How to Grow Zucchini in a Container

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Zucchini (and other summer squash) are considered staples for many backyard gardeners. Both are easy to grow and produce lots of fruit. But what if you don’t have a huge backyard to devote to a garden space? Can you still grow summer squash?

I’ll show you how to grow zucchini in a container in a sunny spot on your porch or deck. For this post, the terms zucchini & squash will be used interchangeably and all refer to the varieties of squash or zucchini that are grown during the year’s warm months.

The cultivation of most squash and zucchini is the same so this tutorial will work for any type of summer squash.

zucchini growing in a container
You can grow zucchini in a container as long as you keep it well watered.

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Choosing a Container to Grow Zucchini

When growing zucchini in a pot, one of the most important things is to choose the right container. Summer squash needs a large container to produce lots of fruit. A pot that is too small will not allow the zucchini to grow to its full potential.

You will have the best results growing zucchini in at least a 10-gallon container. Despite what I’ve read other places on the internet, a 5-gallon bucket is NOT really large enough.

Zucchini takes a lot of water so the larger the pot, the less often you will have to water it. You may even want to try out the self-watering containers on the market right now. When I grew zucchini in a 10-gallon pot, I had to water it every day during the 90+ degree days of the summer.

zucchini growing in a grow bag under netting
Zucchini growing in a pot that has been covered with netting to keep out the squash bugs and squash vine borers.

If you have to purchase a new container, I’m a big fan of the grow bags on the market nowadays. They are easy to set up, are porous so they drain well, and can be folded and put away in the winter. Plus they are moveable and don’t take much room when stored.

I’m not a huge fan of the terra cotta pots. They are heavy and they tend to dry out extremely quickly in the hot summer sun but they will work if that’s what you already have.

Whatever container you choose, be sure it has drainage holes in the bottom. If it doesn’t, check to ensure you can drill some into the container or pick a different pot.

Fill your pot with the best potting soil you can find. A good quality potting mix will contain peat moss or coconut coir, perlite, and vermiculite, as well as water-soluble fertilizer.

If you want to learn more about the ingredients that go into a quality potting soil, this article from Home for the Harvest does a great job of explaining all the ingredients that make up most potting mixes.

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Where to Place Your Container

As with many things in life, the location of your containers of zucchini is so important. All summer squash needs to be located in a sunny spot that receives 8+ hours of sunlight each day. Placing the containers in full sun is important for the plants to set fruit.

I also like to place my plants near a water source so I don’t have to carry water long distances each day.

And if possible, place the plants where they will receive good air circulation. This will help prevent many of the fungal diseases I’ll discuss later.

Types of Zucchini

There are two main types of zucchini – bush types and vining types. Bush types tend to work better in containers, though you can grow vining types up a trellis. A sturdy tomato cage makes an excellent trellis for container gardening.

How to Grow Zucchini in a Container

zucchini growing in the garden
Zucchini is easy to grow in the home garden.

Zucchini needs to be planted in late spring after all danger of frost has passed. (You can find your last frost date here.) You can plant zucchini seeds directly in the pot. Place 2 to 3 seeds about 3/4 inch deep in the potting soil in your container.

Provide enough water to keep the soil moist. The seeds will usually sprout within a week to 10 days given the right conditions.

Once the seeds sprout, thin to 1 plant if growing in a 10-gallon pot or 2 seedlings if growing in a 20-gallon container. The best way to thin the extras is to clip off the other plants at the base with a pair of sharp scissors. If you pull them out, you risk damaging the roots of the plants you want to keep.

While you can start seeds indoors, I haven’t found a real benefit in doing so. Zucchini and squash don’t like to have their roots disturbed and the larger they are, the less likely they will do well when transplanted.

I even did a test side by side and the squash started indoors only fruited 5 days earlier. And I had to baby the squash indoors under my grow lights for much longer.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer every few weeks once the plants start fruiting. Zucchini grown in a container will keep producing zucchini all the way to the end of the growing season (your first frost).

How to Harvest Zucchini

a zucchini harvest
Three different types of zucchini.

Squash and zucchini are best harvested young. While the fruits can be hidden among the leaves of the plants and easily missed, the flavor of summer squash is much better when harvested while young and tender.

I like to harvest most squash at less than 6 inches long. Some zucchini will naturally grow longer, but I try not to let them get to the baseball bat stage.

The round types should be harvested at about 3 inches long. Once zucchini starts getting too large the skin will become tougher and the seeds harder.

They can still be eaten when larger, but it is best to remove the seeds when they get really big and the flavor is definitely not as good.

Ways to Use Summer Squash

Summer squash is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of ways. Note that zucchini and squash can be used together or interchangeably in recipes.

Squash is often sauteed or grilled, but you can fry squash (a Southern favorite) or make zucchini fritters or a squash casserole. I also like to make zucchini “fries” and I enjoy eating zucchini noodles (though my family prefers pasta).

And of course, there is always zucchini bread and zucchini muffins. I made a chocolate cake with zucchini one year that was a hit with my children as well.

Ways to Preserve Zucchini

There are many ways to preserve zucchini too. It can be frozen or dehydrated. It can also be pickled.

I personally prefer to shred and dehydrate zucchini so I can add it to soups and stews all winter long. Even my zucchini-hating child doesn’t seem to mind it in soups.


There are two major pests of squash & zucchini and they will likely find your summer squash whether you grow it in a container or in the ground – squash bugs and squash vine borers. Let’s look at these two pests in detail as well as a few other pests that can plague summer squash

Squash Bugs

squash bug laying eggs on a zucchini leaf
A squash bug laying her eggs on a zucchini leaf.

Squash bugs are brownish-gray bugs that lay copper-colored eggs in clusters on the leaves. Immature bugs (nymphs) are a bluish-gray color. The bugs themselves tend to hang out near the base of the zucchini plant.

The best way to get rid of these pests is to hand pick them and either squish them or drop them in a container of soapy water. Squish any of the eggs you find as well.

If the infestation is bad, you can spray with Neem oil, an organic insecticide. However, the Neem oil doesn’t seem to be nearly as effective on the adult squash bugs as it does on the nymphs.

Squash Vine Borer

The other major pest and the one that is hardest to control is squash vine borers. The adult borers are red and black moths that lay their eggs at the base of squash, zucchini, and melon plants.

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae immediately bore into the stem and start eating the plant stems from the inside. You may first notice borer damage by rapid wilting of the plant. Upon closer inspection, you may notice yellowish frass (basically borer poop) on the stem.

If you cut open the stem, you will find a fat white worm with a black head. Once the borer is inside the stem the only way to save the plant is to dig the borer out or use a syringe to inject BT (bacillus thuringiensis) into the stem.

To prevent the squash vine borer from laying its eggs, some people have had success wrapping the base of the stem with aluminum foil. My borers must be determined because this hasn’t seemed to work for me. They just lay their eggs further up the stem.

What has worked pretty well for me is to cover the plants with a row cover or mesh netting. The downside to this is that you will have to remove the row cover when the plants flower. They will then be susceptible to the borer again.

Or you can do what I do and hand pollinate the zucchini. Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to hand pollinate squashes.

This can be a bit aggravating as you have to check every morning for female flowers, but I feel the hassle is worth it. Store-bought squash and zucchini just don’t have the same flavor as homegrown.

Other Zucchini Pests

You may also find cucumber beetles on your squash and zucchini. Cucumber beetles are yellow bugs that have black heads and are either striped with black or have black spots on their backs.

They feed on the leaves and flowers leaving ragged holes in the leaves. As they are feeding cucumber beetles can transmit bacterial wilt to the plants. I talk more about bacterial wilt below.

The best way to keep cucumber beetles from getting to your zucchini plants is to use floating row covers. Neem oil can also work to control cucumber beetles and yellow sticky traps can trap the beetles before they get to your summer squash.

Late in the season, I also have trouble with pickleworms. They are greenish-colored worms that eat into the fruit. To prevent them, you can use row covers or organza bags over each individual zucchini.

a pickleworm that has eaten the inside of a cucumber
This pickleworm has bored its way into this cucumber and eaten the inside.

Once a pickleworm has eaten into the zucchini, it should be thrown away as the worm has introduced bacteria into the fruit.


Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is a common problem with squash plants. Good air circulation can help prevent it, but powdery mildew is rarely fatal. It usually appears as white powdery spots on the leaves of plants.

If you notice powdery mildew, remove the infected leaves and dispose of them in the trash. Do not compost the leaves as the spores can easily survive and you’ll just have even more mildew next year.

You can read more about powdery mildew here.

Bacterial Wilt

Spread by the cucumber beetle, bacterial wilt causes leaves of zucchini and other cucurbits (cucumbers and muskmelons) to shrivel, eventually causing the entire plant to wilt and die.

To prevent bacterial wilt, cover the zucchini with row covers or use yellow sticky traps to catch the bugs. If covering with row covers, you must hand pollinate the zucchini.

End Rot on Zucchini

Sometimes you may notice a zucchini that seems to be rotting from the blossom end. The usual reason for this is that the baby zucchini didn’t get pollinated.

This often happens at the beginning of the gardening season when both male and female flowers aren’t open on the same day. If you keep having the zucchini rot, you may want to hand pollinate.

Best Zucchini Varieties to Grow in a Container

There are many varieties of zucchini that will grow well in containers.

One of the best varieties is Eight Ball, a round, baseball-sized zucchini that only has a 3-foot leaf spread. Eight Ball is perfect for small space gardens and can be harvested in about 40 days. The plants are resistant to powdery mildew.

Commander Hybrid is a dark green zucchini that produces huge yields on compact plants.

Bush Baby is a beautiful variety whose fruit sports dark and light green stripes. This bush variety was bred to produce smaller fruit on a compact plant.

And one of my favorite varieties to grow is Raven. This is a zucchini that produces dark green fruit that is said to be higher in antioxidants than other varieties. The compact plants are very prolific, producing tender, flavorful fruit.

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What to Plant with Zucchini in a Pot

When growing zucchini in a pot, there are other things you can plant in the same container. I love mixing plants in a pot to make the most of my growing space.

You can underplant zucchini with radishes, lettuce, or spinach. These will all be harvested before the squash take over the container.

However, if you have a large container you can plant other things among your summer squash. I like to plant a few nasturtiums to help repel squash bugs and squash vine borers.

Given the right conditions, enough space, and plenty of water, you can have an abundant harvest of zucchini from a container all summer long.

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