A staple of summer cuisine, Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is a frost-tender annual grown for its fleshy, delicious fruit. A popular addition to ratatouille, mixed grills, summer salads, and stir-fries, Zucchini, also called Courgette or Baby Marrow, is easy to grow and prolific in the garden.
What is Zucchini?
- Zucchini is a summer squash in the Cucurbitaceae plant family, alongside melons, spaghetti squash, and cucumbers.
- Although often considered a vegetable, Zucchini is botanically classified as a fruit, as it grows from a flowering plant and contains seeds.
- Zucchini are native to Central America and Mexico but are now one of the most popular summer squashes in the United States and worldwide.
- As a variety of summer squash, they are harvested and eaten while immature.
- Zucchini fruit is typically any shade of green, though some varieties are golden or bi-color.
- The flesh is creamy white with a spongy yet firm texture, with a sweet summer squash flavor and nuances of peppercorn and nutty undertones.
- The skin, seeds, and flesh are all edible and loaded with nutrients.
- In addition to the fruit, the flowers are also edible and offer a mild, squash-like flavor.
- Popular Zucchini cultivars include Black Beauty, Caserta, Cocozelle, Gadzukes, Gourmet Gold, Zephyr.
Health Benefits of Zucchini
- While Zucchini are a flavorful addition to many dishes, they also provide health benefits.
- Zucchini are low in calories (94% water) but are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Vitamin A: one cup of Zucchini provides 40% of your daily needs. This vitamin is essential for your eyes, immune system, heart, and kidneys.
- Manganese: one cup of Zucchini provides 16% of your daily needs. Manganese helps the body form bones, blood clotting factors, connective tissue, and sex hormones.
- Vitamin C: one cup of Zucchini provides 14% of your daily needs. Vitamin C strengthens the immune system.
- Zucchini also contain small amounts of iron, calcium, zinc, and several other B vitamins.
- Zucchini are rich in antioxidants, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, that help protect your body from damage by free radicals.
- Don’t skip the skin—it contains the most nutrients!
- Nutrition Facts (one cup): 17 calories, 1 gram of carbs, 1.6 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber.
Cooking with Zucchini
- Zucchini are mild in flavor and one of the most versatile summer squashes.
- Sliced Zucchini can be grilled, steamed, sautéed, or battered and fried.
- Zucchini can be stuffed with meats, cheeses, or grains and then baked.
- They can be an excellent low-carb substitute for traditional noodles in pasta preparations.
- While they are usually served cooked, Zucchini work well in salad recipes, with dips, or as a wrap.
- The Zucchini flowers have a soft, delicate texture and can be stuffed with soft cheeses and herbs, then battered and fried.
- Zucchini will store best when kept dry and refrigerated for one to two weeks.
- Bush Zucchini grow up to 2-4 feet tall (60-120 cm) and 1-4 feet wide (30-120 cm). Vining Zucchini grow up to 6-10 feet tall (180-300 cm) and 6 feet wide (180 cm).
- They perform best in fertile, acidic to neutral (pH ranging from 5.5 and 6.8), moist, well-drained soils in full sun (at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day) in a sheltered location.
- If your soil lacks nutrients, add well-rotted organic matter or compost before planting.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Regulate irrigation to avoid excessive moisture or water stress.
- Do not splash the leaves when you water the plant. Prevent disease problems by keeping them dry.
- Depending on the variety, Zucchini take 45-55 days to harvest after planting.
- Zucchini are usually direct-seeded after the danger of frost has passed, and the air and soil temperatures are at least 60°F (15°C).
- Seed can also be started indoors about 2-4 weeks before the last spring frost date, with young plants set out after the last frost date. However, seedlings do not always transplant well.
- Planting in rows: Sow seeds 1 inch deep (2.5 cm) and 2-3 inches apart (5-7 cm) in rows that are 2-3 feet apart (60-90 cm). Thin plants so that they are 6-8 inches apart (15-20 cm) once they are 4-5 inches tall.
- Planting in hills (raised mound of soil): Sow 3 or 4 seeds 1 inch deep ( 2.5 cm) cm) in hills that are 3-6 feet apart (90-180 cm).
- Planting in hills benefits: Hills enable the soil to warm faster early in the season, provide better drainage, and allow for increased pollination (since several seeds are planted together).
- Water thoroughly after planting.
- Cover plants with a floating row cover in order to protect them from insects and late cold snaps.
- Remove the row cover when the plants begin to flower so insects can pollinate the flowers, or you will not get any fruit.
- Mulch to retain moisture, keep the soil warm, and control weeds.
- Plant every 10 to 14 days to obtain a continuous supply during the growing season.
- Fertilize every 10–14 days with a high potassium liquid fertilizer, such as tomato feed, once the first fruits start to swell.
- Rotate crops: Prevent problems by not planting any member of the cucurbit family (cucumbers, melons, and squash) in the same place more often than every four years.
- Zucchini are susceptible to a few pests. Look for aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers, slugs, and snails.
- Zucchini are susceptible to diseases, including squash bacterial wilt, squash blossom blight, squash downy mildew, squash powdery mildew, and gray mold or botrytis.
Plant Hand Pollination
- Zucchini plants produce male and female flowers. However, only pollinated female flowers produce fruit.
- Bees are the main pollinators of Zucchini plants.
- In case of poor pollination, because of weather conditions or a lack of pollinators, you can try to hand-pollinate your plants yourself.
- Remove a male flower (no swelling at its base) and brush the central parts against the center of a female flower (female flowers have a tiny fruit at the base).
- If the female flower is pollinated, it will shrivel and closes, and a tiny zucchini will begin to form and grow into a full-size fruit.
- If there is no pollination, the tiny fruit will shrivel and drop from the plant.
Harvesting and Storing
- Harvest time depends on the variety, but usually, Zucchini are the most tender and have the best flavor when they are young.
- Harvest them when they are 3 and 8 inches long (7-20 cm) before the flesh gets woody and the seeds harden.
- Carefully cut fruits off the plant with pruners or a knife.
- Regular harvesting will encourage more fruits to develop.
- The flowers can be harvested too! They have a slightly sweet flavor and can be stuffed and fried or simply eaten raw in salads.
- Finish harvesting before the first fall frost. Zucchini is highly susceptible to frost and heat damage.
- To help them store longer, harvest with at least an inch of stem still attached.
- Zucchini will keep best when kept dry and refrigerated for one to two weeks.
Best Companion Plants
A good example of companion planting is The Three Sisters Garden. Practiced by Native Americans thousands of years ago, this garden includes corn, beans, and squash. The tall corn provides shade for the lower squash but also stops the squash vine borer beetle. Corn also provides support for the bean plants to climb up. The beans enrich the soil with nutrients for both corn and squash. And the large leaves of the squash vines create a protective mulch that helps retain moisture while suppressing weeds. Another added benefit is the prickly vines of the squash deter the raccoons from stripping the corn cobs.
- Beans fix nitrogen and add nutrients that improve the soil, benefitting the plants that are growing beside them.
- Borage flowers attract beneficial insects and help deter pests from your plants. Borage also enriches the soil and improves the growth and flavor of squash plants. As a bonus, the flowers are edible.
- Buckwheat attracts spiders and ground beetles, keeping them away from the squash plants.
- Catnip is good for deterring ants, weevils, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, flea beetles, and mice.
- Corn provides shade and stops the squash vine borer beetle.
- Dill flowers attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybugs (prey on aphids) and predatory wasps (prey on caterpillars and other insects), which help keep pest levels down.
- Chamomile attracts hoverflies and wasps, repels Mexican bean beetles, and accumulates calcium, potassium, and sulfur, later returning them to the soil. Growing chamomile is considered a tonic for anything you grow in the garden.
- Legumes such as peas help your squash plants receive enough nutrients by fixing the nitrogen and increasing the nutrients in the soil.
- Lemon balm also repels squash bugs, which makes it a good companion plant for squash and pumpkin plants.
- Lovage improves the flavor and vigor of most plants and offers a good habitat for ground beetles.
- Marigolds help deter beetles.
- Marjoram is a friend to all plants and helps improve growth and flavor.
- Nasturtium is known to deter whiteflies, wooly aphids, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and other pests.
- Oregano provides general pest protection. It attracts hoverflies and Syrphidae and repels aphids.
- Radish is thought to protect all squash family members from the squash borers.
- Spinach: It’s a good use of space because, by the time squash plants start to get big, the spinach is ready to bolt.
- Sunflowers grow tall and provide helpful shade for squash plants in hot summer areas.
- Tansy helps concentrate potassium in the soil, benefiting nearby plants. It also repels cutworms, cabbage worms, squash bugs, striped cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, ants, flies, mosquitoes, and fruit moths.
Worst Companion Plants
Avoid planting these vegetables in your home garden nearby your Zucchini and squash plants.
- Fennel: Most plants dislike fennel, which has an inhibiting effect on them.
- Potatoes: These root vegetables can deplete the soil of nutrients and starve your squash plants nearby.
- Sweet potatoes will compete with squash plants for space: these vigorous growers like to spread out.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.