The best zucchini varieties for home gardens

By Published On: September 6th, 202310.3 min readCategories: Garden, Plants

We grew three different heirloom zucchini varieties and rated them based on space, productivity, and flavor to find the best combo for our home vegetable garden

three varieties of zucchini side by side in a bowl

The three varieties of zucchinis we tested this year — Cocozelle, Striata D’Italia and Black

If there’s a trio of standard vegetables for the home vegetable garden, it has tomatoes, corn, and zucchini.

All three are New World natives cultivated by humans for thousands of years, so there are varieties that will be reliable producers in just about every climate and every size garden. But while picking the right corn or tomato variety for your garden is pretty simple, zucchini always seems to be more complicated.

Early maturing, long production, bush, vine, heirloom, hybrid, heavy crop, disease resistance, hot climate, cold climate, firm, soft, nutty flavor, mild flavor, etc. etc. – there are so many combinations and variables, it can be hit or miss when it comes to finding the perfect variety for your garden.

Over the years, we’ve tried a bunch of different varieties with varying results. But this year we decided to figure out once and for all, what the best zucchini type for our garden is and share the results.

Zucchini Varieties We Tested

We’re organic gardeners and we save seed from the best vegetables for next year’s garden, so we decided to test three heirloom varieties becase we know that any seeds we save will breed true to the that type next year.

Each of these has been around for at least 90 years and proven themselves to be reliable producers and (fairly) resistant to pests and disease.

  • Black – An American variety that dates back to the early 1900’s
  • Cocozelle – An Italian heirloom variety prized for the flavors of both the fruit and the blossoms
  • Striata D’Italia – Another Italian heirloom know for its early production and long growing season

We planted the seeds in 4-inch pots in the greenhouse on March 30, 2023. The seedlings were transplanted into the garden beds on April 24.

Garden notes

We’re in USDA Hardiness Zone 9 in the San Diego foothills about 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Our microclimate straddles coastal and inland, so spring is cool and cloudy in the morning and usually clears to sunny and warm around noon.

This year, however, the “May gray” / June gloom” as it’s known, was unusually dense, and didn’t clear at all from late April until the last week of June. This kept temperatures 10 – 15 degrees below average (in the mid-to-high 60s), and made for many a damp, foggy and overcast day.

The vegetables responded accordingly. Lettuces, spinach, broccoli, and other cool weather crops continued producing well into June, while the warm, sun-loving tomatoes, peppers, corn and zucchini took their time and didn’t really take off until mid-June when the days were cloudy but long and varied only a couple of degrees between the daytime high and the overnight lows. As a result, our experience on the days to maturity and growth rate might be a little off from the seed suppliers’ estimates, but everything should be pretty spot on.

Zucchini growth habit and appearance

The Striata D’Italia is a rangy, vining zucchini. Despite the cool and cloudy spring weather, by late May it outgrew the 4 foot raised bed and sprawled out into the path on both sides. At the same time, it began to flower and fruit.

Striata D’Italia – Italian Heirloom Zucchini

On the other hand, both the Cocozelle and Black zucchini remained bushy and compact until late in June when the weather cleared. After that, both plants seemed to double in size almost daily, but didn’t overgrow their beds.

Both the Striata D’Italia and the Cocozelle are Italian varieties, with large, lobed leaves. The Striata’s leaves remain solid green, but the Cocozelle’s developed white spots near the veins, which made it quite attractive in my opinion.

Cocozelle — Italian Heirloom Zucchini

The fruit produced by these two zucchinis are bulbous at the flower end and taper gently toward the stem end. Both are scalloped with pronounced ridges around the outside of the fruit. The Striata D’Italia, as the name implies, has pronounced light green / dark green stripes. The Cocozelle is a deep green with light green speckles and stripes that aren’t as pronounced as the Striata’s.

The Black zucchini, an American variety, has large, unlobed, heart-shaped leaves more akin to pumpkins and similar squash. The young plant was a deep green, but as it got older it began to develop white speckles on the leaves.

Black — American Heirloom Zucchini

The fruit is a dark green, almost black, with light green speckles. Unlike the Italian varieties, it’s smooth and unridged, and lacks the taper they have.

Days to harvest

The first zucchini to flower and fruit was the Striata D’Italia. We harvested the first couple of small squash on June 13, 2023 – 50 days from transplanting outdoors, which is exactly how long the seed packet said it would take.

The Black zucchini was the next to harvest, providing us with the first couple of zukes on June 26th, which is 64 days after transplanting, and two weeks later than the 50 days the seed packet said it would take.

The first couple of Cocozelles were harvested July 1st – 69 days after transplanting, and 11 days later than the 58 days the seed packet said it would require.

Cocozelle heirloom zucchini with young fruit

Crop production

The Striata D’Italia is a heavy producer over a long period. Since it began production back in mid-June, it’s been kicking out 4 – 5 fruit a week, and would probably produce even more if we were more diligent about picking the fruit while they’re still small and young. It’s early September now, and, except for a brief period a couple weeks ago when it was really hot (high 90s), the plant shows no sign of slowing down. I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues producing well after fall begins.

The Cocozelle zucchini isn’t as productive as the Striata, producing from 2 – 4 fruit a week, and based on the condition of the plant, will probably keep on doing so for the foreseeable future. Unlike the Striata, the Cocozelle didn’t pause on the flowering during the late August heat wave. This may be because the plant’s bushier (but still vining) form keeps the flowers and fruit shaded and cooler than the Striata’s rangy growth habit does.

The Black zucchini is the lowest producer of the trio. It’s currently popping out 2 – 3 fruit a week, which is still more than enough to keep the family well-supplied with fresh zukes.

Black is bushier than the Cocozelle, remaining nice and compact as it gets older, which is both a blessing and curse. It’s easy to grow in a smaller area, but the bushy shape and dark green fruit make it hard to spot new zucchinis without really digging in under the leaves of the plant.

Texture and Flavor

Both the Striata and Cocozelle have a thicker skin and denser, drier flesh than the Black zucchini, which has a very thin skin and softer more cucumber/melon like texture.

The Striata has a pronounced nutty flavor similar to a mild winter squash. The Cocozelle’s flavor isn’t as pronounced, but is still tasty. The Black zucchini’s flavor is very mild, but crisp and slightly tart, making it good to eat fresh as well as cooked.

All three were delicious both grilled and baked. We tended to prefer the Cocozelle for the balance between crunch and texture when sliced for a fresh salad.

Our picks

Each of these zukes has its own advantages and drawbacks, so depending on your priorities and the limitations of your garden, you’ll probably find one of these more suitable than another. Below are our thoughts:

three varieties of zucchini side by side in a bowl

The three varieties of zucchinis we tested this year — Cocozelle, Striata D’Italia and Black

Striata D’Italia Zucchini

  • Best crop production – One plant will produce bushels of fresh zucchini over the growing season – more than enough for a family of five (and their neighbors and their neighbor’s neighbors). Also, the early maturity and long production season makes it a great choice for those who love lots of zucchini.
  • Earliest to maturity / Longest production – At only 50 days to harvest and a productivity over 90+ days, it’s easily the best for both short growing seasons and long ones.
  • Best disease & pest resistance – Early on, when it was cloudy and damp for months, we thought mildew or bugs would get it, but they didn’t. Some of the early leaves died back, but the plant kept on growing like a champ and produced fruit well before the others.

Cocozelle Zucchini

  • Best in hot weather/climate – The bushy habit seems to offer more protection to the fruit and flowers than that of its Italian counterpart, the Striata. Even in near triple-digit heat, as long as it has sufficient water, it’ll continue to kick out fruit.
  • Best appearance – The combination of the compact habit and lobed leaves with white accents makes it one of the more interesting (dare I say attractive) vegetables in the garden. Even if it didn’t produce food, it would still be a really nice plant to look at.
  • Best combination of flavor & texture – With a combination of medium (but not overwhelming) squash flavor and firm, but not woody texture, Cocozelle does well both cooked and fresh. It’s got enough flavor to stand on its own, but not so much that it will detract from other flavors and seasonings. Better yet, it keeps its texture even when cooked so it doesn’t turn into a mushy, wet vegetable when it’s hot.

Black Zucchini

  • Best for small or compact spaces – The tight, bushy nature of the black zucchini means it does well in small spaces and containers (just feed it well). Even as the plant gets older, it’ll stay more or less upright, so you can stake it and grow vertically rather than letting it sprawl out like other zucchini.
  • Best for fresh eating – Black zucchini’s mild, slightly tart flavor not only tastes good fresh, but the smooth skin doesn’t have the prickly spines of other zukes (or squash for that matter). You can pick these and snack on them right in the garden. Better yet, pick them, chill, and snack on them with other cold veggies like carrots and broccoli.
  • Best for small production – Anyone who’s ever grown Zucchini knows the dual benefit / curse of zucchini is the sheer number of fruit you can get from a single plant. If you like zucchini, but you’re not so in love with it that you’re willing to eat it all day, everyday in order to not waste it, Black is a good choice. A single plant will produce more than enough for the average family over the growing season.

Conclusion

So there you have it, our Zucchini trials and results. In our garden, we’ll definitely be planting Cocozelle again because, for us, it’s the right balance between garden space, productivity and flavor.

We’ll also be planting Black zucchini again, but I think next time we’ll move it out of the main garden and grow it in the keyhole garden instead. The compact growth habit and fresh-eating flavor make it a natural pick for that bed because it’s near the kitchen and convenient for grabbing a fresh snack.

As for Striata D’Italia, we may plant it again one day, but the amount of space it takes and ridiculous productivity outweighs the benefits of the early maturity and long production cycle. We like zucchini, but not so much that we’re going to be eating them every day. Practically speaking, the space it takes up in the garden can be put to better use other vegetables.

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About the Author

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Sage Osterfeld
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.

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