Zucchini plants are a favorite in our home garden. The reason is that they are relatively easy to grow, require very little care and maintenance, and can actually withstand the "ministrations" of our young gardeners. But, over the years, I have learned that there are a few things that you absolutely must do in order to get the best possible zucchini plants.
- Proper planting. First of all, you will need to make sure the zucchini is planted in mounds roughly two feet in diameter and spaced roughly three feet apart. This is because as the zucchini grows, it requires room for the vines to expand, and this spacing will allow that to happen. Each mound should have no more than four zucchini plants to keep the plants from being too starved for nutrients. Also, make sure that you properly prepare the ground where the mound will be by mixing in the fertilizer with the soil.
- Promote growth. As the plants are growing, make sure they are well and deeply watered at least once a week. What this means is that you need to be careful that you are watering the ground, and not the leaves. Over-watering the leaves can lead to plant illness and a bad crop. Also, cultivate the soil regularly to ensure that there are no weeds or other harmful plants nearby. One of the best ways to do this is through laying a layer of hay around the mounds. You should also have a few plants planted near the zucchini that will attract bees, to help with pollination and proper health for the plants.
- Illnesses. There are two common illnesses that the home gardener needs to keep in mind when growing zucchini. The first illness is called zucchini blossom end rot. The main symptom of this illness is any dark-colored dry rot at the blossom. Treat this by testing your soil pH to see if there is enough calcium, and add calcium to your soil as needed. The second illness is yellowing zucchini, which is caused by a lack of nitrogen in the soil. Simply adding a nitrogen rich compost or fertilizer will help treat this.
- Pests.The two most common pests that afflict zucchini are squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. The vine borer looks like a large, fat, white caterpillar that eats (bores) its way through the vegetables. These can be treated by removing the contaminated vines and throwing them away. Cucumber beetles are small (roughly the size of a lady bug) and have yellow and black vertical stripes. Unfortunately, there is no way to cure once infested, so prevention is the best bet. You can use insecticides and plant covers to help prevent any infestation, though during the pollination phase of growing you will have to remove the covers.
- Harvesting. Since zucchini are fast growers, keep an eye on them. The zucchini is ready to harvest when it reaches about six inches in length. Be careful as you remove the ripe plants, as you do not want to harm the vine, and the underdeveloped plants.