Like us, zucchini plants go through multiple growth stages, germination, vegetative growth, flowering and pollination, fruit production, and eventually death.
With the help of pollinators during the flowering stage, a single zucchini plant can produce upwards of ten pounds of fruit, enough to feed a small family.
In areas with long enough growing seasons zucchini plants can be planted successively leading to fresh zucchinis all the time.
Zucchini Plant Life Cycle
Zucchini Seed Germination
The zucchini seed germination period lasts for approximately 4-21 days. Soil temperatures should be at least 60 degrees before planting zucchini seeds but the seeds will germinate faster with a temperature of around 85 degrees.
This is the point of heating mats. Heating mats warm up the soil and speed up germination times.
If the chosen area gets less than six hours of sunlight, once the plant is grown it can look leggy and scraggly. Drop the seeds about one inch into nutrient-rich soil, and gently cover the seed with dirt. Looser dirt will allow the soil to aerate.
Like humans, plants need oxygen to produce carbon dioxide. Soil that is too wet will not aerate, causing the seed to suffocate.
The zucchini plant is grown as either a bush plant or a vine plant that grows as wide as four feet and as tall as three feet. Tendrils twist off of the stem while tiny, rigid hairs protect the plant from heat, freezing temperatures, and bugs!
Five to ten days after germination begins, the first zucchini plant leaf will emerge from the ground. As the plant grows larger, short, twisted branches reach out from the stem and wrap around stakes in the ground or the stems of plants.
Eventually, prickly hairs will grow on the stems and leaves of the zucchini plant. These prickly hairs are called trichomes and they are quite the benefit!
They reduce heat load in the heat of the summer and increase tolerance to freezing. They also help absorb water and even repel insects!
Soon, you will begin to see flowers starting to show.
Once the flowers of the zucchini plant begin to blossom, pollinators will feed on the sweet nectar inside of the plants. While doing this, they will distribute pollen from male flowers to female flowers, and with successful pollination fruit production will occur.
About one and a half months into the Zucchini growing cycle, male flowers will begin to develop. One to two weeks later, female flowers will follow.
You will be able to tell the difference between the two when the round ovary develops below the petals of the female flower. This ovary will eventually become the fruit, and there are a few effective methods of pollination to ensure that happens.
The first is through pollinators such as bees and butterflies. They feed on the sweet nectar in the flowers, transferring the pollen they collect on their bodies from one flower to the next.
The second way is hand pollination. Hand pollinating can be done with a q-tip, paint brush, or this thing that is an electric toothbrush with wings on it.
Early in the morning before the flowers close, you can carefully move pollen from the male flower to the female flower using the end of a q-tip.
The second way of pollination is ideal in extended rainy conditions when pollinator activity is low or areas without much insect activity like apartments in a big city. Be careful not to use any pesticides on your zucchini plant while pollination is happening, as it can harm the busy pollinators.
A zucchini is ready to be harvested when the rind is soft, and the seeds are underdeveloped. Each plant can produce up to 10 pounds of zucchini over a production time of about 3-4 weeks. Harvest the fruit by cutting it at the end with scissors to avoid harming the plant.
A zucchini plant is most productive for a two-to-three-week period and begins to decline around week four.
The ideal time to harvest the zucchini from the plant depends on the type of zucchini that is being grown. Elongated varieties are best harvested when they are about two inches in diameter.
The patty pan types are best harvested when they are three to four inches in diameter, and the long crooked neck varieties are best harvested when they are four to seven inches long.
If the fruit is picked at the correct time, the rind will be soft. Delays in harvesting can cause tough rinds, hard seeds, and slower production of fruit. Although, if the plant is producing too much to keep up with, delaying harvest can come in handy!
As fruit production begins to slow down and cooler weather approaches, your zucchini plant will be susceptible to freezing temperatures and fading light. Zucchini plants are annuals, so they will only survive one annual growth cycle.
Throughout the growing season, zucchini plants can fall victim to several bugs and diseases. With proper monitoring and preemptive measures, you can limit the chance of early plant death.
If you have a problem with chewing insects feeding on leaves, or other disease like powdery mildew spray a product containing neem oil on the foliage.
Because zucchini plants are annuals that will not grow back in the spring, this time of the year marks the end of their life cycle. As temperatures lower and daylight fades, the plant leaves will turn brown and freeze. Once they dry, the leaves will become brittle and curl. If there is any fruit left on the plant, it will soften and rot.
How Big Do Zucchini Plants Get?
The zucchini plant can be grown as either a compact bush or vine. With the proper amount of sunlight and water, the plant can get one to three feet tall and two to four feet wide. Different varieties of zucchini have different growth habits. Some are semi-bush and some are a compact bush.
Semi-bush varieties are somewhat of a sprawling bush that take up more area on the ground, something like 4 square feet. Compact bush types are a little taller and spread less wide, something like 2 square feet. This variety can be planted in container gardens or gardens with a small amount of space.
Can You Grow Zucchini Vertically?
Zucchini can be grown vertically, and there are many benefits in doing so including increased air circulation and sunshine to the foliage and easier harvesting when the time comes.
When grown as a vine, using a lattice trellis to support the plant allows the zucchini to breathe and hang free from away rot and hungry bugs.
Growing a zucchini plant on a trellis also means you can space zucchini plants closer and maximize your gardening space.
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