Planting a summer garden is one of the best ways to harness the flavors of the warm season and enjoy the best it has to offer. There’s no better way to spend those months than watching the fruits of your labor grow. Plants like zucchini yield an abundant harvest and are the perfect complement to many dishes. Luckily, you don’t have to be a master gardener to enjoy these delicious squashes.
Zucchini seeds should be planted outdoors in late May or early June in most climates. Zucchini is a summer squash, which means it’s harvested before the rind matures, during the warmer season. Zucchini loves warmth, so the soil should be warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant. The seeds take one to two weeks to sprout and should be planted half an inch to an inch deep.
If you’re an impatient gardener, you can start your zucchini seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost and then transplant them when the temperature rises. Spacing is important for zucchini growth. Each transplant should be three to four inches away from other seedlings and placed in rows at least two feet apart from each other.
Beware of transplant shock, which occurs when the root system of a plant is damaged or disturbed when being replanted. Being gentle with your plants or planting them biodegradable containers is a good way to reduce the risk. Biodegradable containers can be purchased or made out of household items like egg cartons and toilet paper rolls.
Zucchini isn’t a high maintenance plant. They like soil that’s rich but it doesn’t have to be top-notch. The plants need six to eight hours of sun to thrive and the soil should remain moist. They can continue to grow in temperatures up to 100 degrees but don’t usually fare well below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Each week, give your zucchini plants one to two inches of water per plant.
Zucchini produces both male and female flowers, and both require proper pollination to produce fruit during the growing season. Male flowers don’t produce fruit, but they provide pollen that can be transferred to female flowers to improve the fruit they produce. Without good pollination, plants will abort or discard fruits before they ripen. Bees and other flying insects are useful pollinators, and you can attract them by planting other tempting flowers near your zucchini plants.
Zucchini plants absorb a lot of nutrients and perform best when they’re fed at specific points in their life cycle. You should provide an organic fertilizer when the plants are small seedlings and again once they’re starting to bloom. Some gardeners use fish emulsion instead of traditional fertilizer, since it’s high in organic nutrients.
As a plant in the squash family, zucchini is attractive to many of the pests that plague other squashes. Two of the most common are squash bugs and cucumber beetles. The former can be managed when they’re young, but they are difficult to get rid of once they mature. Scrape squash bug eggs off of the plant and let them fall to the ground. Mature squash bugs can be killed by placing them in a jar of soapy water. Cucumber beetles are hard to kill, so getting rid of impacted plants is the best way to save your garden.
One of the most common diseases to affect zucchini is powdery mildew. This fungus grows on the surface of leaves, and may be managed with an insecticide or a home remedy of vinegar and water. Squashes like zucchini are susceptible to many other bacterial and viral diseases, but most can be prevented by keeping the environment clean and conducive to growth. Clean your garden thoroughly after every growing season and get rid of all dead leaves and debris. Any plants that had been infected with any disease should be destroyed, not brought to the compost pile.
Zucchini plants will likely start to grow fruit a month and a half to two months after planting. The fruit should be six to eight inches long when you pick it. These versatile veggies have a shelf life of only one to two weeks, so enjoy your squash while you can. The more you harvest, the more your plants will produce, so don’t be shy!
If you’re looking to add some interest to an hors d'oeuvre platter or make your breakfast a little healthier, you can pick male zucchini blossoms and eat them cooked or raw. Be sure to remove the stamen and pistils, which are located inside of the flower and just below the base. Many people batter and fry squash blossoms in tempura, and others add them to omelettes and frittatas. Don’t pick too many of these flowers, though, because the plant still needs them for pollination. Remember, too, to leave the fruit-producing female flowers alone.
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