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.

First off, this post has been shared half a million times. Why? Because it’s GREAT information on something we are all doing wrong.

Secondly … 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.

Zucchini Growing Tips

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. I use coated metal stakes. 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.  If you don’t already, you have to start trimming your zucchini plants.

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 pruning and staking.

 

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.


SOME MORE GOOD VEGETABLE TIPS FOR YOU

SAVE Your Zucchini and Squash from Squash Vine Borer

My Leek Growing Technique – Based on Eliot Coleman’s

Make Paper Pots with a Wine Bottle

Make a Soil Grader for Levelling Your Garden from a Wood Pallet.


 

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. 


How to Grow Zucchini Plants

How to Grow Zucchini Plants

Yield: Zucchini
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $0

How to grow zucchini plants the right way! And I bet it's different than how you're doing it now.

Materials

  • 4-6' long stakes
  • twine

Tools

  • scissors or knife

Instructions

    Plant your zucchini 1.5" apart. They aren't going to need all kinds of room to grow and sprawl anymore because you're growing them UP.

    Plant a stake right next to the main stem of the zucchini plant.

    Using string or twine tie the plant's stem to the stake so it grows upright.

    Remove all those huge leaves that are growing at the base of the plant (only the leaves below any developing fruit)

    Monitor the plant once a week to see if you need to tie it to the stem again as it grows.

Notes

Zucchini should be grown basically like tomatoes! Stake them and remove older leaves that aren't doing anything productive for the plant other than making it vulnerable to disease.

Staking is easiest if you do it when the plant is first put in the ground, but you can wrangle an older plant into submission as well.

Cut your leaves off as close to the stem of the plant as you can.

If you see signs of powdery mildew developing you can wash the plant. Yes. Wash it with water. Powdery mildew HATES water and thrives in dry, hot conditions.

Powdery Mildew can also be controlled (not cured) with this simple spray recipe:

4 cups of water + 1/2 Tablespoon of Vinegar.

Spray the top and bottom of the leaves once a week.

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←

 

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

263 Comments

  1. Diana says:

    Awesomeness! Going to give this a go this year. My question is about watering. Soakerhose or drip? I live in Colorado

    • I use old almond milk jugs. Drill holes in the base and fill them daily. You can use liquid fertilizer too and get measured watering. Keeps moisture off the leaf and reduces diseases.

  2. Charlotte says:

    I transpplanted my zucchini into my garden about 30 days ago. They now have fruit about 3 inches long. Is it too late to stake it near the center stalk? I would really like to grow them upwards.

    • Chay says:

      You CAN still do it – I did! 😋

      • Andrea Sinclair says:

        This should be interesting for me because this will be the first year I don’t deliberately grow zucchini. You see a few years back I had a possum come through and steal some of my zucchini. Well he spread the zucchini seeds like a seed fairy amd now I get 6 to 10 random zucchini plants every year lol. It’s actually kinda fun. I shared with him amd he gave me more plants lol.

      • Chelsea says:

        That’s hysterical!

  3. Lynn says:

    Would it work to use a tomato cage?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynn! Tomato cages wouldn’t allow you to prune the base the way you need to plus believe it or not they probably wouldn’t allow enough support. You really need to tie those stems onto something very sturdy because they get much thicker and stronger than tomato stems. You could try though and prove me wrong! With gardening you never really know until you try, lol. ~ karen!

      • David says:

        I used tomato cages last year and the problem was the weight of the zucchinis “strangled” their stems as they folded over the thin rings and many of the fruits didn’t develop properly. Going to try staking this year instead.

      • Barb says:

        I did that last year and it didn’t work whatsoever. I will stake them this year.

    • Dale says:

      I find that “Tomato cages” are really only good for supporting chile plants and bushy beans. Thx.

  4. Suzanne says:

    This may be a silly question.

    It was recommended I pollinate the flowers on my own to prevent end rot. I was told to take pollen from male flower and put on female flower. How do I know which flower is which?

    • Dan Bandieri says:

      Suzanne, Please take my response with the humor intended. Who carries the baby, the mommy or the daddy? When there is a tiny zucchina (Italian singular) attached to the flower, it’s the female flower, the male doesn’t have the baby. You can pick the male flowers, not all of them!, and stuff them with a meatball mix, fold the tips of the flower over the stuffing and bake them. Buono!

      • Kim says:

        I don’t know if you’ll ever see this Dan, but your reply cracked me up. I had no idea, but once you explained it – totally clear. Years ago I had to explain to my dad that female cows needed to be pregnant/have had a baby to make milk. He didn’t believe me. Same principle behind that idea. Sex is similar for cows and plants.

      • Margi says:

        I found Dan’s comment sweet and sensitive while yours was judgemental and belittling.

      • Heather says:

        Dan, Not funny. The person who asked the question about pollination for her zucchini to prevent end rot, she is coming to you for genuine help. She does not need any sarcasm. Please show genuine and Honest kindness to her instead. Kindness , especially genuine and truly honest kindness goes a long way. And when you show that type of kindness she will come back to you for help again.

      • Amber Bybee says:

        It was funny Heather.

      • Terry says:

        Oh my goodness, Heather! You should plant some sense of humor! It WAS funny!

      • Jon says:

        You are from another planet.

      • Jon says:

        You are from another planet.You have no life.

      • Michelle says:

        Heather, are you sure that your name is not Karen? He wasn’t even rude!

      • Angelina says:

        He was not being sarcastic and his description is the perfect way to remember it. We should watch our responses lest we ourselves are the ones who are unkind.

      • Karen ( not Karen Bertelsen) says:

        Ok, so my name is Karen, and I am not the author of this blog, i am another Karen- Karen was the most popular name of the year that I was born, just btw- AND- I have to rant – I think maybe Heather should now be the “ name “ that pops up in Urban Dictionary for cranky, pompous , overbearing women….but that would not be kind, calm, or very nice. Loved your explanation Dan, it was funny, and informative.
        The world needs more smiles 😀

    • Angie Furger says:

      Blossom rot is apparebtly contributed to a lack of calcium. Grind up your eggshells and place them the same hole as the plant/seed. You can add crushed shells it the top as the plant gets bigger. I hope that helps.

    • Paula says:

      I just saw a video about blossom end rot & the lady attributed it to lack of calcium. Either your soil needs more moisture so the plant can take up more calcium from the soil, or if not your soil may be depleted of calcium. You will need a fix that is quicker than eggshells. She ground up 3 TUMS into a powder, and put them around the base of the plant & watered it into the ground. (Water the soil only, not the leaves).
      TUMS! Can you believe it?? The hard chalky kind of course, not the gummy or soft chewables.

      • Patricia Foster says:

        I grind my organic, grass fed egg shells in a separate coffee grinder. It makes the shells into a very fine powder almost like talc. So I hope it breaks down quickly. I have a coffee can full that I carry to the garden and give to everything I plant. Great for tomato plants too.

      • Paula says:

        that probably works just as well! But I was amazed that she used TUMS of all things. LOL!

      • Kathy says:

        Regarding which are the male and which are female flowers…you won’t see the babies on the female flowers unless they’ve been pollinated. However, its very easy: male flowers are on the longer “erect” (hahaha, that’s how I remember it!) stems, and female flowers are on very short stems. I have successfully hand pollinated pumpkins by brushing pollen from the male flowers with a paint brush (like from a watercolor set) into a paper cup, then brushing the pollen onto the female flowers. Two weeks later, baby pumpkins!

      • annroberts54@yahoo.com says:

        Kathy-yes, you do see the baby fruit before the flower is pollinated. I get up very early in the morning, before the flowers even start to open. The female flowers already have a tiny, but very recognizable fruit behind them, the males do not, just a long single stem attaching them to the plant

    • Anne says:

      You need to bake the eggshells first, 250° for 10 minutes I think. Then grind in a blender.
      Skunks won’t want them then.

      • Irene says:

        Wow thanks for that information. I’ve just been collecting them and putting on top of dirt. Will definitely do this next.

  5. Kate says:

    How tall should the stakes be?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kate. I use at least 4′ high stakes (5′ is better because you can sink them in the ground further) so that a minimum of 1′ is in the ground to keep them sturdy with 3′ above soil for the zucchini to be tied to. ~ karen!

  6. Johnna Adams says:

    We feed zucchini to all our birds. We raise quail and Chukar for meat and eggs. They can demolish a giant zucchini in 30 minutes. Looks like a pile of land piranhas. Thanks for the tip to make growing them more productive and less of a chore to pick them.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I will definitely be planting and maintaining my zucchini in like this! Thanks for the tip.
    Wondering if you can offer support for such in in that seems to be developing fine and the next time you look the end farthest away from main stem is soft and wilted. Do you have suggestions to help this from happening? Or know why this could be happening?
    Thanks!

    • Lisa H says:

      Sounds like blossom end rot. I had trouble with that last summer and read that I needed to add calcium. I made a slurry with egg shells and vinegar and poured it on. Not sure how much it helped but it might have been too late.

      • Janice W says:

        I tried this, but the eggshells attracted skunks!!! So I’m going to try tums or calcium tablets.

      • Chris says:

        That you know will only attract stressed out skunks with indigestion ( wink)

      • Adam says:

        Once I crack the eggs I rinse them in water to get excess proteins off. Then I crush them thoroughly and throw them in the compost. It doesn’t break the shells down any further I don’t think but it breaks down any remaining bits of white/membrane/egg flavour that might attract pests onto my patch.

    • Abbie says:

      This can happen with vine borer.

    • Jayne says:

      This happens if that particular fruit was not properly pollinated. So when I see a female flower, I hand pollinate it to make sure by taking a q tip, a small paint brush, or just my finger and I get a little pollen from the male flower and rub it on the female flowers. No more wimpy ends. Just full fruit.

      • Mimi says:

        I have always hand pollinated, I remove the male blossom at the base of the stem and peel back the outer flower just leaving the stamen attached th the stem. Then just rub it in and around the female stamen. If you have multiple female blossoms open at the same time you can use the same male flower. We don’t seem to have alot of bees in our area to take care of it naturally. Both male and female flowers only last 1 day so I do this every morning.

    • Candace says:

      Or it might by those nasty vine boars that are at the base… they burrow into the hollow base and lay eggs making you plant suddenly appear limp wilted and dying.
      I am going to also try this method but I was wondering about the vine boars… should we wrap those open areas snuggly with like coban AKA ace bandage so those critters can’t get in so easy through those holes?

  8. Your tutorial is extremely useful, thank you! I have one question: From another blog I was misled into planting three seeds close together and those groups about a meter apart. They are now burgeoning well. The question is can I transplant to separate the three that are close together one foot intervals as you suggested?
    Many thanks keep up the good work.

    • Kevin from MDUSA says:

      Yes, tease them apart as gently as you can. Give the transplants 10 days until you feed them, because shocked plants get worse not better w fertilizer. You can however distribute worm castings around the base of the plants.

  9. Susan says:

    This is exciting to see. I do have this question; how do I keep those nasty fat, flat bugs off my zucchini and squash plants? I get them every time I try and grow them.

    • Zach Knapp says:

      It won’t keep them off…..but I have been using soapy water in a garden sprayer and it kills them dead. Apparently they breath through their exoskeleton and the soap clogs the holes they breath through. Just make sure you use a biodegradable soap or something natural.

      • Nancy Love says:

        Hi y’all! My first time to read a post of yours Karen! I will be reading kuch more. I love your humor! On those gross bugs! I used neems oil last year and it totally worked! I did attempt pruning and staking…did it very wrong, and I mulched! Catastrophe! But the neems worked. Directions for dilution on the bottle. God bless!

      • Karen says:

        Hi nancy! Welcome to my site. It’s the perfect place to be if you like to sweat, swear and do stuff. You don’t have to do all 3, but you need a minimum of two. ;) Try again with the zucchini staking. It works GREAT! ~ karen

      • Brenda says:

        Neem oil and soap was what I used but still those ornery bugs were there.

    • Dmd says:

      I plants lots of marigolds around my zucchini and don’t have squash bugs. When the marigold flowers shrivel up I pick them and put them around the base and on top of leaves, the scent is strong and keeps the bugs away.

  10. Jill says:

    Do butternut squash also get their nutrients & growth from the leaves above? I’m planning on growing some this year in a heavy duty tomato cage.

  11. Pam says:

    Hi,
    As a novice gardener the idea of staking squash is exciting to me!
    Do you have another article about growing and staking tomatoes?
    This may sound like a naive question, but what should one use to tie plants to the stakes?
    Seems I remember my parents would use strips of fabric? Twine or string seems like it would saw through the plants?
    Also, I seem to remember my folks mentioned pinching ‘suckers off tomato plants…what are they, how do I recognise them & when should they be removed?
    Thanks for all info you share!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Pam. First you should look at this post https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/turns-im-never-really-satisfied-anything-including-tomatoes/ It’s about how I stake my tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. It’s called string training. It isn’t actually staking, it’s letting them grow up a string. Whether or not you pinch out suckers on a tomato plant (the sucker is a stem that starts to grow out of the “V” between the leaf and main stem of a tomato.) is dictated by what kind of tomato it is. And even then if you ask 2 different gardeners about whether they pinch off suckers and how, you’re likely to get two different answers, lol. There are “determinate” and “indeterminate” tomatoes. Determinate ones grow to a certain height and then stop. Indeterminate just keep growing and growing taller and taller. Heirloom tomatoes are usually indeterminate. As a general rule, you pinch off the suckers from indeterminate plants, but leave them on determinate. But AGAIN, this is gardening and literally everything can be debated, lol. ~ karen!

      • Melissa says:

        I’m also wondering what you use to tie the plants to the stakes?

      • Jessica says:

        Me too 😁

      • Janet W says:

        I use cut up panty hose and it works FABULOUSLY. I have tried a lot of different things. Some are quite rough on the stems and I have found that cutting the pantyhose into 1 1/4″ pieces (crosswise) gives me nice soft pieces than don’t strangle the stems. I grow all my tomatoes in boxes my husband built, and they each have a tall trellis. I just loop the nylon around and secure it to the trellis netting with a zip tie because that is fast and easy.

  12. Crafty Mama says:

    Can’t wait till next spring so I can grow my zucchini the right way. Thanks so much for this information.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. Cara Hanoum says:

    Great Article

  17. 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!

  18. 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

  19. 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!

  20. 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 .

  21. 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!

  22. Stephanie Tree says:

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

  23. 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!

  24. 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!

    • Clay willingham says:

      You can use a natural pesticide made from Chrysanthemums. It kills as little boogers on contact. Has no effect on any animal. You can even use it in the house. It is a contact only pesticide. I carry a bottle with me in the garden all the time..

  25. 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!

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