Zucchini is one of the quintessential summer vegetables and a staple in many gardens, yet despite its widespread popularity, hardly anyone is growing them vertically.
We already grow cucumbers vertically, tomatoes are grown vertically by default, and even some growers are growing small pumpkins and melons vertically. Zucchini plants are like tomatoes in that they very quickly take off and grow vigorously by early summer, especially if you’ve planted them in rich, well-draining soil and have fertilized them throughout the growing season. If we stake and prune our tomatoes, why not zucchinis as well?
Zucchini not only can be staked to grow vertically, there are actually several advantages of doing so. Staking up your zucchini plants saves space in your garden, reduces pest pressure and slows down disease, and best of all, it can be done very simply. You likely have the materials to get started right now.
How to Stake Up Zucchini Plants (the Simple and Cost Effective Way)
Staking up your zucchini plants doesn’t have to be rocket science. To stake up your zucchini plants, you will only need a stake and something to tie up your zucchini plants, such as twine, garden tape, or even zip ties (reusable ones are best).
1. When transplanting your zucchini, or shortly after it sprouts, carefully drive your stake into the soil about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) away from the stem. The reason you want to give your stem some space is because zucchini plants grow leaves and flowers all around the stem as they grow.
While you can stake up mature zucchini plants, it’s best to start with seedlings. You will damage some of the established roots, and mature zucchini plants that are already flopped over will be harder to lift up to tie up, but it’s still doable.
2. When your zucchini plant is 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15.25 cm) tall, secure it to the stake with some string. It doesn’t have to be tied tightly. At this point you are just training your zucchini to grow upward and keep its stem growing straight.
3. Continue tying your zucchini plant every few inches and try to get it to lean on your stake. If you have a heavy fruit set of zucchinis, you may need to secure more points along the stem so it doesn’t bend or snap.
4. As your zucchini plant grows, remove any lower leaves, especially any dead or yellowing leaves. This both forces your zucchini plant to focus its energy on healthy leaves and fruit, and also makes it harder for powdery mildew to establish itself on your zucchini.
Benefits of Staking Zucchini
1. Growing Zucchini Vertically Saves Space
The main benefit of staking up zucchini for most gardeners is that it frees up a lot of space in their garden beds.
Zucchini doesn’t vine out like cucumbers or melons, but its main stem continues to grow, putting out new leaves and buds throughout the season. But zucchini stems are not woody, so later in the season, they will just flop over. If you’ve ever grown zucchini in a pot, you will notice they tend to lean over the side of the pot.
By growing vertically, you free up a lot of space for other plants, or even make room to plant more zucchinis in a smaller area.
2. Staking Up Zucchini Protects Against Powdery Mildew
One of gardening’s indisputable truths is that if you grow zucchini long enough, it will eventually succumb to powdery mildew.
That white powder that shows up on the stems and leaves of your zucchini plants is caused by a fungal disease that thrives under temperate, humid conditions. Some zucchinis have natural white patterning, but powdery mildew looks more like soft circles of white powder, and over time it spreads all over your zucchini plants until they get too weak and die off.
The fungal spores that cause powdery mildew come from the soil, and over time they blow or splash up against your zucchini plants, after which they start spreading everywhere.
By staking up your zucchinis and pruning the lower leaves throughout the season, you can significantly slow down the development and spread of powdery mildew as the leaves and their stems stay well above the ground.
3. Staking Zucchini Plants Keeps Zucchini Fruit off the Ground
There’s nothing worse than seeing a fruit or vegetable that’s almost ready to pick, giving it another day, and then the next morning you see something’s taken a bite (or many bites) out of it.
Because of zucchini’s growth habit (see point 1), it’s natural for zucchini fruit to sit on the ground while growing, making it more vulnerable to pest damage.
Mice and other rodents won’t hesitate to take a nibble out of your zucchinis. Even if they’re not too fond of them, they might still take a few bites. Then there are crawling insects which will start picking at those bites.
Staking up your zucchinis will keep them safer from ground-dwelling pests.
While staking won’t prevent all pest damage, it will deter those pests that can’t help but go for the low-hanging fruit.
Related Questions About Staking Zucchini Plants
What Type of Stake Works Best for Zucchini?
Any solid wooden stake will work for growing zucchini vertically and it’s what I recommend. You can certainly use steel, like a T-post, but that is overkill for a relatively short plant. Save your T-posts for building heavy-duty trellises.
You can even salvage wood or repurpose other materials for stakes. I have an old wooden broomstick I use to stake up bush tomatoes.
Should You Stake or Cage Zucchini Plants?
Another approach for growing zucchini plants vertically is to cage them instead of staking them.
While either way can work, and tomato cages have become more popular for growing other vegetables (they’re actually pretty good for bushy pepper plants), staking is better for zucchinis for a few reasons.
Tomato cages are much more expensive than stakes. Even if you have spare cages, they would be better used for bushy plants like peppers or relatively bushy climbing plants like peas.
Even if you decide to use cages, you will still have to tie up your zucchini plants as with staking.
Caging will also make it more tedious for you to get in and prune the lower leaves as your zucchini plants grow.
My recommendation: You should stake your zucchinis, but if you only have a tomato cage, you can cage your zucchini plants instead.