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Ask Dayle

8/15/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Squash plants bear both male and female flowers, which are edible.
Photo courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
Q: My zucchini is growing healthy strong vines and huge leaves. The blossoms are big, but once the flowers fall, no vegetables develop. Can you tell me what I need to do to get zucchini to develop? Thank you.

A: I had to chuckle at your question because I’ve never heard anybody ask how to get their zucchini to produce. Usually I hear the opposite — how do I get my plant to stop producing!

Zucchini is a prolific grower and just one plant can produce enough crop to feed a small neighborhood. It is a member of the squash family and is considered a summer squash. Squash plants bear both male and female flowers, and these flowers are edible. (Harvest the flowers the day they open.) Ingesting the blossoms in a salad will help to curtail the exuberant production of the vegetable itself.

At any rate, let’s address your query. The difference between the two types of flowers is subtle, but basically the male flowers grow on a slender stem attached to the plant. The female flowers grow close to the vine but with a small round female reproductive organ, or ovary, between the flower and the vine. This ovary is the unfertilized fruit. When insects (pollinators) transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers, the fruit develops. Sounds like pollinators have yet to visit your plant. Refrain from using insecticides and be patient, in due course nature will take place.

In general, summer squash includes zucchini, crookneck, straight neck and patty pan, among others. Squash can be eaten raw, cooked, shredded or grated for use in breads or other baked goods, such as muffins.

Vine crops such as squash prefer warm weather and will grow robustly and produce more crop during the heat of summer. In fact, squash seeds won’t germinate in soil that is cold. Sow seeds directly in the garden after the soil has warmed to 70 degrees F at a 2-inch depth.

There are different varieties of summer squash; some will produce fruit over a longer season and some set lots of fruit in a short period of time. Draw out your harvest by sowing part of your seeds early and then planting the remainder about three weeks later.

Sow seeds about one-half-inch deep. Seeds of vining plants should be sown 2 inches apart with about 2 or 3 feet of space on either side of the row for the vines to spread. After the seedlings sprout, thin them to stand 8-12 inches apart. Or, create a mound or hill of soil and sow three or four seeds close together, allowing 5-6 feet between hills.

Bush squash have very short vines and can be planted in closely spaced hills or rows with only 2-3 feet in between.

Squash plants have long taproots and branching surface roots that help the plant to seek out soil moisture even in dry weather. They do need lots of water, however, and extra water will help with crop production. Vine crops need at least 1 inch of water from rainfall or irrigation each week during the growing season. Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering. Don’t sprinkle or water lightly. This is of little use to the plant and is a waste of water.

Pick summer squash when they are most tender, at a small to medium size. Over-large squash have large seeds, tough skins and gristly or watery flesh. Plant yield declines when very large squash are left on the vine, so keep them picked, even if they have grown too large to use. When you pick the vegetables, only do so when the vines are dry, and take care not to snap, bruise or tear the vines, which may prevent further production.

A funny true story: One summer a coworker brought a huge box filled with zucchini into the office and perched it to one side of his desk. It was his first year of vegetable gardening, and he was quite proud of the results. Throughout the day folks would stop by and admire the healthy green vegetables and then walk on. Near the end of the day he expressed disappointment that none of the zucchini had sold.

Chuckling, I said, “Ed, you don’t sell zucchini, you pay people to take them off your hands!”

For more horticultural information, call The Ohio State University (OSU) Summit County Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3. Request Fact Sheet HYG-1620-93, “Growing Squash and Pumpkins in the Home Garden.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free; there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohioline.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.

 

Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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