Dakota Gardener: A lesson in planting zucchini

Carrie Knutson, Horticulture Agent
North Dakota State University Extension
Carrie Knutson, NDSU Extension agent, Grand Forks County

As most gardeners are, I am overly excited at planting time. If I have the room and the weather cooperates, I usually plant way more than I can eat and preserve. One never knows what the growing season will bring, and you don’t want to be short on vegetables!

One vegetable that I have learned the hard way not to over plant is zucchini.

Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family. This family includes pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and melons. Zucchini is also called summer squash as it is harvested when it is immature and the skin is very soft.

Zucchini should be picked when it is 6 to 8 inches long.

Zucchini gets a bad reputation because the plants can be so productive. The annual vines of some zucchini varieties can take up a lot of garden space, but there are some varieties with a bushy growth habit that take up less garden space.

Zucchini flowers are bright yellow and large in size. The flowers are either male or female. The male flowers are born on long stalks and the female flowers will have a miniature zucchini at the base of the flower. Depending on the variety, there can be more male flowers than female flowers. Male flowers tend to appear before the female flowers.

Because of the separate male and female flowers, pollinators are needed to produce viable fruit and seed. Misshaped fruit and fruit drop can be a result of poor pollination.

Zucchini flowers are edible. A popular recipe is to drip the flowers in batter and deep fry.

Zucchini should be picked when it is 6 to 8 inches long. It is best, I think, when it is young and small. This requires daily checking to see what is ready to harvest. Zucchini seems like it grows overnight. Miss one day picking and you have zucchini the size of a small dog.

While there are diseases and insects that affect zucchini, the main one in my garden was powdery mildew. I battled the disease for a few years before I invested in resistant varieties. Now, I don’t have any issues with powdery mildew. As bad as it is to have too much zucchini, it’s worse yet to not have any!

Zucchini used to dominate half of my gardening space. Now, I only have three hills of zucchini and despite the warm, dry weather, I am still eating at least one zucchini a day. Next year, I plan to reduce the number of zucchini hills to one or two.

Ultimately, if you have too many or if they get too big, don’t be afraid to chop them up and compost them. I have added a few large zucchinis to my own compost system this summer. Well, I better go check my zucchini. Happy gardening!