It’s Zucchini Season! How You’ve Been Growing Them All Wrong.

You probably think you already know how to grow a zucchini but if you live in North America … you might not.  Here’s the way to grow zucchini to make your plants last longer, take up less space and produce more.

Pruned and staked zucchini plants bearing zucchinis and blossoms with leaves growing above the vegetables only. Drip irrigation hoses run along the rocky soil beside the plants.

Why would you want your zucchini plants to produce more, you’re asking?  Because of the obvious.  They’re fun to throw through people’s open car windows during zucchini season. 

Zucchini are one of those vegetables that already produce more than you ever expect them to and seem relatively easy to grow. And they are.  But you can do a MUCH better job of growing them if you’re aware of these 3 surprising things about zucchini plants.

Most surprising of all is the fact that Zucchini can perform complex math equations.

No they can’t.

Growing Zucchini

Zucchini need to be pruned and staked.  For real. Like a tomato.

Zucchini can be planted VERY close together. 1 per square foot.

Powdery Mildew CAN be halted.  O.K., maybe not entirely halted but slowed wayyyyy down.


 

Shot of Karen Bertelsen's community garden showing lettuce plants growing in foreground, pruned and staked zucchini plants beside hoop house and corn plot in midground. Background shows hydro tower beside lush conservation area.

 

Pruning and Staking Zucchini

The only other plant in my garden that I prune more than my zucchini are my tomato plants.  Just like tomatoes, zucchini benefit hugely from pruning.  They’ll be susceptible to less disease, have a more open formation that allows easier access for bees to pollinate and they’ll take up less space.

Staking

It’s best to stake your zucchini when you first plant it, but you can still do it during the growing season.

Plant a stake right next to the main stem of the zucchini plant. You may not have noticed it before, but zucchini all come from one stem. That stem is just usually sprawled and dirty on the ground covered in decaying leaves. So you can’t get a good look at it.

But trust me. Zucchini have one stem, that can be staked just like a tomato. 

The earlier you do it the easier it is though.

Shot of a zucchini plant that has been staked only once early in the season. Leaves lying against soil show signs of pest damage and powdery mildew.

Above you can see a zucchini plant that’s only been staked and tied once, earlier in the season with the rest of the growth just flopped over.  The leaves are being eaten by bugs, there’s no air circulation and the lower leaves near the soil are getting powdery mildew.

Pruned and staked zucchini plant with all leaves below the emerging zucchinis and blossoms removed. Drip-irrigation hoses running beside plants on rocky soil.

Here’s the same zucchini plant after staking it properly and removing all the lower leaves.


Pruning

You can remove ALL OF THE LEAVES FROM THE STEM THAT ARE BELOW THE LOWEST ZUCCHINI.  

Foreground shows the hollow end of a cut zucchini leaf stem lying on the rocky soil beside a horizontal wooden stake.

Zucchini leaf stems are hollow UNTIL they get to the stem of the plant. There they turn solid again.  Prune your zucchini leaves right up to the stem of the plant so you don’t have any of the hollow stem left.

A shot showing where several hollow leaf stems have been cut right to the zucchini plant's main stem. Grey container with plant in background.

Hollow stem portions car harbour disease and bugs so make sure you get right close to the plant stem when removing the leaves.

Left side of shot shows a zucchini plant before pruning and staking. Its leaves show signs of pest damage and powdery mildew. Right side of shot shows zucchini plant after pruning and staking.

See the difference from the left photograph and the right one? 

WHY PRUNE?

The developing zucchini gain all their energy from ONLY the leaves growing above them. The leaves below, are just taking energy away from the rest of the plant.

Pruning away diseased and damaged leaves helps prevent and slow powdery mildew by creating greater air circulation.

Pruning away the larger, lower leaves that aren’t contributing to the plant means you can plant more zucchini in a smaller space.

 


 

Spacing Zucchini

Most guides tell you to place zucchini plants at least 24″ apart. You don’t need that much room between them.

Plant zucchini 1′ apart in 1.5″ rows.

If you’re staking them and pruning them this is all the room they need.

Here you can see pre-pruning and staking …

Zucchini plant shown before pruning and staking with leaves growing close to the soil. Hydro tower, poles and wires against cloudy blue sky in background.

 

And below you can see post …

 

Pruned and staked zucchini plant bearing yellow blossoms and emerging zucchinis against cloudy blue sky. Drip-irrigation hoses running alongside of plants on rocky soil.

 

Powdery Mildew on Zucchini

It’s the kiss of death, but luckily it’s a long, slow, torturous death.  Most zucchini plants seem to be able to withstand powdery mildew for quite a long time.

But to make your zucchini plants last into the late summer and early fall, you can take a few steps to slow down powdery mildew.

If you’re growing zucchini plants by staking them and pruning them, you’re already doing a LOT to keep powdery mildew at bay. But for extra protection you can spray your Zucchini with a mixture of vinegar and water.  I have a full post on how to make and use the spray on zucchini here. 


For some reason in North America gardeners don’t use these techniques for zucchini (pruning and staking). But in Europe it’s been the way to do it for centuries. I made that centuries part up, but I imagine it’s probably true. 

 

Various sized freshly picked zucchini (two with blossoms still intact) piled on an outdoor bench made of weathered wooden planks.

Zucchini may not be able to do complex mathematical equations but they can add up like nobody’s business.

 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

As it turns out ... you\'ve probably been growing your zucchini all wrong. To grow healthier, more productive, zucchini plants that take up less space you need to stake them and prune them. Just like a tomato! #vegetablegardening #zucchini

78 Comments

  1. Sharon says:

    I love this post. Have a new garden area and will be trying this. I have also learned to use zucchini in place of pasta. It is helping my husband lose weight. Have been using zucchini in Spaghetti, Goulash, Broccoli salad, Stir-Fry, and many more. Zucchini doesn’t have much taste but by use of other spices change the whole flavor. Going to try Spaghetti Salad one day this week, so as I’m using so much zucchini I need To find a way to grow it. Have never been successful in upper-lower Mich. Thanks for this post!

    • Ann says:

      Hey! I learned a new use for zucchini or yellow squash… I peel it, dice it, saute it with onion & garlic, food process it & use it in place of mayo in dips & sauces. E.g. I added artichoke hearts to processor, put the concoction back on the stove & cooked spinach & parm cheese in it. So good!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Glad to find your very informative zucchini post. I am another one who never gets a big yield from zucchini plants here in Michigan. Put in 2 plants this year……one produced nothing but flowers and the other one produced a whopping 3 zucchini, which I coveted! Tons of flowers on both plants but next to nothing in the way of a true zucchini, which is my favorite vegetable! Thanks for providing such great information here. I will definitely put it to task next season.

    • Gab says:

      I had this happen last year and realized I didn’t have bees in my yard so I started cross pollinating with a small paintbrush. Worked great!

  3. Joanie Frohlich says:

    I live in Southwest Florida where it’s still near 90 degrees daytime. Waiting for the fall weather so I can try this! Sounds fantastic! I pruned tomatoes and used cages this year, and did great. So I am dying to try this with zucchini!

  4. Cara Hanoum says:

    Great Article

  5. Diane ODonnell says:

    Someone asked this question, but there was no answer. Can this method be used on all squash or is it only used on zucchini? This would certainly give me more well needed space in an already over-crowded garden. LOL

    • Karen says:

      Hi Diane! You wouldn’t want to use it winter squash but any summer squash would be fine. For winter squash you can have them climb up a very strong trellis or arbour to make extra room in the garden. I once planted a squash beside my tomatoes which were staked and the squash grew up, over and twisted itself into all my tomatoes, lol. ~ karen!

  6. Mike J says:

    Howdy howdy – I’ve done this staking before and due to the high winds we have here, eventually the plants fall over, so I stopped. I really liked the amount of good photos and descriptions you made here. I was at a field trial for Bejo seeds in NY and was talking to Mark O. (head of US branch) and asked him if he ever tried this. Not only has he tried it, he is asking seed companies to try to make a zuke plant with more spacing between stalks on the stem and shorter, less heavy length stalks/leaves (petioles). I couldn’t remember your email then but hopefully I can get him to see what you have done. They have great field trials of cukes and other stuff growing up a string in green houses, I was amazed. Keep up the great site!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mike. I went up to my garden last night and the top of one zucchini plant was heading down towards earth with the weight of the zucchini. I gently and carefully pulled it up to its stake and tied it. If you don’t keep on top of tying them all season long they’ll naturally try to head back down to the ground, lol. It just takes consistent tying to a solid stake to keep them upright. Give it another shot! ~ karen

  7. Adam says:

    I’m in Europe and I’ve never seen or heard of anyone staking courgettes or removing lower leaves. Sounds like a good idea though!

  8. Gwendolyn F. says:

    Love info. I planted zucchini for 1st time. I planted in very large pot and used tomatoe cage. I decided to prune my plants but didn’t think about how far back to cut your info will come in handy next time. I had no bugs and meldew and good crop from 1 plant. I use no poisons .

  9. Jill says:

    This is brilliant! It totally makes sense, but I have never heard of anyone doing it. We’ve had such a hard time with beetles this year. I am definitely going to try this next year!

  10. Stephanie Tree says:

    I imagine this method would be good for all other squash…… or would it? Do you know? Thx.

  11. Drew Evans says:

    What about squash borers? I get a few zucchini’s and then the whole plant collapses, I’ve tried every suggestion I’ve read, but nothing has worked!

  12. Connie Peck says:

    I had 15 squash plants. Zucchini and yellowcrook neck. Squash
    Bugs sucked all but 3 dry. I used sevin dust only because I had it on hand. Every morning and evening for 4 days I cut dying leaves, stomped, squished and cussed until they were gone. Try to kill the adults first. I WILL be prepared next year!!

    • DeAnn says:

      The past two years I lots the zucchini crop to squash bugs. This year I companion planted nasturtiums with my zucchini this year after I read an article that they deterred squash bugs. It worked or I just got lucky! Cheap, easy and beautiful fix to try!

  13. Bev says:

    Can you successfully grow zucchini in pots?

    • Karen says:

      Most things can be grown successfully in pots as long as they’re big enough to accommodate the root system and lots of soil to hold nutrients! I’ve never done it, but I have no doubt that it would work. ~ karen!

  14. Barbara Sanders says:

    Great article; I never heard about pruning zucchini plants before but will be doing it ASAP, and from now on. Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      I discovered a plant I missed yesterday (it was a gift zucchini I planted later than the other ones) and I staked it up and pruned it. Even on this mature plant it was easy to do. 🙂 ~ karen!

  15. Alice says:

    My zuchinni start out then at about 3-5 inches the end connect to the plant truns yellow and I loose them. What could be causing this?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Alice! Your zucchini aren’t getting pollinated. It happens to a fair amount of them. That’s normal. But if it’s happening to all or almost all of them, opening up the plant by pruning away the extra leaves helps a bit. Sometimes people trim off the flowers to eat and that takes away the male flowers that are needed for pollination, so if you’re doing that, that could also be the problem. Hope that helps! ~ karen

  16. Carolyn says:

    Nobody has asked this question, so I will. In your photos, I can only barely make out the green twine or coated green wire among the stalks. I can’t tell what the method is — to you just tie up the centermost stalks? The only instruction I could find was “Plant a stake right next to the main stem of the zucchini plant.” Could you please explain the process of choosing the stalks to tie and if you have to re-tie them as the plant grows? Many thanks!!

    • Karen says:

      HI Carolyn! Zucchini only has one stalk so it’s the only one you can tie up. 🙂 So yes, you just pull it upright and tie it to the stake. I use green twine. You’ll have to continue to do this throughout the growing season. ~ karen!

  17. Esther says:

    I have read that wrapping aluminum foil around the zucchini stalk keeps the worms from burrowing into the plant. I tried it this year and it worked.

    • Nikki says:

      This was my issue this year with zucchini & spaghetti squash. We did keep them pruned back & the zucchini staked and I found it a lot easier to care for. They were doing fine until we went on vacation & couldn’t check them everyday – the borers got to them both. After we came home to hollowed out stems, I researched & learned about the aluminum foil (or florist tape) idea & have replanted in pots to try it out.

      Fingers crossed.

  18. Cindy Jones-Sherk says:

    Staking zucch’s, what? Excellent, how do you find this stuff out? So helpful.

    • Cindy Jones-Sherk says:

      Just adding, I took my snips to most of summer squash plants since this post, I say most because they were so wild! I found some patty pans I would not have known were ripe AND amazing how the pollinator activity amped up AND I can walk around my beds now. This technique is now fully added to my repertoire. I might start a blog called, ‘I did what Karen did’ or ‘Doing what Karen says’ well, okay, I can work on the name.

      • Karen says:

        LOL. Well, I think the name is pretty good. Once I tried to make wall art out of yarn. That’s one particular instance where you shouldn’t do what Karen did. ~ karen!

  19. Yabut says:

    I’ve pruned off a few leaves but I will check to make sure I went close enough to the stalk and will look to see if there are any below the lowest zucchini. Thanks for those tips. But I must say, while reading your part about spacing, I had to wonder, why would anyone ever want to plant more than one? Those plants are so prolific it’s hard to keep up with what just one produces, let alone a row of the darn things!

  20. Emily says:

    Thanks! I don’t need to produce more zucchini, but I do need to plant them closer to have room for something else, as yet to be determined. Right now my zucchini is crossing the garden path to invade the peppers and eggplant bed, so I am glad to learn these tips for next year. Thanks for doing real research and sharing useful stuff instead of just cutting & pasting the same old things. Yesterday I made blueberry zucchini cake with lemon buttercream frosting, and today it needs to be yet another loaf of zucchini chocolate chip bread. I’ve found people are a lot more receptive to free zucchini when it comes in the form of bread. With chocolate chips.

  21. Kelli says:

    I read this “…and produce more,” and thought hoo-boy, is she SURE about that? My grandparents used to grow zucchini (along with a gazillion other things) and they used to bring villages worth of zucchini’s to the house that were the size of small children! They said they stuff would grow like mad, and multiply like crazy, when you turned your back for 5 minutes. Maybe they’re better at “math” than you think, Karen!

    They certainly would have scared ANY dog, that’s for sure! 😉

  22. PMMK says:

    That’s so neat and tidy I can barely stand it. Probably why I didn’t think of it myself. There is actually room underneath for bug repelling stuff like oregano, radish or marigolds. There is probably enough shade to get away with another crop of lettuce. Clever!

  23. Erin says:

    I have no idea how everyone gets such massive amounts of zucchini… I have 3 plants, and I’ve harvested 3 zucchini from them, total. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong… >.<

    • Misty says:

      Where are you at? I have three plants as well but they’ve done terrible! I’m in Northern Indiana.

    • DEBBIE OLSON says:

      I had the same problem this year. Didn’t get hardly any squash from 12 plants. All of my squash died after some severe thunderstorms. They looked fantastic the night before the storms and the next morning were all wilted on the ground.

  24. monique says:

    Growing Cue Balls and Eight Balls this year and boy are they cute and delicious stuffed.I just went out and did what you said..will stake after a bite to eat.Thanks!
    All those big beautiful leaves are gorgeous but superfluous.

  25. I’m in Northern California. I have never heard this tip! But I am eager to try it! I started a 2nd set of zuch seeds and will be planting soon–we are hot here until November 1st.

  26. Reta says:

    I always leave one to get super huge each year then use it at Halloween instead of a pumpkin.

  27. Pam says:

    Great post – it’s something I will be doing with my (lone) zucchini plant!

    May I offer a couple of tips for the bugs? Squash bugs are a grey/brown diamond shaped bug that looks like a stink bug (the size of a kidney bean or smaller). Cucumber beetles are yellow and black, spotted or striped. The cucumber beetles like to mate inside spent flowers so use some long tweezer and crush them while they are schmoozing or remove the flower, bugs and all (just make sure there aren’t any bees inside). I also use tweezers to catch the squash bugs and step on them. The eggs have to be either crushed, placed in soapy water or removed from the garden. Don’t let them hatch in the compost – they’ll find your plants! And squash bugs may not feed on all types of plants, but they will lay eggs on all kinds of plants. 🙂

  28. Susan R says:

    This year is my first for zucchini – I found seeds for “Bush Zucchini” – they supposedly don’t spread as much but boy do they have a lot of huge leaves. I noticed a ripe zucchini on the weekend when it was stinking hot – I went to pick it and encountered a nice fat garter snake enjoying the shade under the leaves. Yesterday I went in and cut back a ton of the huge leaves to increase my chance of seeing those snakes more easily. I’m not sure if it will help or hinder the zucchini production, because I cut a lot of them off – but I just can’t take the surprise of unexpected snake sightings. Your method of cutting them back at the bottom would help with that – if I can make sure no snakes are in there – I will go in and trim those stems further back. And yes – I probably don’t really need MORE zucchini anyway.

  29. TAMMI L DUIS says:

    This is perfect timing, my plants are a mess!!! Brilliant stuff!

  30. Joyce says:

    So now you tell us how to grow zuchs! I harvested 11 this morning and will soon begin the chore of carrying them to the neighbors and complete strangers! I ground up 22 cups of pulp last week. It is lurking in my freezer.
    Tonight it’s zucchini lasagna for dinner. We had zucchini boats earlier in the week.
    The chickens and quail like them, too
    Joyce

    • Dianna says:

      Ha! We’re having zucchini lasagna tonight too!

      ((I read to slice thin (mandolin) and bake the slices at 350 for like 10-12 minutes just before they brown….. before adding them to your lasagna to avoid them adding so much water to the dish…… ‘sposed to be so much more efficient than salting them in a colander.))

    • acooke525 says:

      We made a killer zucchini bread that freezes really well and our baby girl loves them.

  31. Hillary says:

    Karen, have you ever had zucchini not drop their flowers at all? All my fruit, even the enormous ones, are still sort of open at the flower end, bloom wilted but still attached, and underneath they’re lumpy and weird (no green skin). The rest of the fruit is normal. Any ideas?

  32. Janet says:

    Wow. I was literally just wondering about all of these things. Thank you. I think it might be a bit late to state my insane giants this year but I will go ahead and prune the lower leaves away. I just found a zucchini the size of a baseball bat because it was hiding LOL

  33. Heather says:

    Thanks, Karen! I’m going to be copying you — again! 🙂

  34. anakit says:

    Oh I hope you’re eating the flowers as well! Fry them up in egg or batter, savoury or sweet.

    • Karen says:

      Nope, I’m not. 🙂 I just feel like they aren’t worth the bother, which I know is alarming to a lot of people, lol. ~ karen!

      • Jill says:

        I just learned that you can stuff them and bake them in the oven. I had no idea you could eat them. The ones I had were stuffed with zucchini caponata and they were amazing!

      • Jill says:

        I just had caponata stuffed blossoms last month for the first time. I had no idea the flowers were edible. They were amazing!

  35. whitequeen96 says:

    The first mistake people make is planting zucchini at all! I can’t stand the stuff, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to leave bags of it at my door. I’m thinking of getting a vicious pit bull just to keep them away!

  36. Sarah Jackson says:

    I had so many zucchini one year that I gave a small truck load to a Vietnamese restaurant.

    • Elaine says:

      I haven’t planted zucchini yet, but I have given excess tomatoes to my local fire department. I’m sure the restaurant owners appreciated your donation too!

  37. D.Bret Merideth says:

    Good article. What about squash bugs? I have tried everything… tansy, picking them off, nasturtiums, scraping eggs off underside, soap, water, torch lighter, baseball bat ( admitting defeat ) all to no avail. Let’s see how good you really are if you can solve this problem.
    Bret

    • Lynn Chapman says:

      What do the bugs look like? I have tiny green grasshopper like bugs but they’re the size of green aphids. They seem to attack the underside of the leaves and make them yellow and wither. But I still get new growth.
      And cucumbers.
      Good advice re zucchini.. will try the suggestions.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Lynn. Squash bugs are not what you’re seeing. And they aren’t what’s killing your cucumbers or zucchini. Chances are you have bacterial wilt caused by cucumber beetles. ~ karen!

    • Jill says:

      The whole article I was hoping for a solution to the squash bugs. Mine look like very small yellow caterpillars with black spikes coming out of them. Best I have done is to pick them off into a jar of soapy water. But there are soooo many! Thanks for the staking tip. I used tomato cages this year to control them but did not prune. Going out now to take off some growth.

    • Connie Peck says:

      I had 15 squash plants. Zucchini and yellowcrook neck. Squash
      Bugs sucked all but 3 dry. I used sevin dust only because I had it on hand. Every morning and evening for 4 days I cut dying leaves, stomped, squished and cussed until they were gone. Try to kill the adults first. I WILL be prepared next year!!

      • Cindy says:

        Squash bugs not only eat up the leaves of the plant, they inject toxins when they chew on them. I’ve heard semiautomatics earth around the plants will help, but I’ve not tried it myself.

    • Sammatha says:

      sprinkle ground cinnamon all around the garden, on and under the plants. I had ants, squash beetles, catapillers things, those green grasshopper looking things, everything. All gone, haven’t seen one in weeks. Unfortunately it was too late for my squash plants but now i know for next year. Also saved my tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflowers. Did not hurt the bees or daddy long leg spiders.

  38. Rozi says:

    Thank you, Karen! I am doing this tomorrow. And the cut leaves will go into my brand new composting bin that i just built. I have two zucchini plants, one is producing one is not. I am keeping the second plant in case it helps polinate the first one. Any knowledge on non-producing zucchinis?

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