Courgettes – zucchini to you Americans – have to be one of the coolest vegetables to grow as a beginner gardener or with kids.
They’re unbelievably easy and will grow in pots and containers so, although big plants, they grow well in small spaces and backyards.
AND they make scrumptious chocolate cake.
PLUS they’re a fab way for kids to explore plant science – they can pollinate them themselves – and can even make money out of them.
Wow! What’s not to like?
Want to give them a go? Excellent. In this post will I cover all the zucchini planting basics you need to get started including:
- When to plant zucchini
- Starting zucchini plants indoors from seeds
- Planting out zucchini
- Planting in pots & containers
- The super cool plant science of zucchini pollination
- Care for common problems
- Delicious zucchini cake recipes
They all include plant science activities and experiments and will support plant lifecycle, seed formation and pollination lessons in the classroom and home school.
If you’re just after the cool plant science pollination bit then head for section 5.
1. When To Plant Courgettes
You can sow courgette seeds directly in the ground around May time but they do like a nice warm – frost free – bed to get going.
So it is much easier to start zucchini plants indoors three or four weeks before it will be warm enough to plant out.
Here in London and in USA zones 8 to 10 that’s mid to late April for for late May to early June – after the frost – planting out.
It’s not a biggie if you’re late – as I found when slugs ate all my greenhouse seedlings just before planting out and I had to start over!
2. Starting Zucchini Plants Indoors From Seeds
To plant zucchini seeds indoors all you need is:
- A SMALL packet of zucchini seeds – 10 is fine
- Ordinary potting compost
- 3 to 5 inch plant pots – whatever you’ve got handy or can pick up from freecycle will do
- A plastic tray/box without holes in
Plant one seed in as many pots as will fit in your tray. Do NOT plant two per pot as then you’ll have to thin out – and believe me, children and beginners are rubbish at thinning out and end up with lots of weak plants.
Pop the seeds on their side in damp compost to roughly the depth of a child’s thumb knuckle or an adult’s thumb nail.
Keep damp but not drenched.
And in a week – ish – your little zucchini plants will peep through and then grow pretty quickly. But DO wait for the last frost to plant out.
If all your seeds have taken well and the plants are going crazy, you could pass on – or your kids could sell on – a few seedlings at this point but I would hold onto at least six.
3. Planting Out Zucchini
Now once you plant zucchini out they will – which is great fun for kids – grow AND grow.
So unless you’ve got a massive garden you or your kids need to select the 2 or 3 best plants.
And get them used to the big outdoors for a week by putting the pots out during the day.
But DO hold onto a few seedlings indoors. Because you are about to go to war …
… with slugs and snails.
Unfortunately, they adore your young zucchini plants and although there are simple ways to repel them – I’ll cover these later on – you do need backup plants. Trust me.
Once outdoor plants are 30cm or so they will survive happily and you can pass on the rest.
It is a cool opportunity for kids to see how they can make a profit on a little seed with a neighbourhood or school stall.
4. Planting Zucchini In Pots
If you want to grow your zucchini in containers outdoors you will need:
- A 12 to 16 inch pot for each plant
- Ordinary potting compost – garden centres will try and sell you fancy stuff, say no.
Whether you are planting in pots or in a bed, zucchini like a warm but not scorching spot.
And they do NOT like to be lonely – more on this later – so keep your plants together.
You can train zucchini to grow up a trellis but I’m not convinced it’s worth the bother – and it’s not kid or beginner friendly.
Once you’ve transferred your zucchini plants to their new pots or beds they are simple for you or your kids to look after by:
- Watering daily UNDER the leaves
- Feeding weekly once flowers appear
- Removing dead or mildewed leaves
Zucchini leaves are prone to powdery white mildew but it’s not the end of the world – we’ve had bumper crops despite it.
As the plants get big, it’s fun to duck under the leaves to give them a drink but little fingers need to watch out for the slightly prickly stems.
You can feed zucchini with tomato feed but we give them liquid from our little wormery.
5. The Plant Science of Zucchini Pollination
OK now onto the cool plant science bit. This is fascinating stuff for kids – and essential for us beginner gardeners to know.
You see the thing is, our zucchini plants will have male AND female flowers.
If your kids poke their heads in the flowers, they will see males – that often come first – have a stamen covered in pollen like this …
… whilst the female flowers have a funny shaped stigma like this …
The pollen from the male flower’s stamen needs to get into the female flower’s stigma, and work it’s way down to fertilise the ovule or egg, out of which the zucchini will grow.
Bees are brilliant at pollinating courgettes.
But your kids can HELP out!
They just need to use a little paintbrush to take some pollen from a male flower and gently brush it into the stigma of the female flower.
Or they can just shake some pollen from the male over the stigma and before they know it, there will be a baby zucchini on the way.
How cool is that?
And it will be ready to eat in just 3 or 4 days as they can grow an inch a day. Wow!
The zucchini will taste best picked early.
BUT we always let some grow and grow and grow to see if we can beat our record. It’s a fun opportunity for hands on maths, estimating, measuring and weighing.
And it’s fun taking a real whopper into school harvest festival.
Most years our zucchini are problem free as long we take care to keep the slugs off them in June but I’ll now share a few pests to watch out for and safe ways to repel them.
6. Care For Common Problems With Zucchini
The best way to care for your zucchini is to plant a few companion plants in spring.
Keep slugs and snails off with copper collars, grit or pine leaves around the bottom of plants and a sunken jar of beer a metre or so away.
And let your kids eek out bedtime – and earn pocket money – by sending them on slug patrol in the evening.
The squash vine borer is the big zucchini pest in the USA – slugs win here in London. But there are lots of natural ways to see them off.
When your precious crop is under attack, it’s always a temptation to reach for insecticide but it’s a vicious circle. These poisons also kill off the very pollinators our awesome zucchini flowers need to bear fruit and the good bugs who help produce the nice, rich soil our zucchini need to flourish.
And without a nice flourishing crop of zucchini we won’t be able to make all these yummy zucchini recipes …
7. Delicious Zucchini Recipes
Now obviously there are loads of ways to cook zucchini but if – like me – you’ve got a picky eater they’ll turn their nose up at them.
But luckily zucchini is also delicious in:
So you will be able to use up even the biggest glut of zucchinis from your garden …
Do have fun growing your zucchini, we started planting them as complete beginners and for my 9 year old summer would now not be summer without them in the garden.
And whilst you are at it try these other gardening projects that are super simple for beginner gardeners and kids and are pack full of plant science and biology fun:
- Mushrooms: part of the mind boggling fungi kingdom, you can have mushrooms on your plate in less than 2 weeks
- Mint: an unbelievably easy way to grow mint for cool glasses of lemonade and more
- Radishes: are the speediest veg on the block and need very little room
- Peas: freshly picked from a pod are sweet enough to tempt even the pickiest eater
- Lettuces: will grow once and then miraculously grow again and again
I would love to hear how you get on. Do come back and tell me your stories …