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zucchini

Container Zucchini-ing

This is the first in a series of posts that I’m planning to write, outlining some of the things I learned during my balcony gardening last summer. Since there was a question over at apartmentgarden about how I managed to grow zucchini in containers, I thought this topic was a good one to start with.

I’m going to begin by saying that the way I did it is by no means the only way, or even the correct way. I did some reading last year and used what I learned. I only ran into a few minor problems that I managed to figure out as I went along.

It all begins with a large compressed peat pot, approximately 2.5 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep, prepared with soilless potting medium. I bought a bagged mixture of soilless medium but you can make your own with a combination of peat, perlite, vermiculite, etc. Here’s a useful article about soilless mixes. In the near future, I’ll also be making another post about my preferred method of preparing pots for vegetables and houseplants alike.

Once the pot was filled with moistened medium, I simply planted my zucchini seedling into it. I tried starting them from seeds indoors but after some fungus problems, I gave up and bought seedlings (there’ll be a post about my experiences with that sometime in the future as well).

My little zucchini seedling grew faster and larger than I was ever expecting. This is them on May 31, when I first planted the seedling:



Two and a half weeks later, on June 16:



And my first zucchini, on June 27, and boy was it tasty!



How’d I have such a success with zucchini in containers? I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what I did right.

Things I did do that may have contributed to my success:

1. I have a southern exposure balcony that gets lots of fabulous light.

2. I mixed in some castings from my worm bin about two or three weeks after planting my seedling.

3. I made sure that my zucchini was well watered. I’d give it about a litre of water three times (total of three litres) over the course of a couple of hours. I always watered in the evening after I came home from work and was careful not to get water on the leaves or flowers. On particularly hot and dry days, I’d give them more than three litres. If it rained that day, I usually wouldn’t water them at all. Since the pot I was using was quite large and deep, overwatering wasn’t too much of a problem.

4. I hand-pollinated my zucchini in the morning. This one might have been the biggest factor in my success, and since it’s a little more complicated than “had good light”, “used worm castings”, and “watered regularly”, I’ll explain a little further.

One of the first things I read about growing zucchini in containers was that since you don’t usually grow too many of them at a time, attracting pollinating insects can be a problem. As such, many of the sites I read recommended hand-pollination.

In describing how to hand-pollinate zucchini, the sites made me quite nervous. They talked about male flowers and female flowers and I didn’t find any with pictures to help me distinguish between the two types of flowers. They only said that the female flowers would have a “thicker stem” than the male flowers. I was quite nervous, of course, and not sure I’d get any zucchini at all. But being an experimenter at heart, I was determined to at least try.

Then my first flower buds started to form on my zucchini. Thankfully, the difference between male and female flowers was immediately obvious. The female flowers didn’t have “thicker stems”. They had teeny tiny zucchini as their stems! The male flowers had long and slender stems that just looked like stems. They tended to be much taller and more numerous than the female flowers. In fact, I often had male flowers blooming while I had no female flowers to pollinate, but I never had a female flower to pollinate and no male flower available to undertake the job. Typical, I suppose ;)

Anyway, I found that the flowers didn’t bloom for very long. In fact, they usually wouldn’t survive the day. Eager to try hand-pollination, when my first female blossom opened, I snipped off a male flower with scissors and carefully removed the male blossom’s petals. This left me with a pollen-covered stamen on the end of the long stem.

At that point, the only thing I had to do was transfer pollen from the male flower to the stigma of the female flower. The stigma is the part that sticks up in the middle.

<insert requisite sex jokes here>

I made sure to transfer as much pollen as possible to ensure successful zucchini production. It was really quite easy and only took a few minutes.

The one time I had an unsuccessful zucchini was when I didn’t pollinate the female flower the first morning it opened. It became a morning ritual for me. Before I went to work, I’d bring the scissors outside, check if any of the opened blossoms were female, and if there were, give ‘em a good pollinating.

I ended up with a load of the tastiest zucchini I’ve ever had. I cut them from the plant when they were nice and slender and a deep green colour, as in the picture above.

Now, I unfortunately had a serious injury in July that dramatically affected my ability to continue to care for my balcony garden. I had some help in the watering department but without my careful supervision, my plants ended up having a not-so-great time. To be fair, I wasn’t having that great a time either, but that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I’m not sure if it was because my guest-star-waterer wasn’t as patient as I was and just dumped the whole amount of water on my zucchini at the same time instead of applying it over the course of a couple of hours, but I ended up with a pretty serious earwig problem in that pot.

Ew. Seriously.

The plant first stopped producing flowers, then one by one the leaves turned brown and dropped off. I was quite disappointed, but I had other things on my mind such as figuring out how to get up and down stairs on crutches.

I’ve read about methods of dealing with earwigs, including leaving a wet roll of newspaper on the soil overnight to collect them (then dispose of them elsewhere), but because of my injury, I didn’t get a chance to try it.

So that’s a really long summary of my experience. I don’t know if it’ll be useful to anyone else, but it’s useful to me. Despite how it ended, I ultimately decided it was worth trying again. While I had one pot of zucchini on my balcony last year, I’m planning to have two this year.

 

Comments

This is very neat; I'd just been wondering about squash in pots when I found this post!

How far did your zucchini vines spread?
You know, it's funny, but they didn't spread at all. My zucchini remained quite compact.

I'd prepared for it to vine by adding the tomato cage when the plant was still very young. The plan was to train the vine to grow vertically up the cage rather than horizontally out of the pot.

But it never happened.

I'm not sure if it was the variety of zucchini I chose (see above re: I don't actually know what I'm doing), or if it was just how zucchini behaves when it's grown in a container.

I'm so glad you found my little article helpful. I hope your container squash goes well this year!
Last year I had a zucchini in a pot. If I had a male flower but no females to pollinate, I would clip it and remove the petals, like you suggest, and then place that "swab" in a plastic sandwich bag in the freezer. Because I only had one plant, there were times when I had mateless females, and I'd bring out the frozen male swab.

I did feel a bit like I was making test-tube pollen-donor zucchini, but it worked!

Also, zucchini tend not to vine like winter squash do. I was pleasantly surprised by how adaptable to containers they were.
That is an excellent tip! Thanks for sharing!

Also good to know that zucchini don't tend to vine. I was a little disappointed when my clever "let it vine up the tomato cage" idea didn't work out. :)

(Anonymous)

Thanks!

I chanced upon your post recently
and thanks to your tips on hand pollinating
I decided to give zucchini growing (in tropical Malaysia)
a 2nd chance - and succeeded! Hip hip!
I couldn't be a prouder gardener :)
Thank you

Re: Thanks!

Thanks for taking the time to drop me some feedback! I'm glad my post was useful to someone other than just me!

I wish you every bit of success for your gardening adventures!
Thanks so much for the informative post! I found you by Googling. I have some zucchini grown from seed that are ready to move to their container so I'm scouring the Web for info. Your post gives me a bit more confidence about it since I'm VERY new to container veggie gardening.

Even though this post is a year old (I'll check your regular journal if you're still updating) but do you know about how many zucchinis you'd get per season? How many seedlings per pot did you use? Thanks!

(Anonymous)

Thank you!

Thanks for the great info on your experience! I was considering planting zuccini on my balcony but wasn't sure if it was going to vine around everywhere or get huge. After reading your post I think I will try it!
So you managed to have your little garden in your balcony, it's quite a success, only few people can brag about that. Still I wonder, was the effort worth it? How many vegetables did you get out of your garden? I imagine they are very few. I would use my balcony space just for growing flowers, at least I can enjoy them more than the zucchini.

(Anonymous)

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Thank you

Hello! I found this article by googling as well and it has given me the confidence to go ahead with my plans :) We live on 2-1/2 acres, but I am only able to do so much with my 2 raised beds and I wanted to try a bunch of stuff in containers. I planted seeds and 7 days later, they are already a good size and I started thinking it might not work because zucchini are heavy. So glad I came across your note. Thanks!
I know it's been a while since you wrote this post, but I found it on Google and it is probably the most helpful zucchini-growth post I've seen. Thank you!

container Zuchinni

Thanks very helpful! Quite cute and humerous too! I will now go research compressed peat pots an soilless potting medium! ;-)
Danna Sargent palomino