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Summer is the season we gardeners look forward to the most. All of our hard work finally comes to fruition, literally! Zucchini is arguably the most abundant of the summer crops but how do you know when it’s time to start picking?
Most zucchini varieties are ready for harvest around the month of July. You’ll know your zucchini have reached full maturity when they are between 6 and 9 inches in length for long varieties and about the size of a baseball for round varieties.
I’m a bit of a squash fanatic so I’ll share with you my strategies for harvesting zucchini and what I look for when it’s time to start picking.
When is it time to start harvesting zucchini?
Zucchini is a type of summer squash so as you can probably guess, it’s mostly harvested in the summer. After planting seeds, zucchini will reach full maturity in about 45 to 60 days. And once it starts fruiting, it feels like it will never stop.
For those of us growing in temperate climates, you can expect your zucchini to be ready for harvest in July but sometimes as early as late June depending on when you started your seeds.
Succession planting your zucchini can guarantee that you have harvestable zucchini well into the fall and because zucchini reaches maturity very quickly, it can even be planted in your garden into early August if you live in a warmer climate.
Zucchini is very prolific, so you can expect to harvest mature zucchini about once a day. If you have a bigger garden or just want to grow a lot of zucchini, you may even find it beneficial to set up a schedule.
I like to harvest zucchini 6 days out of the week and leave one day as a “rest day” for the plants. This gives the plants a day to catch up if I’ve been harvesting pretty heavily. It also keeps me from harvesting zucchini that’s too small.
If you’re a squash lover like me, check out this article on high-yielding squash varieties to add to your garden.
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What is the best size to harvest zucchini?
Depending on what variety of zucchini you are growing, it’s important to know what to look for when it’s time for harvest.
If you are growing the classic, long zucchini, wait to harvest until it is at least 6 to 9 inches. The skin should be green or yellow depending on the variety and have a shine to it.
If you’re growing a round variety, the zucchini should be about the size of a baseball when it’s ready for harvest. Much like long zucchini, the skin will have a bit of a shine to it as well.
Another way to tell when zucchini is ready for harvest is to look at the flower at the end of the fruit. If the flower looks brown and shriveled or is missing entirely, there’s a good chance that that zucchini is ready to be picked.
Harvesting zucchini too early
Seeing your first zucchini fruit of the year can be very exciting and can send us into a bit of a frenzy. But be patient! You don’t want to harvest your zucchini too early.
If you harvest zucchini too early, it’s not the end of the world. But, your fruit will be much smaller and it can throw off the schedule that I mentioned earlier. Harvesting too early can leave you with many days where you have nothing to harvest.
Harvesting zucchini too late
On the flip side, not harvesting your zucchini regularly enough can lead to its own set of challenges.
You’ll know your zucchini is past its ideal harvest window when it loses its shine and appears more matte. While this fruit is still edible, it will be tougher to eat and have more seeds inside. Additionally, letting your zucchini grow large can slow down production for that plant and leave you with less fruit.
One of the main reasons that people end up with too large zucchini is simply because they didn’t see them hidden under the big leaves. Consider pruning your zucchini plants to make the fruit easier to spot. Here’s a great article on how to do just that.
Larger zucchini can be great for things like zucchini bread or muffins. You may even want to consider saving the seeds if you have a fruit that’s gotten way too big for eating.
How to harvest zucchini
Once you’ve determined that your zucchini is ready for harvest, it’s time to actually do it!
First, you’ll need a harvesting tool. Garden clippers or a serrated knife work great. Next, cut the stem of the zucchini where it attaches to the plant. You’ll want to leave about an inch or two of stem on the fruit to increase shelf life.
If you don’t have any tools available, you can give the zucchini a gentle twist to break it off of the plant. Although, with this method, you run the risk of breaking the fruit.
Keep in mind that zucchini have very tender skin and can be easily nicked by tools, fingernails, and even the plant itself. This isn’t that big of a deal but too many nicks and blemishes can increase your risk of rot and decrease shelf life.
One more thing that I find important when harvesting any kind of squash is to dress appropriately. Squash plants have very tiny, prickly hairs that can be very irritating to the skin. Too many times I’ve been left itching after spending a significant amount of time with the squash. So, just make sure to cover up ahead of time.
Harvesting zucchini flowers
Of course, the zucchini themselves are what we all get excited about when we choose to grow them. But, zucchini plants offer us another delicious treat, their flowers!
Harvesting the flowers is as simple as snipping them off of the plant. Zucchini have both male and female flowers and while both are edible, I prefer to harvest the male flowers for eating and leave the female flowers for growing the zucchini.
If you’re unsure of the difference between the male and female flowers, take a look at their stems. The female flower will usually have a very small zucchini already forming at its base while the male flower will not.
Just make sure not to harvest all of the male flowers or there will be nothing left to pollinate the female flowers and the zucchini will not form.
Cooking zucchini flowers
If you’ve never eaten zucchini flowers before, I highly recommend them. My favorite way to prepare them is by stuffing them with cream cheese and frying them. You can also try roasting them in the oven or adding them to your favorite stir-fry recipe.
Now that you know exactly what to look for, you’re ready to harvest your zucchini! Harvesting zucchini at the right time is key to having delicious and tender fruit but is also important if you want your plants to keep producing high-quality zucchini.
Just make sure you’ve made some room in your kitchen because once the zucchini start rolling in, there’s no stopping them.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!