Zucchini plants are incredibly productive, but if you don’t know when to harvest, you may end up with tough, tasteless fruits. Knowing when to pick zucchini is the best way to ensure a high quality crop. Perfectly picked zucchini are super tender and have a mild, almost nutty flavor. Below I’ll offer advice on when to harvest all types of zucchini as well as share tips on the best ways to harvest. (Hint – it’s not by pulling the fruits from the plant!) Keep reading to learn more.
What is a zucchini?
Zucchini squash, also known as summer squash, is a quick-growing vegetable in the gourd family grown for its immature fruits. The robust plants go from seed to bloom in about 50 days and once the flowers are pollinated, the fruits are ready to pick in just 4 to 7 days. When harvested at the right time, zucchini are tender, mild-flavored, and delicious grilled, sautéed, and baked.
Summer squash come in a wide assortment of shapes and colors, and it’s fun to grow a few different varieties in the vegetable garden. To ensure the best quality crop, I plant zucchini in late spring, once the last frost date has passed, and again in mid-summer for a late crop. Zucchini seeds can be direct sown or started indoors under grow lights.
Why it’s important to know when to pick zucchini
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when growing zucchini is letting the fruits get too big. The old joke is that if you blink, they’ll double in size. And while that is a bit of an exaggeration, they do grow quickly so once the plants begin to bloom, it pays to keep an eye on the developing fruits. The best harvest comes from small zucchini which are tender and mild-flavored. Overripe and overgrown zucchini are tough and tasteless. This is why it’s important to know when to pick zucchini.
Plus, frequent harvesting can increase the harvest. How? When the plants don’t need to spend their energy on maturing overgrown fruits, they can focus on producing more flowers. And more flowers means more zucchini. I have two rules for when to harvest zucchini: pick small fruits and harvest often. Below I’ll offer advice on when to pick zucchini from traditional types, round varieties, pattypan plants, and more.
When to pick green zucchini
Standard green, or yellow, zucchini varieties have oblong fruits with smooth glossy skin. These are the most widely grown types of zucchini in home gardens. Varieties like Black Beauty and Goldy are popular with vegetable gardeners who want a reliable harvest. Clip the slender fruits from the plants when they’re about 5 to 8 inches long. If left on the plant, the fruits can grow 2 to 3 feet in length but they’ll be pithy, tough, and the interior seeds will start to develop.
Harvest the Italian heirloom variety Costata Romanesco the same way as standard zucchini. It has a slightly different appearance: light and dark green stripes as well as speckled skin, and ridges that run the length of the fruits. It’s also is one of the best tasting zucchini varieties having a more developed nutty flavor and tender-crisp texture.
When to harvest pattypan zucchini
If you’re wondering when to pick zucchini, pattypan varieties might throw you for a loop! Pattypan, or scallop zucchini, is a type of zucchini with a unique flattened shape and gently scalloped edges. They’re often compared to a UFO and there are varieties with yellow, dark green, light green, and bi-colored fruits. I’m a big fan of Sunburst and Peter Pan. Although they can grow 10 to 12 inches across, the best flavor and texture comes from young zucchinis picked when just 2 to 3 inches in diameter. At this point, the fruits are tender and delicious grilled, sautéed, or roasted.
Check your pattypan plants every few days for new fruits, harvesting them when they’re in the ideal size range. If you forget to harvest for a day or two and end up with slightly larger fruits – in the 4 to 6 inch diameter range – these are fantastic stuffed with a meat or vegetarian filling. You’ll find plenty of recipe ideas online.
When to harvest round zucchini
I love round zucchini varieties like Eight Ball and Piccolo. They’re very easy to grow and, like other types of zucchini, the plants are incredibly productive. These unique summer squash varieties yield round to oval-shaped fruits. Harvest when they’re 2 to 6 inches in diameter. If I want to grill or roast the zucchini I pick them when they’re just 2 to 3 inches across. If I plan on stuffing the fruits or using them as soup bowls, I let them size up to 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
When to pick crookneck zucchini
Crookneck zucchini have attractive curved necks and a mild nutty flavor. They’re typically yellow in color, but there are some varieties, like Zephyr, that have bi-colored yellow and green fruits. They’re just as easy to grow as standard zucchini plants, and yield a good crop of slender curved zucchini. Harvest crookneck fruits when they’re 4 to 6 inches in length. If you wait too long, they’ll become tough and woody.
How to harvest zucchini
Once you’ve determined a zucchini is ready to pick, grab a cutting tool. Don’t try and pull or twist the fruit from the plant. This can break off the end of the fruit or damage the plant. Instead, use garden shears, pruners, scissors, or a sharp knife to carefully clip the fruit from the plant, leaving a small stem. As for harvest time, the best time of day to pick zucchini is early to mid morning when the plants are full of moisture.
The thin skin of zucchini fruits is easily bruised or damaged. Protect them by placing just-harvested zucchini in a basket, garden hod, or other container. If I’m not using them right away, I store garden zucchini in a paper bag in the fridge. They’ll hold their quality for about a week.
When and how to pick zucchini flowers
Did you know that zucchini plants produce edible flowers? Both the male and female large golden blooms are delicious raw or cooked. I like to dip the blooms in tempura batter and flash fry, or stuff them with goat cheese and herbs and sauté them. Slice raw the flowers into ribbons for adding to risotto, omelets, and salads, or use them to top tacos.
Harvest squash blossoms in early to mid morning, picking the freshest looking blooms. Clip them from the plants using a pair of garden snips and place them carefully in a container or basket. The flowers don’t store well so use them on the day they’re picked.
How to increase yield from zucchini plants
Now that you know when to pick zucchini, I’ve got a few tips on how to boost production for even more delicious fruits. Here are 3 tips for growing a bumper crop of zucchini:
- Hand pollinate – Are the tiny fruits on your zucchini plants turning yellow and rotting before they get a chance to size up? The issue is likely poor pollination. Zucchini flowers are either female flowers or male flowers. For pollination to occur, pollen must be moved from a male to a female flower. This work is usually done by bees but if the weather has been damp and cool, or bee populations are down, you can hand pollinate the flowers.
- Feed the soil – Zucchini plants are heavy feeders and require plenty of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium for maximum production. To increase soil fertility I add compost and a complete vegetable fertilizer to the bed before planting.
- Light – Summer squash thrives in a site with plenty of direct sunlight. Sow seeds or plant seedlings in a site that offers at least 8 hours of sun.
What to do with overripe zucchini
As noted above, if you wait too long to harvest home-grown zucchini they turn into giants. Overripe zucchini are tough, pithy, and unpalatable. Harvest them immediately and use them for baking zucchini cake or muffins. Grated zucchini can also be frozen to make winter baking a snap! Just measure one cup portions, placing them in freezer bags before moving them into your freezer. If it’s late in the season, I often keep giant zucchini as part of our fall and Halloween decor.
For more information on growing zucchini and other types of squash, be sure to read these expert articles:
- 10 common zucchini growing problems
- The best companion plants for zucchini
- Watch our video on common zucchini issues
- How to get rid of squash bugs
Did I answer your questions about when to pick zucchini?