Timing Matters: Know When to Harvest Zucchini

harvesting zucchini for best flavor

All summer you’ve been busy growing zucchini, and now it’s time for the most fun part of all – harvesting. Zucchini grows quickly, and within 45-60 days after planting you will likely see small fruits emerging from the large, colorful blossoms.  But how do you decide when to harvest zucchini?

Knowing when it’s ready to bring in to your kitchen for dinner is crucial because you don’t want your zucchini to become overgrown and lose its tender-crisp texture. 

In this article, I’ll discuss the process of harvesting, freezing, and storing zucchini. 

Before you begin, though, you want to make sure that you understand the best methods of growing zucchini.  Remember, too, that the plants can grow quite large, so if you have limited space, you might want to consider growing zucchini vertically.

zucchini flower

When Is the Best Time to Harvest Zucchini?

When I worked in a kids garden many years ago, we gave the kids some of the food we grew together to take home to their families. As you know if you’ve grown zucchini before, it’s not uncommon for some of the fruit to grow really large if you haven’t harvested in a few days.

The kids always wanted to biggest zucchini for themselves. I would also declare to them, “In the case of zucchini, bigger isn’t always better!”

So, I’ll say the same thing to you, my lovely garden friend. The biggest zucchini are the least tasty. In my garden, if any of my fruit gets super big, I usually just toss it into the compost bin.

Zucchini grow incredibly quickly once you see fruit on the plant. I think if I set up a chair in the garden next to the zucchini plants I would actually be able to see them grow as the day progressed. This rapid growth means that the best time to harvest zucchini is often

As zucchini grow larger, the seeds get bigger and the skin tougher. Not what you want in the ideal zucchini.

Exactly when to harvest zucchini is a matter of personal preference, but usually when they’re small or medium size. I prefer mine medium sized, more like what you’d buy at the grocery store. Sometimes at my local farmers market the sellers have small zucchini for sale. I suggest picking your zucchini at several different sizes and seeing which one you like best.

The smaller the zucchini, the more tender the fruit will be.

Check your plants daily once they start fruiting. If you’re scheduled to go away for a long weekend, pick the fruits on the smaller size before you leave and either take them with you, gift them to a neighbor, or store them in the fridge for when you get back. Being proactive is better than coming back to baseball bat sized fruit.

If you’re headed out of town for a longer vacation, see if a zucchini-loving neighbor or friend wants to come by every few days and harvest what’s on the plants. 

know when to pick zucchini

How Many Zucchini Per Plant Can You Expect?

If you’re a first-time zucchini grower, you want to carefully consider how many zucchini you can expect each plant to produce.  It’s important to understand that zucchini are very prolific, so plan accordingly, and don’t get too carried away when planting. 

You don’t need a lot of plants for a family of four. In fact, you might find that even one or two plants will meet your needs. For our household of two, I usually plant one or two summer squash plants – one green and one yellow. That’s plenty to use for cooking and eating with some left over to share with friends and neighbors.

A high yielding zucchini plant can produce up to nine pounds of fruit, or 30-40 zucchini, throughout the season. Of course, the yield can vary depending on the soil fertility, weather conditions, and variety.

High-yielding zucchini varieties include Black Beauty, as well as the compact, round varieties such as Baby Round.  Piccolo, which develops fetching little zucchini fruits not much bigger than a tennis ball, are also prolific producers. 

garden harvest of vegetables

How To Harvest Zucchini

Within 45 to 55 days after planting, you should notice large, colorful yellow flowers appearing. Within a few days after the plant blooms, you’ll see the fruit appear, and it will grow rapidly.

Zucchini leaves can be quite large, and, like many other fruits and vegetables, the fruit sometimes “hides” behind the largest leaves. So make sure you check behind the leaves when you’re harvesting.

It’s worth repeating – zucchini can go from an ideal size to overlarge within a day. I like to monitor my plants every day when they’re in peak production.

To harvest the fruit, use a sharp knife or clippers and cut the stem one or two inches from the fruit. 

Don’t make the mistake that some novice gardeners make, which is to grab the fruit with your hands and twist it off of the vine.  This could damage both the vines and the fruit and, besides, it’s an irksome process. 

Place the harvested fruit in a basket and refrigerate it as soon as possible. Refrigerators tend to suck the moisture from produce, causing wilting, so I like to use plastic bags to store all of my freshly harvested vegetables. If you can’t get it indoors immediately, try to place it in a shady area until you’re ready to go inside.

chopping zucchini for freezing

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Freezing Zucchini in Six Simple Steps

You’ve planned carefully and tried not to overplant, but you still may end up with a bumper crop of zucchini.  (This is not difficult!) You can’t use it all right away, but you don’t want the fruits of your labor to be wasted. 

No worries!  Zucchini freezes well, and if you follow a few simple tips, you can enjoy your home-grown zucchini all winter.

First, understand that you need to blanch the zucchini before you freeze it. Frozen raw zucchini can become mushy and watery when it’s thawed.

Directions for freezing zucchini:

  1. To prepare it for freezing, chop the zucchini into slices about one-half inch thick. 
  2. Then, fill a large pot with water and place it on the stove at high heat.  While you’re waiting for the water to boil, prepare an ice bath by filling a large pot with ice cubes and water.
  3. When the water boils, drop the zucchini slices into it and boil one or two minutes.  Do not overcook!
  4. Remove the slices with a slotted spoon and place them into the ice bath. This stops them from cooking immediately.
  5. Stir the slices in the cold water, then remove them, drain, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently blot them with a towel to dry them.
  6. When the slices are completely cool and dry, freeze them for two to four hours on the parchment-lined baking sheets.  Then transfer them to freezer bags and return them to the freezer.

When you’re ready to prepare the zucchini, you can thaw and drain it before you cook it if you want to remove some of the water. I’m a lazy cook, so I’ve been known to throw most of my vegetables into the cooking process when they’re still frozen. 

It’s easy to overcook frozen vegetables, so when adding to a recipe, consider them to be already cooked and add them to your dish near the end of the cooking process, especially if they’re thawed.

You can enjoy your frozen zucchini for up to one year.

zucchini at farmers market

Photo by Quin Engle on Unsplash

Storing Zucchini: Keeping It Fresh

When you have a surplus of zucchini, freezing some of it is one option.

Still, you might want to store some of your prime fruits to grill or stuff for your guests as a cook-out or dinner that you’re planning for next weekend.

Is it possible to keep the zucchini fresh long enough to show off to your friends?

Yes, it is. Zucchini will stay fresh for several days and up to a week as long as it’s picked while it’s in its prime and stored properly.  Knowing when to harvest zucchini is a crucial part of this process.

Don’t wash the harvested zucchini until you’re ready to use it, but do place it in the refrigerator as soon as possible after you pick it. It’s best to store it in the crisper section because the humidity is lower there and the zucchini will stay firm longer.

It’s okay to put the zucchini in a plastic or paper bag. The zucchini should store well for up to a week.  Remember, though, that zucchini should be tender crisp and firm to the touch, not flabby or wrinkled. If it does start to wrinkle, use it right away.

Favorite Zucchini Recipes for a Bountiful Harvest

In all honesty, zucchini is one of the vegetables I prefer to eat fresh. I don’t spend a lot of time preserving it, although I do love to make a few loaves of zucchini bread to freeze for a winter treat.

Love and Lemons Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Love and Lemons Best Zucchini Bread

Here are some of our favorite recipes for using up the ample summer zucchini harvest.

Food 52 Zucchini Verde Vegan Enchiladas

Love and Lemons Zucchini Fritters

101 Cookbooks Summer Squash Gratin

Cookie and Kate Best Ratatouille Recipe – I often freeze ratatouille for winter.

Love and Lemons How to Make Zucchini Noodles

The journey from seed to plate culminates in the moment of harvest, where zucchini reaches its peak ripeness and flavor. Remember to check your plants regularly, looking for the ideal size, glossy skin, and firm texture that signal readiness for picking. Embrace the joy of harvesting zucchini at the perfect time, reaping the rewards of your gardening efforts.




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