Zucchini squash grow very quickly. If you are not careful, a tiny zucchini one day can turn into a monster squash a few days later, so it is important to know when your zucchinis are ready so you can pick them at the perfect time. For an added delicacy, you can also pick the flowers and cook them up, too.
Most zucchini plants start producing about 50 days after germinating. The ideal time to pick a zucchini is when it is 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) long, with a bright and rich color.
The zucchini should be fairly dense, and the skin should be firm but not too hard. You can harvest zucchinis out of your garden until the first killing frost nips the plants and they start to die.
Let’s look in more detail at how to tell when your zucchinis are ready to pick, plus a few great tips for harvesting and preserving your bounty.
The Secret To Knowing When Zucchini Is Ready To Pick
About 50 days after the seedlings first emerge, your zucchini plants will start to bloom and it won’t be long before you have dozens of little zucchinis just waiting to be picked.
Sometimes a zucchini will hide and you won’t find it until it is a behemoth. Don’t worry! Large, overripe zucchinis are still edible but they might be mealy with large seeds. Try using these large zucchinis your favorite stuffed zucchini recipe.
Pick your zucchinis regularly, every day, or every other day in warm weather. This will stimulate new flowers and you will have a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.
Zucchinis will not tolerate frost, and both the plant and the squash themselves can be damaged by even a light frost.
As cold weather approaches, keep your eye on the forecast and pick all your zucchinis before a killing frost arrives.
How to Harvest Zucchini
Once you find the perfect zucchini hanging on the plant, it is time to harvest. Harvest zucchinis by grasping them firmly and twisting them off the plant, or by cutting them off the stem with a sharp knife or clippers.
Zucchinis are experts at camouflage and they will often hide underneath the large leaves of the plant.
To make matters more interesting, these leaves and the stalks are very rough and will scratch your arms while you search for your harvest.
Make sure to wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when harvesting zucchinis so you can really get in there and avoid missing any of the squash.
How To Pick Zucchini Flowers
Did you know you can also eat the flowers from a zucchini plant? You can eat either the male or the female flowers.
Check your favorite cooking site for delicious recipes for zucchini flowers to add a unique flair to your next dinner party.
How To Store Zucchini
Once you have picked your zucchinis, you want to properly store them to get the most of your harvest. Zucchinis are best kept fresh in the fridge or frozen for long-term storage.
In The Fridge
Put your zucchinis unwashed in the fridge. If you have to wash off dirt, make sure they are completely dry prior to storage. Keep them for about 7 days.
In The Freezer
Wash zucchinis before freezing. Cut your zucchinis into your preferred shape. They can be sliced, chopped, or shredded.
Freeze them on a cookie sheet and transfer them to an airtight container once frozen.
Can I still harvest zucchinis after a frost?
Zucchinis are very sensitive to frost and a light frost will quickly kill the plant. Even the vegetable themselves can easily be damaged by frost. While they are still edible, frosted zucchinis will often be hard and bitter tasting, or they will rot quickly if the damage was severe
What is the best time of day to harvest zucchinis?
Zucchinis can be harvested at any time of the day. Unlike soft, delicate greens, the tough veggie does not wilt very easily so zucchinis can be picked in the middle of the afternoon. Make sure to keep the freshly harvested zucchinis out of direct sunlight and chill them as soon as possible after picking them.
How often should I harvest my zucchinis?
Harvest your zucchinis as often as you can. A consistent harvest will stimulate more flowers to develop, and you will get a more continuous harvest.
My zucchini broke when I twisted it off. What should I do?
The zucchini is perfectly fine to eat, but it should be eaten right away as it won’t store very well. If a large piece of the zucchini is still attached to the plant, remove it or it may rot and introduce disease. Consider cutting the zucchinis if you find the stems are particularly tough.
I found a huge zucchini hiding under a leaf. Can I still eat it?
Yes, you can. Large, overripe zucchinis are still edible, though their quality will have diminished.
If the zucchini was left on the plant for upwards of 6 weeks, it may have viable seeds inside that you can plant in your garden next year (though at this point the zucchini will be bitter and inedible).
Zucchinis are a great vegetable to grow. They are easy to cultivate and they are very versatile in the kitchen.
Knowing when to pick your zucchinis at the right time will give you the best tasting, most nutritious summer squash all season long.
It is always exciting digging through the massive foliage to find a perfectly ripe zucchini, and you might even stumble upon one hidden in the leaves and wonder how you ever missed such a giant!
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.