blossoms! Harvesting mainly the male blossoms means you won't hurt productivity as much. Collect fully open, healthy blooms.
Zucchini Guide Preserving & Cooking Recipes
Zucchini Preserving Recipes
Zucchini Cinnamon Freezer Muffins @ AOC (my favorite way to "preserve" zucchini!)
3 Ways to Preserve Zucchini (Freeze, Dehydrate, Pickle) @ Grow A Good Life
How to Preserve Zucchini: Ferment, Dehydrate, Freeze & Can @ Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment
Pressure Canned Tomatoes with Zucchini @ National Center for Home Food Preservation
Boiling Water Canned Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles @ Mrs. Wages (from Food in Jars)
Boiling Water Canned Sweet Zucchini Relish @ All Recipes
Refrigerator Sweet Spicy Zucchini Relish @ Craving Something Healthy
How to Freeze Zucchini the Easy Way @ On Sutton Place
Cooking & Baking Zucchini Recipes
Easy Grilled Vegetables @ AOC (zucchini is SO good in this, or you can do zucchini alone)
Italian Sausage Pasta Primavera @ AOC (zucchini is a great vegetable to use in this!)
Zucchini Parmesan Crisps @ Food Network
Cheesy Zucchini Tots @ Lil' Luna
Baked Cheesy Zucchini Bites @ Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Cheesy Jalapeño Popper Stuffed Zucchini Boats @ Peas & Crayons
Crispy Baked Zucchini Fries @ Simple Nourished Living
Zucchini, Bacon & Gruyere Quiche @ Epicurious
Spicy Asian Zucchini Noodles @ The Read Food Dietitians
Turkey Meatballs Over Zucchini Noodles @ Country Living
Cheesy Zucchini Rice @ The Recipe Critic
Best Zucchini Pizza Crust @ Delish
Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats @ The Wholesome Dish
Zucchini Lattice Lasagna @ Delish
Goat Cheese & Zucchini Pizza @ Kitchen Konfidence
Zucchini Breakfast Casserole @ Simply Recipes
Savory Zucchini Parmesan Loaf @ Martha Stewart
Blueberry Zucchini Bread @ On Sutton Place
Carrot-Apple Zucchini Bread @ Mom On Timeout
Best Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread @ Just a Taste
Zucchini Breakfast Cookies @ Little Dairy on the Prairie
Zucchini Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting @ Cooking Classy
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies @ I Am Baker
Zucchini Brownies @ Crazy for Crust
Apple Zucchini Muffins @ Two Peas and Their Pod
Healthy Zucchini Muffins with Chocolate Chips @ Well Plated
Healthy Greek Yogurt Zucchini Pancakes @ Baker By Nature
Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake @ Our Best Bites
Banana Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting @ Skinnytaste
I hope you enjoyed this Ultimate Zucchini Guide. Check out some of the other Ultimate Guides below (or go here to see them all):
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