Cucumbers are a fast-growing summer crop and make a great addition to any vegetable garden. They’re known for their desire to roam, with vines that climb everywhere, but these days, there are also bush-style varieties available that make cucumbers a good option no matter how little space you have. If you want to grow cucumbers in your garden, here’s everything you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Cucumbers? one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
Most cucumbers are green, but there are white and yellow cucumbers to try as well for something a bit different. No matter the color, they are very nutritious and crisp. Some varieties of cucumber are great for pickling and others are best enjoyed fresh or even roasted. Cucumber can also be added to water as a refreshing alternative to sugary drinks or used as a smoothie ingredient.
When, Where and How to Plant Cucumbers
Cucumbers are cold-sensitive and prefer warm soil, so wait to plant until two weeks after all risk of frost is past. You can sow seeds directly or use pre-started plants. Cucumbers seedlings will be readily available at nurseries around the appropriate planting time, and you can also start cucumber seeds yourself indoors about 3 to 6 weeks before you intend on transplanting them into the garden.
Cucumbers seeds will germinate in 3 to 10 days in soil that is between 60º and 95º Fahrenheit, and this is true both indoors and out. If starting seeds indoors, use a seedling heat mat to raise the temperature of the growing medium.
To sow seeds indoors, use 4-inch containers filled with sterile seed-starting mix. Sow three seeds per container, 1 to 1.5 inches deep, and keep the mix moist but not soaking wet. Keep the seedlings under a grow light for eight hours a day so the plants will stay short and strong rather than long and weak as they reach for light.
Before cucumber seedlings are planted outdoors, they should be gradually introduced to the sun and wind in a process known as “hardening off.” Put the seedlings out for a short time on the first day — a half-hour — and increase the time spent outdoors 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.
When direct sowing cucumber seeds, they may be planted in either rows or mounds. Sowing 1 to 1.5 inches deep, place the seeds 2 inches apart in straight lines, leaving 5 feet between rows. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, thin the rows to one plant every foot. Or, for the mound method, 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.
If the seeds were started indoors, follow the rules of mound spacing while transplanting.
The garden soil should be fertile and well-draining, and the site should receive full sun, which is 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. 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.
Cucumbers grow best in soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0, which is a range of slightly acidic to precisely neutral. The compost will help bring the pH into balance, but a soil test will remove any guesswork. The test results will include the garden’s pH and nutrient levels, so you’ll know what soil amendments to make, if any.
If growing vining cucumbers, be aware that the plants’ tendrils will latch on to anything they can. For this reason, keep the cucumbers away from other plants, which they will try to climb. Site the cucumbers by a fence or place a trellis in the garden prior to putting seeds or plants in the ground.
Water immediately upon planting and cover the ground with a layer of 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch. Mulch will retain moisture between rainfall and watering and will keep the soil warm on cool nights. Organic mulch provides nutrients as it breaks down and also has the benefit of creating a barrier between the plant foliage and pathogens in the soil. Mulch also protects ripening fruit that makes ground contact.
Varieties of Cucumber
Pickling cucumbers tend to be bumpy and are short — the perfect size for a canning jar. Slicing cucumbers are best for salads and can be deseeded to reduce bitterness. English or hothouse types, which may be labeled “burpless” or “seedless,” lack cucurbitacin, the compound that can make heat-stressed or overripe cucumbers bitter. There are endless varieties within these three types, and what follows is just a small sampling.
Boothby’s Blonde is an heirloom cucumber variety with oval-shaped, light yellow fruit that have a sweet flavor that make great bread and butter pickles. Plants mature in 55 top 60 days. Harvest when the fruit at 4 inches long.
Bush Champion is a bush-type cucumber for small gardens or containers that is very productive. The fruit are 8 to 12 inches long despite the overall size of the plants being one-third that of a typical cucumber plant. The flavor is superior and the plants are mosaic virus resistant.
Itachi is a long, slender, white hybrid variety preferred for stir fry. The fruit are about 10 inches long with thin skin, superb taste, and no bitterness. The vines are 4 to 5 feet, and the fruit will grow straight when trellised or curved when grown on the ground.
Lemon cucumber is an heirloom lemon-size variety with a pale yellow color. They are also known for having a mild flavor and thin skin. The vines grow exceptionally long, and plants mature in 65 days.
Line Crisp is a hybrid seedless slicing variety with fruit that have light green skin and a mellow taste. Plants mature in 60 days, and cucumbers may be picked when short or long.
Little Leaf is an open-pollinated variety that is resistant to a broad range of diseases and also tolerant of stress. The bright emerald seedless fruit grow 3 to 6 inches and are good both fresh and pickled. The vines are compact and the plants mature in 57 days.
Poniente is an open-pollinated burpless variety with fruit that grow 12 to 13 inches long and have a sweet, delicate flower. It’s known for being disease-resistant.
Poinset 97 is a disease-tolerant open-pollinated variety from Cornell University with 8-inch-long emerald green fruit on vines that range from 3 to 4 feet long. It matures in 55 to 60 days.
Summer Dance is a Japanese burpless hybrid variety with 9-inch-long curved fruit. Plants are downy mildew and powdery mildew resistant and high yielding. Plants spread 3 to 4 feet and grow 18 to 22 inches tall, maturing in 55 days.
Supremo is a hybrid pickler with broad disease resistance. The dark green fruit with a firm texture grow around 4 inches long.
Sweet Success is an English cucumber with nearly seedless dark green foot-long fruits. The variety is resistant to viruses and leaf spot, spreads 4 to 5 feet and matures in 58 days.
Wautoma is an open-pollinated cucumber developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for bountiful crops of pickling cucumbers that are 4 to 5 inches. Vines grow between 4 and 5 feet and mature in 60 days — and are resistant to numerous cucumber diseases.
Cucumbers require even, consistent water throughout their growing season. Otherwise, they’ll grow misshapen fruit. To avoid this problem, I install soaker hoses or drip irrigation, set on automatic timers next to the base of my plants. It’s watering on autopilot. Plus, this method of watering is also very helpful to keep the leaves dry. Wet foliage can be a big problem related to cucumber diseases so avoid overhead watering as much as possible.
Provide cucumbers with 1 inch of water a week, or more during the hottest days of summer.
Cucumbers are heavy feeders, so starting with soil that is well-amended with compost or composted manure will get them off to a great start. A balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer worked into the top layer of soil will also help cucumbers along.
Never apply more fertilizer than the manufacturer’s instructions. More does not equal better, as over-fertilizing can cause more harm than good. For instance, too much nitrogen can lead to lots of foliar growth but fewer flowers, and therefore less fruit set.
Cucumber Pests & Diseases
Cucumbers grow so fast that a successful harvest is fairly likely, yet you’ll probably have a few things come up to keep you on your toes.
Avoiding diseases starts with choosing resistant varieties and refraining from overhead watering. Pests can be kept at bay with floating row cover, which puts a physical barrier between plants and egg-laying insects. If growing a variety that requires pollination, remove the row cover when the vines flower or they will never set fruit. If growing a parthenocarpic (seedless) variety, pollination is not necessary, so the row cover can stay on.
Cucumber beetles, which have both spotted and striped species, are common cucumber pests that chew holes in leaves and pass a pathogen that causes bacterial wilt that can kill your plant in a matter of days. Planting a wilt-resistant variety like “Little Leaf” is a preventative measure, and you should hand-pick beetles as you find them. If a cucumber beetle problem arose one year, chances are it will happen again the following year. Practice crop rotation so the cucumber beetle population does not build up in your garden.
Squash bugs are the other common and annoying pest of cucumbers. In addition to using row covers and practicing crop rotation, remove old leaves and vines from the garden where the squash bugs overwinter.
Aphids are soft-bodied sucking insects that are vectors for plant diseases. They may be found on the underside of cucumber leaves or on the vines. As they eat plant leaves they excrete honeydew, which attracts ants and other insects. Aphids are easily controlled by knocking them off plants with a sharp stream of water.
Alternaria is a leaf blight that causes small, yellow-brown spots that turn into holes in time. The oldest leaves are affected first, eventually curling up and dying. Avoid overhead watering, practice crop rotation and practice good garden sanitation to reduce occurrences of alternaria.
Anthracnose is a fruit-rot fungus found on ripe and overripe fruit, presenting as small, round yellow depressed areas that enlarge in time. Do not leave infected fruit in the garden, as the fungal spores will easily spread to other fruit and to the soil when water splashes around, and do not save seeds from infected fruit.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew are fungal diseases that can affect cucumber plants. Proper spacing of plants to provide air circulation can stop powdery mildew from becoming an issue. A solution of baking soda or diluted milk can slow the spread or be used as a preventative measure. (Read my comprehensive guide to powdery mildew control for more.)
Fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt are caused by soil-borne fungi. Starting off with compost-rich soil in the ground or premium-potting mix in containers is the best proactive defense against wilt.
Harvesting cucumbers regularly is key to having the best tasting fruit and the most productive vines. Once fruit is set, they grow incredibly fast, and if left on the vine too long, they will begin to turn yellow and become bitter. Check every day for cucumbers that are ready to be picked, or even twice a day. It’s easy to miss green fruit among the green vines, so inspect thoroughly.
Leaving an inch of stem attached to the fruit, use pruners or snips to remove cucumbers from the vines. Enjoy right away or make sure the cucumbers are dry and store them at room temperature for a couple of days. You can also can and pickle cucumbers for preservation, even you don’t even need any special canning equipment. Cucumbers can be quick-pickled in the fridge and will last for two months.
What are your secrets to successfully growing cucumbers? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
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joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
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