Cucumbers are fast-growing vegetables that are perfect for summer gardens. Although they are known for their vine-like tendency to take over any available space, there are now bush varieties available that are much more compact. No matter how limited your garden space may be, cucumbers are still a great option.
Cucumbers have been in our lives for a very long time – over 3,000 years. They are believed to have originated in India, but there are ancient varieties of cucumbers that date back even further – to 9750 B.C.
The cucumber is a member of the cucurbit family, which includes zucchini, squash, and watermelon. Most varieties of cucumber have green, cylindrical fruit, but some specialty cucumbers produce squat-shaped yellow fruit, while others have multicolored, patterned skin.
Varieties to Consider
When choosing a cucumber to plant, it is important to consider how you will use them and how much growing space you have. With so many types of cucumbers available, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you.
- Slicing Cucumbers: Depending on the variety, slicing cucumbers are about 8-inches long and have thick, dark-green skin, and tapered ends. They are delicious in salads and on a vegetable platter. Varieties of slicing cucumbers include Long Green Improved and Marketmore.
- Pickling Cucumbers: Pickling cucumbers are smaller, thin-skinned, mild flavored, and stay crisp when pickled. Varieties include Boston Pickling, Calypso, National Pickling, and Parisian Pickle.
- Long-Fruited Cucumbers: European, English, and Asian cucumbers, sometimes called greenhouse cucumbers are thin-skinned cucumbers with a long, slender uniform shape, and undeveloped seeds. The flavor is mild, never bitter, and the skins are tender and don’t need peeling. Varieties include English Chelsea Prize, Suhyo Long, and Telegraph Improved.
- Specialty Cukes: Lemon cucumbers are pale yellow and round lemon-shaped, Mexican Sour Gherkins (Cucamelons) look like mini watermelons, and Silver Slicer is a white cucumber with a buttery texture.
In addition, consider your gardening space when choosing types of cucumbers to grow. Cucumbers are also often separated into two groups: vining and bush cucumbers:
- Vining cucumbers are the most common. The plants rapidly grow long vines with big leaves, up to 10 feet long depending on the variety. Cucumbers of this variety are best suited for large spaces where the vines can ramble, or grow vertically using trellis supports, or cattle panel arches.
- Bush cucumbers are low-growing, short plants and are ideal for growing in raised beds and containers. They are called bush cucumbers, but they do still vine out, but only to 2 to 4 feet. These plants are very well suited to growing in small places and containers. Varieties include Spacemaster (slicer), Muncher (slicer), Homemade Pickles (pickler), and Little Leaf (pickler).
Tips for Growing Cucumbers
Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow and can produce a lot, so they are a good choice for any garden. Here are tips for growing cucumbers:
When to Grow Cucumbers
This text is discussing cucumbers and when the best time to plant them is. It says that cucumbers are a warm weather crop that loves the heat, and can grow all summer long until killed by fall frost. The time to start seeds will depend on your last estimated frost date for your area. You can find your last frost date by contacting your local extension office or entering your zip code here at PlantMaps.com.
It is best to plant cucumbers several weeks after the last frost has passed and the soil has warmed up to at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you want your plants to grow faster, you can sow seeds indoors under lights approximately 4 weeks before the last frost date. Once all danger of frost is past, you can then transplant them to the garden.
How to Prepare the Garden Bed
Cucumbers need warm temperatures and a lot of sunlight to grow well. Plant them in a place where they will get at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. The plants grow best in loose, well-draining, fertile soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH range, around 6.5 to 7.0.
You can also add a light application of an all-purpose, granular fertilizer To prepare your garden bed for cucumbers, you should remove all the weeds, large clumps, and rocks. You should also add about 2 inches of aged compost to your soil and work it in about 6 to 8 inches deep. You can also add a light application of an all-purpose, granular fertilizer.
If you live in a colder climate and want to help warm the soil in your garden bed, you can cover it with black plastic. If the weather has been dry, water the bed well the day before you transplant or sow seeds.
Forming Mounds or Hills
If you want to plant cucumbers in your garden, putting them in mounds in the center of the bed is a good idea. This will give the vines room to stretch out. Creating a small hill out of soil will provide an elevated planting environment that will warm up quickly and drain well, similar to a raised bed.
Form the soil into a small hill that is about 6 inches high, 2 feet in diameter, and 3 feet apart. The top of the hill should be flat and have a small bowl shape in it to hold water. Each hill can support a group of 3 plants. This will leave enough space for the vines to grow. Watering is easier because you can target the plants’ roots by filling the bowl shape at the top of the hill and letting the water soak in deeply.
Growing Cucumbers Vertically
If you want your plants to grow up a trellis, you should set up the supports before planting. I use permanent trellis structures on the north end of raised beds so they don’t shade other plants. These are made with 2 x 3s and wire fencing or nylon netting. An alternate option is to create an arch with cattle panel fencing secured with t-posts, for your climbing plants.
When, Where, and How to Plant Cucumbers
Cucumbers prefer warm soil and are cold-sensitive, so wait to plant until two weeks after all risk of frost is passed. You can sow seeds directly or use pre-started plants. Cucumber seedlings will be readily available at nurseries around the appropriate planting time, and you can also start cucumber seeds yourself indoors for about 3 to 6 weeks before you intend on transplanting them into the garden.
Seeds will germinate in 3 to 10 days if the temperature is between 60º and 95º Fahrenheit, both indoors and out. If starting seeds indoors, raise the temperature of the growing medium by using a seedling heat mat.
To plant seeds indoors, fill 4-inch containers with sterile seed-starting mix and sow three seeds per container 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Moisten the mix, but do not soak it. Keep the seedlings under a grow light for eight hours a day so the plants stay short and strong.
Before cucumber seedlings are planted outdoors, they should be gradually introduced to the sun and wind. This process is known as “hardening off.” The seedlings should be put out for a half-hour on the first day and the time spent outdoors should be increased each day for a week to 10 days. By the end of this period, the plants will be ready to receive a full day of direct sun.
You can sow cucumber seeds directly, either in rows or in mounds. To sow in rows, 1 to 1.5 inches deep, space the seeds 2 inches apart in straight lines, leaving 5 feet between rows. To sow in mounds, plant to the same depth but in little hills of soil spaced 3 feet apart in all directions. Each mound can accommodate 3 to 6 seeds.
Remember to space the mounds out evenly when transplanting if you started the seeds indoors.
The garden soil should be fertile and well-draining, and the site should receive full sun. Prior to planting, amend the soil with lots of finished compost and/or well-aged manure to ensure the plants will have the nutrients they need to get off to a great start.
The optimal pH range for cucumbers is 5.5 to 7.0, which is slightly acidic to neutral. The compost will help to achieve the optimal pH balance, but to remove any guesswork, it is best to test the soil. The results of the test will show the garden’s pH and nutrient levels, so you will be able to determine if any amendments need to be made to the soil.
Try to keep cucumbers away from other plants by siting them by a fence or placing a trellis in the garden. This is because the plants’ tendrils will latch on to anything they can and the cucumbers will try to climb other plants.
Water the new plants as soon as you put them in the ground, and then cover the earth around them with a layer of mulch that’s 2 to 3 inches deep. The mulch will help retain moisture and keep the ground warm on cool nights. Plus, as it breaks down over time, organic mulch provides nutrients to the plants and creates a barrier between their leaves and any harmful pathogens in the soil. This is especially important for ripening fruit that’s in contact with the ground.
How to Care for Cucumber Plants
Cucumbers are a great plant to have if you want a continuous harvest throughout the season. With a little care, you can keep your plants healthy and thriving. Here are some tips to help you out:
Consistent watering is key to growing healthy cucumbers. Your plants should receive regular moisture, either from rain or from hand-watering. If watering is inconsistent and uneven, the fruit will grow deformed and taste bitter.
Cucumbers need to be watered at least once a week, either by rain or by hand. To check how much moisture the soil has, stick your finger in it a few inches deep. If the ground is dry, give the plants a good watering.
You should water your plants in the morning or early afternoon. You should try not to wet the leaves, as this could cause fungal disease. Instead, use drip irrigation, a soaker hose, or water by hand to deliver water to the base of the plants.
Mulching and Weeding
Apply a generous layer of mulch around your plants soon after planting them. This will help to prevent weeds and hold in moisture. Be sure to keep the mulch a few inches away from the stems of your seedlings so it doesn’t smother the plants. Plants that grow in mulch are typically cleaner and have less of a chance of being damaged by slugs.
Even though the mulch will help, some weeds that keep coming back will grow through it. The garden should be weeded on a regular basis, especially in the beginning. Once the plants get bigger, their leaves will cover the ground and stop most of the weeds from growing.
Heavy feeders like cucumbers require a lot of fertilizer. Your cucumbers will grow stronger with finished compost, which is a rich source of nutrients. You will only need to fertilize your cucumbers sparingly as they continue to grow.
If you apply finished compost to your garden beds before planting, you will have a good start. Side dress with additional compost once the plants begin fruiting.
Apply organic fertilizer a week after the plant begins blooming, and then repeat this process every 3 weeks, or as the directions recommend.
If you want your cucumber flowers to be pollinated properly, you should attract bees and other pollinators by planting flowers nearby.
To hand-pollinate, you will need to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. You can do this by using a small paintbrush or cotton swab. First, identify a healthy male flower and gently brush the center of the flower to collect pollen. Next, identify a healthy female flower and brush the center of the flower with the pollen-covered brush or swab. Repeat this process for all the cucumber plants in your garden. You can increase productivity of cucumber plants by hand-pollinating. Hand-pollinating is transferring pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers with a small paintbrush or cotton swab. To hand-pollinate, brush the center of the male flower to collect pollen. Then, brush the center of the female flower with the pollen-covered brush or cotton swab.
I like to use a clean paintbrush to collect the pollen off of the stamen from the male flower, and gently roll the pollen onto the center of the female flower. Repeat this action until all female flowers have been pollinated.
Cucumber Pests & Diseases
Cucumbers grow quickly, so it is fairly likely that you will have a successful harvest. However, a few things may come up that will require your attention.
Pests can be prevented by choosing disease-resistant varieties and not watering the plants from above. A physical barrier between plants and egg-laying insects can be created by using floating row cover. If you are growing a variety that requires pollination, the row cover should be removed when the vines flower. If you are growing a parthenocarpic (seedless) variety, pollination is not necessary, so the row cover can stay on.
Cucumber beetles can be either spotted or striped and are a very common problem for cucumber plants as they chew holes in the leaves. They also spread a bacteria which can cause wilt and kill the plant in a matter of days. To prevent this, you can try planting a wilt-resistant variety like “Little Leaf”. Another solution is to hand-pick the beetles as you find them. However, if you have had a problem with cucumber beetles one year, it is likely that you will have the same problem the next year. In this case, you should try crop rotation so that the cucumber beetle population does not have a chance to build up in your garden.
If there are squash bugs in your cucumber garden, you can get rid of them by using row covers, practicing crop rotation, and removing old leaves and vines from the garden.