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.
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 and being 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 steak – I use this T – Post – one for each plant
Ties to tie up the plant – I use strips of T-shirts for this
(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?
- Plant either a seedling from a soil block*, or a zucchini seed into the ground and water well.
- Drive in a stake or T – Post into the ground near the seed or stem of the seedling.
- If using a seedling and it’s grown quite a bit already, loosely tie the stem to the stake.
- 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.
- Tie with a strip of a t-shirt just under a set of leaves.
- Continue with tying up every few days as needed.
- Prune all the leaves below the bottom fruit to force nutrients to the fruit and new leaves.
- 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.
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.
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, the leaves I take to the compost pile make it look like a massacre happened (see photo below). That’s totally ok! Your plants will thank you!
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!
How to use enormous zucchini if you end up with one
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, the stem 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 relatively easy if you’re not careful.
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!