Zucchinis are one of those productive summer crops that take off when the weather gets on and just keep on giving. They don’t need much care to be productive. But still, some varieties that are prone to powdery mildew can benefit from being tidied up every now and then.
Pruning zucchini maintains air-flow, stimulates growth and allows you to thoroughly inspect your approaching harvest for signs of pests and diseases. In small gardens where maximum productivity is the goal, pruning zucchinis can be especially handy to keep these prolific growers under control.
My first time growing zucchinis, I made the mistake of planting them too close to other plants. I was too afraid to pinch their leaves off, and didn’t even know I could do that without hurting the plant!
As a beginner, you might have a lot of questions about growing zucchinis, but we’ve compiled all the information you need to get started and have a fabulous summer crop.
6 Reasons to Prune Your Zucchini Plants
First of all, why even prune these massive plants? Compared to their cousins, squash and pumpkins, zucchinis seem to grow in a more self-contained bush. And you’re right, certain varieties don’t need much work – but there’s always room for improvement!
Here are 6 reasons why you might want to start pruning your zucchini plants:
Trimming off unhealthy leaves encourages the plant to send more energy into the remaining foliage and fruits.
Tip pruning at the right growth stage can stimulate new growth. Weekly tip pruning can make the plant more compact, which is perfect for small spaces, whereas occasional tip pruning will result in more overall growth from your plant.
Improve airflow to prevent powdery mildew
Powdery mildew is the most common disease in zucchini and, in my experience, appropriate watering regimes and pruning are the most effective ways to control it.
Powdery mildew loves warm, moist environments, so by cutting off the lowest leaves, more air is able to flow through the plant which will help to keep powdery mildew under control.
Inspect for pests and diseases
Pruning, particularly lift pruning, makes searching and finding pests much easier. By removing some of the foliage, you can monitor your crop for signs of disease, rot, or infestations before they get out of hand.
Easier access to fruit
I find that lift pruning zucchini allows me to keep an eye on ripening fruit and also makes harvesting and weeding them easier.
Sometimes, crop production can really ramp up and it’s easy to forget zucchinis on the plant. But what you’ll soon learn is that they can almost double in size overnight. So picking them at the right size is crucial.
Prevent blossom end rot
Blossom end rot can be either caused by a calcium deficiency or a lack of pollination. The calcium deficiency can be fixed by digging in some lime or baked egg shells before planting your crop, or adding them later around the base of each plant.
The lack of pollination can be fixed by manual pollination within the first day of the female flower opening, but if you have missed this INCREDIBLY short window to pollinate it, then pinching these rotting flowers off will concentrate the plant’s energy into the pollinated flowers instead.
Encroachment onto other plants
Encroachment and competition for light with the rest of your veggie patch is another reason to prune your zucchini, especially when growing in a confined space. Your zucchinis will be stimulated and the surrounding plants will thank you with an increase in their production as well.
Check for surrounding vegetables and see if any zucchini leaves are shading them or covering them altogether and mercilessly remove those leaves.
How to prune zucchini plants – step by step
Now that you know why keeping your plants in check is so important, here is your step-by-step guide on how to prune zucchini plants.
Tools for pruning zucchini
- Pruning shears
- 70% alcohol or disinfectant
- Bucket for green waste
If you’re interested in purchasing pruning tools, I find these delicate Teflon trimming scissors do a great job.
When to trim the zucchini leaves
In the first stages of growth, keep an eye on the lower leaves. When a lower leaf touches the ground, that’s when I cut it off.
Once the plant has about half a dozen flowers or even a couple of fruit developing, you can get a bit more methodical about the way you prune your zucchini plant. Remove ALL of the leaves that are below the lowest flower or fruit.
The fruits are primarily fed by the leaves ABOVE them, so the lower leaves are expendable. Of course, if you see any diseased or eaten leaves, these should be removed as well.
Which leaves to prune
Lift pruning removes the unwanted lower leaves as well as their stems from the main stalk. Removing the entire leaf and stem reduces the likelihood of fungi or diseases developing in the left-over hollow stem segments.
Be sure not to damage the main stalk, fruit, flowers, or any of the nodes above the first fruit or flower.
How to tip prune zucchini
This should only be done on the bright green, fresh, new growth from the very tips of the plant. As long as the tip is actively growing, then you can tip prune it.
If find the easiest way to tip prune zucchini tips is with my thumb nail. You only want to pinch out the growth above the last two leaves, at the very tip of the actively growing plant. Take care not to damage the nodes along the stalk where two new leaves will eventually grow.
Percentage of leaves you can remove
As with pruning most plants, you shouldn’t remove more than 30% of the foliage. So, by the time you remove all of the leaves below the lowest fruit as well as any sick-looking ones, this will equate to about 20 – 30 % anyway. The zucchini fruit themselves benefit from some shade in hot, sunny climates, so avoid removing the leaves that shade the fruit.
Tips for pruning
Before you start, clean your shears with at least 70 percent alcohol to reduce the risk of spreading disease. I find a travel-size alcohol spray bottle works best – This should also be done every time you remove any diseased leaves.
As for composting diseased plant material, I have a separate compost pile for this purpose which I leave for at least 2 two years instead of one. Pretty much any organic matter can go into your compost as long as it has the right ratio of brown to green material, enough water and sufficient time for other bacteria and fungi to do their job naturally.
Should you pinch off zucchini flowers?
This depends on your climate and how the season is progressing. If you are expecting a short season, then pinching off zucchini flowers in late summer can be beneficial. This is because these flowers won’t get enough time to ripen before the cool weather arrives, so there’s no point in letting them develop. This energy can now be pumped into the remaining fruit instead.
Do you really need to stake zucchinis?
If you are growing large heirloom varieties for maximum production and minimum pests and diseases in a confined area, then it definitely makes sense to stake zucchini plants so that they grows vertically. Staking your zucchini, along with lift pruning will raise all of the leaves away from the soil and maintain good air flow underneath the plant. It also makes it easier to weed and check for pests.
It’s best to stake while they are seedlings, but if you find your zucchini plants falling over, you can still carefully drive a stake in next to them.
On the other hand, some compact, hybrid varieties of zucchini such as ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Bush Baby’, ‘Patio Star’ and ‘Raven’ don’t require staking but still benefit from pruning zucchini plants.
If you’re worried about whether you should prune your zucchini plants or not, hopefully this guide has eased your mind. Pruning is an easy way to maintain healthy, productive zucchini. The great thing about maximizing your zucchini production with pruning is that it enables small-scale gardeners to reap an abundance of fruit from just a single plant.