Summer Success: How to grow zucchini and what you need to know

Continuing on the summer series this week, we will talk about the zucchini, also known as the courgette.

The zucchini is such a versatile vegetable – delicious on the bbq, chopped in a stir fry, made into fritters, grated in a salad, made into a pasta and even stuffed and baked as a marrow when it outgrows its small stage or gets missed in the picking process.

Zucchini are extremely easy to grow from seed and also available as seedlings in many different varieties, shapes and forms. It all depends which ones you prefer. Personally I prefer the cocozelle variety, leaning into the Italian category, as this variety is consistently of good texture and not too watery.

What do zucchini require to grow in my garden?

Number one on the list of requirements must be space. A zucchini requires 1m x 1m of space to grow comfortably. Many people make this error when first planting their little seedling and tend to plant it too close to other plants or too close to each other. Space is an essential requirement for a zucchini to enable it grow to its full capacity and also to prevent disease.

Zucchini love to be planted in a sunny spot. However, from experience of growing zucchini on a large scale and over many years, I would advise in the NZ sun a preferable place to plant your zucchini is in a place where it gets at least half a day of sun. Sometimes when the NZ sun is at its hottest, it will protect itself and collapse its leaves due to overheating. If this occurs, please don’t panic and avoid watering in the middle of the day, as you are likely to burn the plant. You will find that in the cool of the evening and the night, the plant will recover and return to its perky self in the morning.

A good healthy zucchini plant will produce around 4.5kg of fruit over its growing season – if planted in the right conditions. This is not including the odd marrow that gets away.

What are the soil and food requirements for zucchini? 

Zucchini like to be planted in rich compost and like to have free draining soil, as this plant hates wet feet. If you don’t have rich compost to hand, you can add one bucket of Bokashi to each hole and this will ensure a great start. I also recommend vermicast from your worm farm under each seedling, which really helps, but this won’t be enough to sustain it over time.  A zucchini plant won’t thrive if planted on poor unfed soil, which will leave you frustrated over the whole growing season.

How does a zucchini pollinate and what do I need to know when growing?

Zucchini is a plant that produces both male and female flowers. The male flower has a long thin stem with a big flower on the end and the flower is usually larger than the female. The female flower forms at the base of the plant with a zucchini growing behind it.

For pollination to occur, the bees and insects must visit the male flower and then the female flower, so it pays to take a good look at your plants to ensure they have both before removing any to eat – otherwise pollination won’t occur and this will lead to a gardeners frustration! Usually when your plants start to grow and begin to flower, it will be the male flower that comes first, and sometimes there can be lots of male flowers and no female flowers. Maybe this is nature’s way of luring in the right insects and bees to ensure they will keep coming back when the female flowers appear? 

It is ok to remove some of the male flowers to eat, but please make sure to leave some for pollination. You will be able to tell the female flowers, as they have a tiny immature zucchini at the base.

What do I need to feed my zucchini plant with for success?

As soon as your flowering begins, it is a good time to get into the habit of fortnightly feeding. You can spray with Flower Optimise or comfrey to maximise flowering capacity and to encourage more flowers. 

I recommend spraying is done before the sun hits the plant in the early morning however, if this isn’t possible, last thing at night will do. Please never spray when the leaves are hot from the sun, as this will cause stress to the plant via leaf burn.

How much should I be watering my zucchini?

Zucchinis are made up of water so it is only natural that they require water, and lots of it. The base is the best place to water, as it will get taken straight up by the roots into the plant. Avoid getting water on the leaves as this will be a recipe for disease to start and spread. Water your zucchini three times weekly to ensure good growth, fruit and health. A good thick mulch around the plant will help to keep the soil cool and the moisture in.

Good luck with planting your zucchini and happy gardening!

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