When I finally figured out the secret to growing zucchini vertically,

it made a huge difference in production & quality!

It’s the beginning of March and I’m dreaming of summer, and dying to get my hands in the dirt and plant things and see my garden grow. I was looking through my photos and realized I haven’t shared one of the super exciting things I finally figured out in my garden last year! I had amazing success at growing zucchini vertically! So, I thought I’d share how to do it here.

vertical zucchini plant

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Why start growing zucchini vertically?

Zucchini takes up a huge amount of space in the garden. It craws along the ground and produces enormous leaves. Those leaves take up tons of space and crowd out everything around it. Also, the fruit lays on the ground, developing scars in the flesh. It’s also often munched on by bugs and animals.

Growing zucchini vertically solves that! Not only does it get the fruit off the ground, but it allows you to only use a small 1 foot square space for the zucchini. It normally takes up multiple square feet! Another amazing benefit of growing zucchini vertically is that it gives you easy access to the stem for pruning, and allows the air to flow all around the plant.

Why couldn’t I get it to work?

I first heard that you could grow zucchini vertically when I was reading All New Square Foot Gardening. Mel Bartholomew was mentioning that you could make zucchini go up the vertical supports on the square foot garden. I tried and tried and could not figure out how to weave those huge pokey stems through the waffle like back supports. I gave up.

But I desperately wanted to have the benefit of the zucchini taking up less space, circulating air more, and producing fruit that wasn’t damaged by bugs or animals. So the next year I tried to tie it to a stake and failed miserably. I was resigned. Maybe other people could figure it out, but I couldn’t.

Last year, everything changed!

On of my positive characteristics is persistence. I didn’t jive with the idea that I couldn’t do something that seemed so simple and so helpful. So I tried again. This time, I was very diligent about going into my garden every single morning. Wouldn’t you know that consistency was the key for me?! It turns out that as I look back on my failed attempt the prior year, the problem was that I didn’t stay on top of it.

Zucchini grows SO fast in the beginning that if you miss a couple days, suddenly your zucchini plant is flopped over and that fat stem breaks off, ruining the plant. But if you’re diligent in the beginning, it pays off in the end!

How to start growing zucchini vertically

The first step to growing zucchini vertically is to have all the supplies ready when you plant. You’ll want to have the following things available on the day you plant:

Zucchini seeds or your seedling from soil blocking (read my post here on how to do that)

Heavy duty steaks – one for each plant – I’ve used this T – Post in the past, but this year I’m trying this garden stake and it seems strong enough

Ties to tie up the plantRead about my favorite garden plant ties here. If you’re in a hurry and just want to buy them, these seem like a great option!

(You won’t need the ties that first day unless your seedlings are pretty big. But you want to have them ready so you’ll be able to use them as soon as you see the need.)

What steps do I follow for growing zucchini vertically?

  1. Plant either a seedling from a soil block*, or a zucchini seed into the ground and water well.
  2. Drive in a stake or T – Post into the ground near the seed or stem of the seedling.
  3. If using a seedling and it’s grown quite a bit already, loosely tie the stem to the stake.
  4. Each day, visit the garden and be ready to tie a new portion of the zucchini stem to the stake. Make sure to tie loosely so that as the stem increases in circumference, it won’t be strangled by the tie.
  5. Tie just under a set of leaves.
  6. Continue with tying up every few days as needed.
  7. Prune all the leaves below the bottom fruit to force nutrients to the fruit and new leaves.
  8. Enjoy your beautiful, vertical plant!

*The benefit of using a seedling is that you’ll get a big head start over the seed planted directly into the soil. However, summer squash doesn’t transplant well, so I’d only recommend doing this if you’re using soil blocking. See the details on this method here.

stem of zucchini plant tied to stake

Why do I need to put the stake in the day I plant it?

This is a great question! Any time you’re gardening and using a stake or post of any kind, you’ll find that they say to put it in immediately upon planting. Even though you won’t need it right away, it causes the least root disturbance if you put it in right away. Waiting until the plant gets all spread out and big and comfy in the soil means that those roots will be extended quite a bit from the main stem. If you drive a stake in at that point, you’ll be cutting through all those strong and secure roots.

Instead, you’ll drive the stake in right away. As the plant grows and develops, the roots will snake their way around the post in the ground and grow strong and healthy. It causes less disturbance to the plant, and that’s always our main goal! With that being said, if you don’t have your stake yet, you can still plant your seedling or seed. You’ll just want to get that post or stake in as soon as possible for the best possible outcome for the plant.

growing zucchini vertically

Why is pruning zucchini important?

Plants send out nutrients to their leaves to keep them strong because leaves are the life blood of the plant. Plants bring in water through their roots, but the leaves make sunlight into food via photosynthesis. So these leaves are SUPER important! But because they are so important, they take a lot of nutrients to keep them strong and stable.

In a zucchini plant, the leaves that are necessary are the ones above the fruit, shading it and protecting it. But it takes quite some time for the leaves below the fruit to begin to die off. In order to redirect all those nutrients to the newer leaves and the fruit, I always prune my zucchini plant below the bottom fruit.

It actually looks super funny! When I see it, I think of one of those funny poodles who just gets home from the groomer and has a skinny tail with a puff on the end! It looks funny, but trust me. This allows you to have more fruit. It will also keep your plant cleaned up so you can see when the zucchini is ready to pick.

When I prune back my zucchini plants, it looks like a massacre happened (see photo below). That’s totally ok! Your plants will thank you!

pruned zucchini plant tied to stake
Freshly pruned zucchini plant
leaves of zucchini plant on compost pile
Pruned zucchini stems on my neglected compost pile

Will the Zucchini fall off if it gets too big?

This is actually an unexpected result of growing vertically! I didn’t realize that when the zucchini was growing on the ground, it blended in with the chipped wood and leaves and I often missed a zucchini. Suddenly, I had a baseball bat sized one hiding under all those leaves!

When it grows vertically, however, you can see the fruit hanging down very easily! So I find that I don’t have zucchini that is large enough to fall off. Unfortunately, you’ll still have situations like this photo where you go out of town and come back to an enormous zucchini on your vine. That’s totally fine! As the stem grows, it becomes as large as it needs to be to support the fruit. So just like growing winter squash in a trellis or arch, the stem is thick enough to support the growth and I’ve never had one fall off the stem!

huge zucchini on vertical plant

What do I do with huge zucchinis!?

I don’t sauté these ones because they can be a bit tough. But these are the ones that I’ll often grate for fritters or zucchini chocolate chip pancakes or zucchini bread or zucchini bread oatmeal. If the skin is really thick, you can go ahead and peel it first. Then cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds – they tend to be really fat in large zucchini. Then grate the remainder of the fruit and use immediately, store it in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze!

When I freeze leftover zucchini, I normally measure it out into the amount I use for my favorite recipes and mark that on the outside of the quart baggie. This way, I can grab a bag out of the freezer that has the exact amount I need for that particular recipe.

What happens if I forget to tie it up?

Toward the end of summer, I tend to get distracted. I did great all summer and then I forgot for a little while. Luckily, even though the stem flopped over above the highest tie, it did not break. I went out with lots of ties and did my best to gently guide it up the post. It worked!

So don’t lose heart if this happens to you! Just try your best to be really gentle with it. The stem is flexible but can be snapped easily if you’re not careful.

zucchini stem tied to stake
very tall zucchini plant on post

What kind of zucchini should I grow?

This is a total personal preference! I think the quintessential zucchini is the Black Beauty variety. It has a really dark, shiny skin and when it’s picked small, it’s so tender and delicate!

However, my very favorite is the Italian Striped variety! Honestly, if you knew me in person, you may say that I like it just because it’s not what everyone else grows and there’s probably truth in that! I like to be different and go to the beat of my own drum. But I also think this one looks SO pretty and different in summer dishes! You should really try it!

No matter what, I usually choose seeds that are heirloom variety. That means they haven’t been cross bred and if you save the seeds from your fruit and plant them next year, you’ll get the very same thing. If you have any other questions, let me know!

And that’s it! Like I mentioned earlier, it’s super simple process, but it does take foresight and a little diligence in order to be successful. It’s totally worth it!

Pin for later!
pin for growing zucchini vertically

34 Replies to “How to Start Growing Zucchini Vertically (it’s easy!)”

  1. This is great! I grew yellow squash this year, first time ever and it was a bit if a disaster. The plant ended up getting powdery mildew and a lot of the squashes weren’t very edible. Most were dry and hallow on the inside and the skin was too tough. There were probably a lot of things I did wrong. But I do think growing vertically will help with a few of these things, and I’m very interested in saving space! You mentioned in your article you don’t sauté your variety…may I ask what variety of zucchini you grew for this article and which you would suggest for sautéing? From what I’ve read Black Beauty is most common among gradeners.

    1. Oh man. Trial and error is the way of gardening, isn’t it?! I’ve messed up SO many things along the way and just keep learning every year! I’m not sure what kind I grew in these pictures. I usually grow a couple different varieties and these photos were from a couple years ago. Black beauty are great! I also really love the one from Renee’s Garden that’s called Romanesco. It’s an Italian zucchini and I really love it so much! It’s lighter and stripey. But the black beauty is really great, especially when they are picked small. They’re so tender.

    2. I’m concerned with the “holes” left in the lead stems I cut off. How do I keep bugs out of this opening?

      1. Hi Maryann! I haven’t had any issues with bugs getting into those empty stem holes. The vine borer beetles tend to get in by completely boring through the stem. So the removal of the leaves doesn’t seem to add to that. However, if you choose not to prune it, you can still make it go vertical!

      2. Thuricide BT spray. This stuff is a miracle. It NOT a chemical. It is actually beneficial bacteria which disrupts the vine borer’s digestive system. It is used in organic gardening all the time. I buy Southern Ag brand from Amazon. It also works on caterpillars such a horn worms and such.

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m still trying to figure that piece out. 🙁 I have read that you should cover them with insect netting until they get flowers that need to be pollinated and then put tin foil around the base of the plant when you remove the netting. But I can’t determine how I’ll do the netting and still get them to go vertically without cutting holes in the netting for the post. I’ll let you know if I figure something out!

    1. You can absolutely grow squash and melons vertically, but it looks a little different than it looks with zucchini. Winter squash and melons have a long, winding stems instead of shorter, thick stems like zucchini and yellow squash. Check out my post https://allthelittlereasons.com/guide-to-growing-squash-vertically-its-easy/ and it takes you through the process of growing squash and melons vertically! Also, there should be a popup on that page that will take you to a free ebook about other things you can grow vertically in the garden!

  2. Great step-by step with photos! I grew my zucchini vertically-ish last summer, but was not as persistent as I needed to be. This will be helpful as I try again this summer.

  3. Has anyone had issues getting zucchini pollinated? I had a lot of blooms, and they started little plants, but then they rotted and got mushy.

    1. I have had that a lot too! I’ve heard you can just do it for them with a paint brush so I might try that this year!

  4. Hello! New gardner here! When planted this way, how far apart do you recommend spacing each plant from each other? I read on another blog you can space each plant as little as 1 foot apart and rows 18 inches apart. Does anybody think that’s too little a space for this method? Thank you!

    1. Hi Lana! Welcome to the gardening addiction!!!! When I began this journey with Square Foot Gardening, I was instructed to plant them one per 2 square feet. That’s pretty much what I do now. Currently I have two zucchini plants in a 4ftx1ft area. I might be able to put them closer, but I prefer to leave a little room to let them have extra space :). I’d love to hear how this goes for you!

  5. Great article and suggestions. Last year was a total bomb for me. This year I moved the zucchini & squash to a different box & they are really taking off. I’ve trimmed a few of the bottom leaves off and did put tomato stakes next to them when planted. However, I have not tied them up but they are growing upright and producing nicely. I have treated them a few times with the neem oil and water to try and ward off the bugs. As well as H202 & H20 spray to help them stay healthy. Knock on wood that they continue to give me the sense of gratification. Made zucchini bread today that a church friend who was 90 Yo gave me back in the 80’s and it was fabulous.

  6. I currently have very small plants, can barely see the main stem, max 3 -4 true leaves. Their main stem is teenie tiny. Do i wait until the main stem is thicker and the plant itself is bigger before I tie them?

    1. yup! Just wait until it thickens up a bit. Tie it loosely especially on those first ones because the stem will get a lot thicker!

  7. This is really helpful, thank you so much for sharing these tips. I am new to hardening, and my first attempt resulted in my entire crop being devoured by vine borers and cabbage worms- devastating!

    When I first planted my zucchini and summer squash I just put them in rows in my raised bed garden. Now I would love to figure out a way to make them climb the rabbit fence (is this going to be too flimsy?).

    Do you have suggestions on how I can train my plants that are mid-planter to find its way to the arch I put over the entire bed? It may be too late but thought I’d check. I have photos I can share!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your first crop 🙁 Hoping for better luck this time around!! I have found it very difficult to trellis zucchini so I’m not sure a rabbit fence would work well. At this point, I would just add a stake for each plant, even though it may disturb the roots a little, but you can just start tying it to that. I hope it works for you!!

  8. Great step by step, I am very excited to do this.
    I planted some in my greenhouse raised beds and they all died and I only got 2 small zucchini’s. I tilled a spot outside and will do my zucchini’s, summer squash and cucumbers out there. I’m in Georgia, if it ever stops raining I will be able to replant again.
    It’s only mid June here right now, so I believe I have time for another planting.
    Thank you for posting.

    1. Oh I’m so excited that you’re planting again! I think there’s definitely time for a harvest still! Best of luck to you 🙂

  9. I grow succhini more for the flowers and collect them all clean them and put in the refrigerator for the weekend take them and sale them at the fleamarket here in Richmond California.

  10. I started growing zucchini and yellow squash vertically a couple years ago. I use tomato cages. I also use a post to tie tomato cages to if they get too top heavy. More fruit, super easy to maintain and easier to get to your fruit.

  11. Hi.
    Any ideas on why my blossoms are blooming and just falling off? They are just stems

    1. Sometimes that happens because they aren’t getting pollinated. I haven’t done this, but you might want to you tube how to pollinate them yourself. It looks pretty easy and will get you some fruit!

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