Zucchini vs. Summer Squash: Are They The Same? What’s The Difference?
Comparing Zucchini vs. Summer Squash as your next garden plant, but aren't sure what the difference is between them? Maybe you are curious why you've heard the two terms used interchangeably? In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton goes through the basics between these two plants, and what you can expect from both if you plant them in your garden.
When it comes to summer vegetables, the bright yellows and greens of zucchinis and summer squashes take the cake. Many use the term ‘summer squash’ as a catch-all phrase when referring to zucchini and other brightly colored squashes, including pumpkins. Sometimes, however, summer squash is used interchangeably with zucchini, which is incorrect.
Zucchini and summer squash resemble each other in both looks and how they taste so it’s easy to understand the confusion. There are several differences between zucchini and their summer squash cousins, however.
The important thing to remember is that all zucchinis are squash, not all squash are zucchinis. Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities between these delicious vegetables.
Zucchini vs. Summer Squash
Size at Maturity
Group of Plants/Yellow Squash
Understanding Summer Squashes
Squashes are a group of edible plants that are part of the gourd family. This family splits into two sections – winter squashes and summer squashes. The main differences between the two are their harvest times and growing nature.
Summer squashes are typically harvested during the warmer months, while the fruits are still immature. These squashes also have bushy growth, setting them apart from winter squashes like pumpkin, which are known for their vining nature. They also have softer, edible outer skins. Popular summer squashes include pattypans and yellow squash.
Like zucchini, yellow squash is commonly called summer squash, adding to the entire squash confusion.
As zucchinis belong to the same family, they are harvested when they’re immature and their skin is still soft. A big thing to remember is while they form part of the summer squash family, not all summer squashes are zucchini.
Like most squashes, zucchini has its roots in Mesoamerica. But the zucchini we know today was first cultivated in Italy and brought to the Americas in the early 1900s. This delicious squash is also known as marrow or courgette.
Zucchini’s sought-after dark skin and white fleshy insides set it apart from other summer squashes. But, there are several different types of zucchini, such as the golden zucchini with yellow skin that bears a close resemblance to yellow squash.
While they may be members of the same family, the appearance of these vegetables is what sets them apart. Taking a closer look at the differences in color, shapes, and even their leaves will have you identify the right summer squash in no time.
Color and Shape
The first thing the comes to mind when differentiating between different types of summer squashes is the appearance of the fruits.
The most jarring difference is their colors. Zucchinis are typically dark green and sometimes have long stripes running along their length. Yellow squash, on the other hand, is true to its name with its bright yellow rind. Of course, the golden zucchini throws a spanner in the works, as it too has yellow skin.
However, you can easily tell the difference between them if you take a closer look at their shapes. While both are usually are cylindrical, yellow squash has a large bottom end and a tapered neck. Sometimes, yellow squash has a curved neck too. Zucchini, on the other hand, is usually straight throughout. To add to even more confusion to the mix, both of these plants look like eggplant and are often compared to that vegetable as well.
It’s easy to tell the difference between these summer squashes when browsing the shelves of your farmer’s market. However, it is far more difficult when you’ve got just the plants to work off. Luckily, members of the summer squash family have different leaves as well as vegetables.
All squashes have large green leaves, but many have different shapes and textures. Zucchini plants have big, indented, and jagged leaves. Yellow squash leaves are smoother, less jagged, and closely resemble a large ivy leaf.
The growing conditions of both vegetables are very similar, blurring the lines between these family members even more. They also require very similar care and sometimes face the same problems.
The entire summer squash family thrives in a range of climates under USDA zones 3-9, depending on the variety. Yellow squash is suitable for growth up to Zone 10, while zucchini stays within the normal 3-9 range.
Both zucchini and yellow squash thrive in warm conditions, growing best in temperatures between 65F and 75F. With that said, extreme heat can slow down growth and ultimately reduce fruit production. They also don’t tolerate the cold, often stopping growth when temperatures drop below 60F.
In certain climates, the heat comes hand in hand with humidity. Summer squashes can tolerate high levels of humidity, but persistent, wet humidity can lead to the growth of fungal diseases.
Both zucchini and yellow squash can be grown in pots. This is handy during temperature fluctuations, as they can be brought indoors for protection. As long as you maintain their sunlight and water, both vegetables will continue to flourish.
Outdoor squashes unfortunately aren’t portable, but you can still protect them from extreme heat by adding row covers to the beds. Row covers are a vegetable garden staple that not only protects veggies from heat but also pests. In some cases, row covers can protect your plants from the cold too.
Summer squashes thrive in full sun, needing at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to produce fruit. Sunlight is essential for the health of your plant, for more than just setting fruit, however. The warm sunlight decreases the chances of diseases such as powdery mildew from taking hold.
But, those in areas with extremely hot summers may want to consider planting their zucchinis and other squashes in partial shade. As mentioned, summer squashes love warm temperatures but do experience stress in very hot conditions.
Soil and Fertilizer
Plants in the summer squash family are quite susceptible to root rot and other fungal diseases. They require their soil to be incredibly well-draining to prevent any potential damage to the roots, fruits, and the foliage of the plant. To improve the drainage and aeration of your soil, add river sand or peat moss to your mix. Coconut husk is also a wonderful natural alternative to peat moss.
All summer squashes prefer soil on the acidic side with a pH of around six. This family also prefers organic, rich soils. You can easily amend your soil by adding compost, leaf mulch, and any other organic matter.
Summer squashes are also hungry plants, needing squash-friendly fertilizer frequently, especially during the fruiting season. Use a balanced fertilizer once a month to yield the best results. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, as these encourage foliage growth over the growth of flowers and fruit.
The watering requirements for zucchini and its family members are much the same. These vegetables are fleshy and therefore have high water requirements. While summer squashes prefer well-draining soil, they do need it to be constantly moist. However, there is a fine line between soggy soil and soil that is moist. Pooling water and soggy soil can cause root rot and powdery mildew, which can kill both vegetables.
The wrong watering habits can also create a breeding ground for diseases and even pests. It’s best to water your summer squashes deeply, slowly, and in the morning. This allows the water to reach deeper parts of the soil and any excess water can evaporate during the day. You should also avoid overhead watering as it can result in leaf burn and the spread of disease.
Mulching is a great way to help the soil retain as much moisture as possible, without being too soggy. A layer of mulch also keeps the roots cool during periods of heat.
Ease of Growth
When it comes to the summer squash family, these plants are notorious for their ease of care. Their ability to grow vigorously and quickly outshines their thirsty and hungry natures.
In the right conditions, both vegetables can produce fruit in as little as seven weeks, even when planted from seed. If you harvest your squash throughout the season, the plants will continue to produce until the first frost.
However, they’re not without their potential problems. Summer squash, as mentioned, is susceptible to fungal diseases like powdery mildew and rot. These are usually easy to treat, with the right gardening habits and conditions.
However, there are a few more serious diseases that can ravage your plants, namely Zucchini Yellow Mosiac Virus, which targets zucchini. This virus causes a yellow pattern to form the plant’s large leaves, resulting in stunted, deformed leaves. Sometimes, it can result in necrotic leaves and fruit. Unfortunately, there is no fix for this disease, which is spread by aphids.
Speaking of aphids, they’re amongst the few pests that love summer squashes as much as we do. Squash vine borers and squash bugs are also common pests affecting this plant family. Zucchini is also prone to attract cucumber beetles, whiteflies, and spider mites.
Most of these pests are easily dealt with and managed. Many can be eradicated using natural methods such as companion planting and introducing natural predators into your garden. Horticultural sprays are another great way to rid your squash of these pests.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with any problems facing either vegetable is prevention by maintaining good garden practice and hygiene.
As the saying goes, all zucchinis are summer squash, but not all summer squash are zucchini. The term ‘summer squash’ is also used to refer to zucchini’s doppelganger cousin, yellow squash. While both have similarities, they differ in color and shape and have different leaves.
While they may look very different in the garden and on market shelves, zucchini and yellow squash, along with other members of the summer squash family, have very similar taste profiles. It’s not advised to use the term interchangeably when referring to individual squashes but in the kitchen, they all make wonderful substitutes for each other.