The Secret to Success With Courgettes

, written by Ann Marie Hendry gb flag

Courgette flower

The courgette is one of the easiest vegetables for new gardeners to grow from seed - simple to care for, quick to grow, reliably prolific and endlessly useful in the kitchen.

Courgettes aren't difficult to grow, but it took me a while to get a really good crop, so it's worth taking time to ensure growing are conditions right. Believe me, it can be frustrating if every gardener you know is moaning about their courgette glut when you've only managed to produce a few fruits late in the summer! Here are my tips to ensure a steady supply of courgettes.

Sowing Courgettes

Sow courgette seeds on their side so that water easily drains off to avoid the risk of them rotting. Once germinated (which usually takes about a week, give or take a day or two), keep seedlings in a sunny position indoors until all risk of frost has passed, then harden them off to get them accustomed to outside conditions. Alternatively, sow them outside under cloches or horticultural fleece (row covers) if the weather is warm enough. Courgettes can't cope with cold temperatures, so don't start them off too early - check recommended sowing and planting out times for your location in our Garden Planner.

Courgette seed

For courgettes to be highly productive they need plenty of fuel in the form of nutrients from the soil and sunlight to help them photosynthesise efficiently. It's best to plant them in a sunny part of the garden where they won't be overshadowed by other plants, in soil that has had garden-made compost or well-rotted manure added.

Personally I never seem to get as good a crop when growing in containers, although many people do grow courgettes (particularly compact varieties) successfully this way. I have to admit that I tend to neglect potted plants a bit! It is vital to keep on top of watering and feeding when growing in pots.

Keep cloches or fleece at the ready for cool nights. Water regularly if the soil is dry and mulch to minimise competition from weeds and to help retain soil moisture.

Male and Female Courgette Flowers

When flowering starts, your courgette plants will only produce male flowers at first. Why male flowers with no female flowers to pollinate? My theory is that this draws in insects such as bees who will return to the plants once the female flowers are produced, and this will enhance successful pollination.

Courgette fruit with flower attached

You can make use of some of these male flowers by deep-frying them, though make sure you leave enough on the plant to ensure successful pollination. You'll know when your plants have started to produce female flowers, because female flowers have an immature courgette fruit behind them, while the male flowers are produced on long, thin stalks with no such swelling.

Start feeding your plants with a liquid tomato feed or homemade comfrey fertiliser twice a month as soon as flowering begins, and continue to keep the soil well watered.

Courgette Problems

One issue that is of significant concern is poor pollination. Courgettes need to be visited by a lot of bees or other pollinators for successful pollination, otherwise the fruits will abort. When this happens the fruits will stop growing, turn yellow and may start to rot. To avoid this make sure you include plenty of pollinator-friendly flowers in and around your vegetable garden, and avoid using any pesticides. Additionally, you can hand-pollinate the flowers - this may be necessary in wet summers when insect pollination is poor.

Aborted courgette fruit

Stressed plants may also abort their fruits, so make sure you keep them well-watered and protect them with fleece or similar if the weather turns cold.

Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) affects courgettes as well as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and some other non-related plants. Courgettes affected by CMV will show mottled, puckered leaves, and the fruits will be distorted and bitter-tasting. Aphids transmit the disease, so keep populations down by growing plenty of nectar-producing flowers that will attract aphid predators such as lacewings, ladybirds (lady bugs) and hoverflies. You can also hose aphids off plants with a strong jet of water whenever you spot them.

Courgettes may also be affected by powdery mildew in hot, dry weather, which is fortunately simple to prevent by using a diluted milk spray.

Courgette growing in the vegetable garden

Avoiding a Glut of Courgettes

The courgette glut is well known not only to vegetable gardeners but to their families, friends, neighbours and casual acquaintances too! An over-abundance of vegetables is not a bad problem to have, but there are limits…

The trick to avoiding a glut of courgettes is to pick the fruits while they are still small - anything up to about 20cm (8in) - and to pick them regularly. Picking and eating some of the male flowers will also help to slow production.

Still, you're likely to have a steady supply of courgettes so it's a good thing they're so versatile. I like them best roasted along with other vegetables and added to pasta, but they can also be grilled, fried, baked, stuffed, grated into sauces as a thickener, sliced thinly into salads, or made into fritters or courgette bread. Contrary to what some foodies say, you can freeze courgettes - they just go a bit soft, so if frozen are best used in dishes where the texture doesn't really matter, for example courgette soup.

If you have any tips for growing a great crop of courgettes, or for using up a glut, we'd love to hear them - please share them in the comments below.

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Comments

 
"Glutney!!! Hugh fearnley Whitingstall has a great and versatile chutney recipe you can use with just about any 'glut' of veg (hence Glutney). I make loads of it every year with my abundance of courgettes! http://www.vegetarianrecipesmag.com/vegetarian-recipes/hugh-fearnley-whittingstalls-glutney "
Colin on Friday 15 May 2015
"I love using the overgrown fruits to make a sweet pickle relish. The huge fruits retain their crunch after processing and taste even better than cucumber pickles."
Kathryn on Friday 15 May 2015
"That sounds good, Kathryn - do you have a recipe you can share?"
Colin on Friday 15 May 2015
"I make zucchini relish, my hubby loves it, and I also shred it, freeze to use in zucchini bread. The relish recipe is a ball canning recipe from the canning book. "
Vera on Friday 15 May 2015
"Hi Colin, the recipe I use is actually a recipe for Bread and Butter pickles, with the following adjustments: replace cucumbers with overgrown zucchini. Peel, if the skin is very tough, then grate using the large holes on the grater. Dice the onions and peppers. Mix the vegetables with salt and le sit in a large bowl for three hours. Drain and rinse. Make the brine as instructed in the recipe, but add a half teaspoon of nutmeg. Mix in vegetables, bring to a boil, ladle into jars, and process as the recipe calls for. Stir often while heating the relish to be sure the mixture is evenly hot. Any bread and butter pickle recipe will work."
Kathryn on Friday 15 May 2015
"Some great ideas! Keep them coming :)"
Ann Marie Hendry on Friday 15 May 2015
"Friends of mine take all the zucchini they can get, grate it, and put it in the freezer for zucchini bread all year long. I don't really like to eat zucchini as a vegetable (overdid it one year...), but I love it in breads and fritters, so I think I'll actually plant some this year."
Shari on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Just bought 2 plants and have recently acquired bees so hoping for great things. Going to plant in the well rotted stable dung heap! !!!"
lindsay on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Zucchini salsa is awesome and uses an abundance of the zucchini. My kids even like it better than store bought salsa. "
Kk on Saturday 16 May 2015
"You didn't say anything about the vine bore bug, they kill my plants Every year."
Tony on Saturday 16 May 2015
"They are a delicious base for my green juice. After juicing them, they are frozen into ice cube trays and stored in bulk in ziplock freezer bags to be taken out when I make my daily juice."
Sherrie MT on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Exactly what Tony said!! Squash bugs decimate mine every time I plant them! Supposedly you are to hand pick them, but who can catch them???"
Bunny Ryan on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Everyone is saying they're easy to grew, but as newbies, we're struggling. We skipped the first step, and bought two seedlings - we planted them and they've grown a little (in a month or so) but one has now died - it went limp and then brown and damp - is that over watering? How can we prevent the other one from dying? They're in a raised bed, under a green mesh cloche which still allows plenty of sunlight through. Please help! "
Tim on Saturday 16 May 2015
"One word: cake. I now want a glut so I can justify making this: http://iambaker.net/blueberry-zucchini-cake-with-lemon-buttercream/ Can I count this as 2 of my five a day?! "
Vanessa on Saturday 16 May 2015
"courgette soup, courgettes with pasta"
diverte on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Lovee growing zucchini. No garden this year due to poor balance at my age. Will certainly purchase from Farmer's Market in Salem, Va. I think I will plant in a large pot then pull out the weaker looking plants and leave one to grow. It probably won't work but I would like to try."
Carol McMillion on Saturday 16 May 2015
"My problem is squash vine borers. Does anyone have an organic control method?"
Bonnie on Saturday 16 May 2015
"I made cheese from courgettes last year! Really easy....and of course, chocolate courgette cake....yummy!"
emma on Saturday 16 May 2015
"http://gutsybynature.com/2014/07/19/zucchini-cheese-dairy-free-nut-free/.......the cheese made from courgettes recipe!"
emma on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Lots of excellent suggestions - we've obviously got some real courgette/zucchini lovers here! Tony, Bunny and Bonnie, I haven't experienced the perils of squash vine borers personally as it's fortunately not something we experience here in the UK (yet!), but our zucchini Grow Guide for the US (which can be found here: http://www.growveg.com/growguideplant.aspx?id=197) recommends excluding them using row covers."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Tim, you don't say where in the world you are, but if the nights are still cold where you are (they're certainly still cold with me in Scotland!) this might be the reason your plant died - courgettes don't tolerant cold temperatures. If you can supplement your mesh cover with horticultural/garden fleece or with plastic or similar overnight this might be enough to save the remaining seedling."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 16 May 2015
"I have read that sprinkling borax powder at the base on the plants will discourage the squash bugs, but I haven't tried it myself. "
Kathryn on Saturday 16 May 2015
"I have a good way to use up courgettes which have grown too large. Cut away the skin and seeds, then cut the flesh into small chunks. I then place them in a pan, add olive oil, chilli, garlic, curry powder or Garam Masala, cumin, turmeric etc and slowly cook the courgette down into a thick, spicy paste. You can then spoon it into sterilized jars, cover with olive oil and use as a spicy paste on toast etc whenever you fancy a spicy snack. Vary the amount of chilli to your taste. Courgette is a blank canvas for getting creative."
Gareth Bowes on Saturday 16 May 2015
"We shred our extra zucchini and summer squash and freeze it in plastic freezer bags. We use it to make zucchini bread and muffins all winter long!"
Dawn on Sunday 17 May 2015
"i have a question about row covers. i will be planting zucchini 4rh time this year. they grow lush green, start blooming and then one morning i come to water and they've been eaten by bugs (i'm in usa, southwest florida). i just read your article and ordered row covers. so the question is: how will they get pollinated when covered? if bugs can't get in, neither can bees. and if i keep them uncovered for some time how do i keep bugs off them? i am a stubborn gardener. in 7 years i got no zucchini. now i have 6 meter high eggplants (fertilized, watered, pampered and sung lullibies to) which have sat in ground for 8 months and produced ONE eggplant. never give up is all that keeps me going"
olga on Sunday 17 May 2015
"Hi Anne Marie, sorry - I'm in Liverpool (UK). The weather has been fine - which does mean that nights may be too cold with the reduced cloud cover. I'll try putting some fleece over it at night for the next couple of weeks and see how it fairs!"
Tim in Liverpool on Monday 18 May 2015
"Hi Olga, try hand-pollinating your zucchini, as described in the 'Understanding Squash Sex' section of Barbara's article Mixing Up Summer Squash, which can be found here: http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=137. Tim, the nights are probably still too cold for your courgettes to be outside without protection - I'm a bit further north than you, but I'm still seeing temperatures as low as 1 Celsius at night inside my greenhouse! Despite that, I've got courgettes in there covered with a single layer of fleece overnight and they're doing fine."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 19 May 2015
"Zucchini Slaw! Just substitute for the cabbage in your favorite recipe."
Kathy on Tuesday 19 May 2015
"Thank you for your help Ann Marie!"
Tim in Liverpool on Tuesday 19 May 2015
"i will try to hand pollinate, as of now, do i put seeds in the grownd, cover with fabric and wait until they bloom? do i water over fabric or under it?"
olga on Tuesday 19 May 2015
"Hi Olga, depending if it's warm where you are you can start them outside in the ground, or if nights are still cold then cover them with fabric or start them indoors.. If you're using garden fleece fabric you will normally need to lift it to water, however many types of mesh/netting can be watered through. Kathy - I hadn't heard of zucchini slaw, but I like the sound of it! I will definitely try that this summer."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 20 May 2015
"To get around the pollinating issue, I've gone with a hybrid from Burpee called Sure Thing the last few years. http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/squash/summer/zucchini/squash-summer-sure-thing-zucchini-hybrid-prod000924.html "
Don Abbott on Friday 22 May 2015
"I grate those that got past best eating size, freeze it, and use it in chili or soup."
L in Ohio on Sunday 31 May 2015
"I grow a round courgette called piccolo. At first I was annoyed that I couldn't cut it little round slices, but then I found they were ideal for stuffing. Unlike full size marrows they are perfect for one or two. I prefer them Chinese style; pork mince with a little chopped ginger and spring onion, a soaked dry mushroom (chopped), a little cornflour and egg to bind the meat, and seasoned with salt, pepper and a few drops of sesame oil. Slice a lid off the top of the courgette, scoop out the seeds and stuff the raw mixture into the hollow you have just created. Then (and here is the really unusual bit)- steam it for about 30 minutes. I've used other flavouring and different meat, but this is my favourite. They are dead easy to do, and the little striped globes look charming on a plate."
Deb Clarke on Tuesday 2 June 2015
"ZOODLES!! Look up zoodles online.. try Pinterest!! Tons of recipes!! Zoodles are simply zucchini that have been 'spiralized' --- made into noodles!! I found a dandy little spiralizer at Ross Store for $9.99. More expensive ones are available online. My first try was sooo tasty that I couldn't stop eating what was probably enough for 4 servings!! I spiralized the 2 large (8") zucchinis. Looked at them in the bowl... got creative and splashed on some garlic flavored rice vinegar, olive oil, grated ginger, minced garlic, sesame seeds, and peanuts. Put that in fridge to marinate. Just over an hr later, I ate the WHOLE BOWLFUL!! It was raw... didn't have to cook it!! yum.. yum... yum!! The spiralized zucchini can be used like pasta noodles.. add whatever sauce of your choosing, with or without meat. Just do not overcook the zoodles, or you'll have mush!! To cook the zoodles for a hot dish, I either saute them a bit in olive oil, or nuke them... and then add all the other ingredients!! ENJOY!!"
Carol McCollum on Sunday 29 May 2016
"The organic trick for borers (and cucumber beetles) is to succession plant. Put in a new crop every two or three weeks. Large seeded vegetables resent transplanting. It is important not to disturb roots with squashes ans melons. A transplanting fertilizer will help with recovery."
David Miller on Tuesday 15 November 2016

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