This story is from way back in 2019 when we started putting our garden experiences to good use online, but it is so popular that we bring it up to date each year, as folks on our inbox list love to see it in zucchini season. Enjoy x
Zucchini is one of those veggies we rely on to grow without fuss, produce relentlessly and be forgiving to beginners. Done right, you’ll end up with so many in fact that your local childcare centre, neighbourhood swap table or soup kitchen will benefit as well.
Just one thing stands between you and a zucchini motherload, and that is mildew. Powdery mildew. It is white or grey powdery growth that starts on the leaves or stems and moves slowly across the plant to envelope it like an unwelcome veil.[thank you to Sarah D in Australia for this mildew pic] It is a totally natural process – the start of decomposition that comes to every squash plant in time – but it shouldn’t stop you getting a full season out of your Zuc’s. You can spray (see below) to keep the mildew controlled, but THIS is better –
Grow zucchinis up!
They are PERFECT for this, and the air circulation around them keeps mildew at bay.
You can also rescue mildewed plants this way.
- Install a stake up close to each plant, or one either side if you need extra support for a mature plant. Do this when they are young if you like, but any time is fine, just be careful not to puncture major roots.
- Remove leaf stalks on the plant up to the bottom fruit or flower. Any leaves below the fruiting area are now not useful and will only attract mildew as it starts breaking down naturally. Leave small stubs at the ‘trunk’ to give you little arms out to tie to the stake… does that make sense?
- Lift the plant head carefully into a vertical position. If you are careful, it should not break but if your plant has forked into branches, you will have to pick one. This only works for single stems. If plant is still small, allow to grow until a decent 8″+ stem has grown so that it can support the leaves.
- Tie with compostable string or reclaimed cotton t-shirt ties to tie the stem to the stake/s. Using two ties per plant means you can retie each week as the plant gets taller.
- Keep removing lower leaves to increase circulation around lower plant and take away the stimulus to decompose.
This allows sun to reach the ground around the plant, keeping mildew at bay. It brings flowering parts up out of the bed, so the bees will thank you (or allowing easy manual pollination if you need to do that). It also brings fruit up to eye height so you can see fruit ready to pick before it gets away from you and becomes marrow.
This method gives us here at a least 4 more weeks of harvest. Haha, by then we are mostly giving them away but hey -free food is never a bad thing 😉
Other cucurbits like cucumbers can benefit from this too – remove the leaves below the lowest fruit in the vine, as they are no longer contributing and the clear space will increase air circulation, keeping mildew at bay.
Oh, and if you still get some mildew owing to unseasonal humidity and wish to give your plants some help, then here is a simple milk spray that you can make yourself.
NOTE: The more stubborn yellowy patched Downy Mildew is also quite effectively avoided with this vertical growing method, but once you have it, a more suited Bicarb spray is better. That is a story for another day.🌿
Look wide; grow well, folks