Zucchini is a popular choice for home gardens across the country. Even if you don’t have a garden, you are likely to be gifted a few zucchinis. These plants are known for being prolific growers. However, there are some zucchini growing problems you may face with your plants.
Despite the normal ease of growing zucchinis, pests, diseases, and other issues still plague these plants. Once the problems start, it can be hard to determine the exact cause and way to fix them. Let’s take a look at what you might face when growing zucchini in your vegetable garden.
1. Common Pests
Unfortunately, your zucchini plants are prone to different insects and pests. All of these can cause problems that destroy your plant or ruin your harvest. Here are the most common.
Aphids like to destroy several types of plants. You might notice yellow and oddly shaped leaves, stunted growth or a black substance on the plant. As aphids feed on your plant, they infect the plant with black sooty mold caused by the substance they secrete called honeydew.
- Cucumber Beetles
These little pests eat the leaves of your plants, especially squash and cucumbers. At the same time, their larva will chew on the roots of the plant. The main reason you want to control this population is because they spread cucumber bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic.
- Squash Bugs
Squash bugs suck the sap out of your plants, causing them to collapse and die! It is easy to identify these bugs. They have wings, are brownish-black in color and give off a foul smell if crushed, often confused with stink bugs. Once attacked, the leaves and foliage have a spotted look and start to turn brown.
- Vine Borers
These pests can wreak the most havoc on your plant. Vine borers bury themselves into the stem of your squash plant. Doing so ruins the plant’s vascular systems, leading to the death of your plant.
So, what can you do about pests and zucchini plants? There are a few choices. You could pick to use pesticides or an insecticidal soap. Most garden stores or nurseries have options that will fix and kill almost any pest in the gardening world. However, organic growers need other options. Plus, pesticides can kill honey bees and reduce crucial pollination needed for your plants.
Another key step to reducing pests is to keep your plants healthy and encourage natural predators. Keep your garden as free of weeds and debris as possible. You can also introduce natural predators such as soldier beetles, nematodes, ladybugs and praying mantis.
2. Zucchini Diseases
Another common zucchini growing problem is diseases. The problem with diseases is that it can be hard to identify the issue! Many times, they all have similar features that make you wonder if your plant has more than one disease happening. The best way to figure out the disease that is infecting your plant is to look at way causes the specific problem and other signs associated with that disease.
- Bacterial Wilt
The first common sign of bacterial wilt would be your plants wilting. It is a disease that can kill an entire crop of squash. Bacterial wilt also infects other vine crops, such as melons and pumpkins. Unfortunately, the signs don’t stop at wilting leaves. The fruits might also be misshaped or dwarfed.
- Powdery Mildew
Identifying powdery mildew is much easier than other plants. You will notice a white, powder-like growth along the surface of the leaves. There are some environmental conditions that increase the risk of powdery mildew, such as planting them in shady areas or watering in the evening. Water shouldn’t stand on the leaves for too long.
- Downy Mildew
Often confused with powdery mildew, downy mildew can damage or stunt the growth of your plants. It is caused by a parasitic organism that is related to algae. You are more likely to notice this mildew growth during cooler temperatures, such as the spring, or when rainfall is greatly increased for a period.
- Squash Mosaic Virus
You typically will notice squash mosaic virus early on during the growing season because it is often seed borne. Over time, the signs can go away as the plants mature, but the damage is done. Squash mosaic virus causes reduced growth, poor branching, mottling of fruits, and distorted leaves.
Unlike pests, diseases are harder to cure. Once the disease begins, they can quickly transfer from plant to plant. Removing the infected plants is the best step. Unfortunately, it also eliminates your plants and potential harvest.
The best step for diseases is start off strong. You want to have healthy seedlings before planting them. Don’t plant unhealthy seedlings because they are more prone to diseases. You also want to keep the area around the plants clean, free of weeds and debris. Limiting pests also helps because of many, such as aphids, spread infections from plant to plant.
3. Zucchini Environmental Issues
One of the likely reasons for your zucchini growing problems is environmental issues, such as improper soil. Zucchini plants require the right growing conditions to prosper and provide you with the bountiful harvest you want. Let’s take a look at the correct growing conditions, so you can identify if you are missing something!
- The location for your zucchini plants needs full sunlight, with at least six hours per day.
- The soil should be moist and drain well because the plants are low to the ground. If the soil doesn’t drain well and puddles form, your plants can die easier. Standing water and zucchini plants don’t mix well, potentially leading to rot.
- You should add organic matter to the soil before planting. The pH level needs to be slightly acidic.
- Did you space your zucchini plants appropriately? You probably know that zucchini plants spread wide, so plant them two to four feet apart. Doing so ensures air can still circulate the plants.
- If the temperatures dip down too low, the plants still start to die. Zucchini plants are warm weather plants, so make sure there is no threat of frost.
4. Zucchini Pollination Problems
Zucchini plants produce yellow and orange blossoms, which turn into the fruit eventually. If there are no flowers on your plant, you have a pollination problem. Pollination takes place when bees or other insects carry pollen from the male blooms to the female blooms. If your area is struggling to maintain the bee population, pollination problems can lead to big issues for you.
PRO TIP: You can pollinate your zucchinis by hand in the absence of bees. Male flowers typically grow first on the plant so that the issue can sort itself out. If not, you can use a cotton swab to gently get pollen from the male blossoms and rub it on the yellow stigmas in the center of the female flower.
You probably wonder how you can distinguish male and female blooms. Here are some easy steps and tips.
- Look at the blossom stems. A male bloom has a long, thin stem but a female bloom has a shorter stem.
- The female blooms have a small bulbous area, referred to as the ovary, at the base of blossom. That area is going to become the zucchini fruit.
- If the blossom is open, the male ones have a stamen in the center. The stamen contains the pollen necessary for pollination.
- Make sure you check your plants each morning because the blossoms only open for one day at a time. Pollination should be done early or mid morning.
5. Squash Blossom End Rot
All squashes, including zucchinis, suffer from squash blossom end rot from time to time. The fruits produced will have squishy, soft or rotted ends, not an appealing feature. The reason for end rot is simply. Your plant is lacking calcium.
Calcium is essential for the growth of your plant. It helps to create a stable structure. Without proper levels, the fruits are unable to develop fully. It leads to less calcium on the bottom of the fruit. As the fruit grows larger, the cells start to break down, starting at the bottom.
Your first step should be to adjust the soil. As mentioned under environmental conditions, you want a slightly acidic soil, with a pH level between 6 and 6.5. If your soil isn’t acidic enough, you can add fertilizers that are higher in acid, such as lime. You can also try a calcium-rich foliar spray that helps the plant recover and produces fruits that are firm and perfect for the dinner table. Remember to remove the fruit as well!
Even the luckiest gardeners will encounter a few zucchini growing problems over the years. The best thing to do is figure out first the issue at hand. Do your zucchinis show signs of a disease or an infestation of pests? Are the ends of the fruit rotting? With the right answers, you can easily determine the problem and be on your way to fixing it.
Have you ever had issues growing zucchini plants? If so, let us know about your experience and how you fixed it!