Cucumbers are one of the most popular vegetables in home gardens. They’re great for pickling as well as eating fresh on salads, sandwiches, or with your favorite dip. In this article, you’ll learn how to grow cucumbers from seed and keep them thriving throughout the growing season.
There are two principal types of cucumber plants: vining and bush cucumbers. Vining cucumbers have a sprawling growth habit and are ideal candidates for growing on a trellis. Bush varieties are more compact, which makes them excellent for container gardening.
When it comes to the fruit, cucumber varieties are classified as either pickling or slicing. Pickling cucumbers tend to be short and wide. They have thin skins and lower moisture content, making it easier for them to absorb the pickling brine.
How do Cucumbers Grow?
Cucumbers are an everyday favorite thanks to their satisfying crunch and numerous health benefits. Have you ever wondered, “How do cucumbers grow?”
When thinking about zucchini vs cucumber, it’s important to note that both zucchini and cucumbers need full sun and consistently moist soil that’s rich in organic matter. It’s best to plant cucumbers in a location that gets morning sun to help dry the leaves and raise the soil temperature early in the day, whether you are planting cucumbers in pots or the garden.
However, in especially hot climates, the afternoon sun sometimes scorches cucumber leaves. In that case, provide some afternoon shade with taller plants like sunflowers.
For best results, grow cucumbers in soil mounds to keep their main stem from sitting on wet soil, which sometimes causes stem rot and fungal disease problems. In particularly wet climates, trellising cucumber plants is beneficial.
What is a cucumber? These delicious veggies are a favorite. Cucumber plants are not self-pollinating, meaning they have both male and female flowers. The male flowers produce pollen from their stamens, and female flowers receive the pollen on their pistils. Use companion planting in your garden to attract pollinators.
Slicing cucumbers are typically at least 12 inches long. They usually have thick, dark green skins and juicy flesh.
“Burpless” cucumber varieties have thin skins and few to no seeds. They also don’t contain cucurbitacin, the compound which gives cucumbers a slightly bitter taste.
How to Grow Cucumbers from Seed
Although it’s possible to plant cucumber seeds directly in the ground, it’s useful in most climates to grow cucumbers from seeds indoors in early spring. Plant cucumber seeds three to six weeks before the last frost date in your area.
Or, sow cucumber seeds in the garden two to three weeks after the last danger of frost passes and the soil temperature warms up.
When planting cucumbers in containers, fill a seedling tray with two-inch cells with a nutrient-rich seed-starting potting mix. Plant the seeds one inch deep, then loosely cover them with soil. Mist the tray to lightly saturate the soil.
Cover it with a humidity dome or sheet of plastic wrap to hold in moisture. Cucumber seeds germinate in three to nine days. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 80-90℉. For best results, use a heat mat to keep the soil consistently warm.
Once the seedlings sprout, move the tray to a sunny windowsill that receives at least six hours of bright light daily. If you don’t have a south-facing window, use a grow light to ensure that the seedlings don’t become elongated or “leggy.”
Once the roots emerge from the drain holes, transplant the seedlings to two-inch pots. Gradually increase the pot size as the root ball fills the container.
When daytime temperatures are consistently above 65℉, begin hardening off your cucumber seedlings by placing them outside in a sheltered location for progressively longer periods.
Transplant the seedlings two to three weeks after the last danger of frost. To warm the soil before transplanting, cover the garden soil with dark mulch or black plastic for several days ahead of time.
Growing Cucumbers on a Trellis
One fun and space-efficient technique is to grow cucumbers vertically on a trellis. Trellising also makes the cucumbers easier to harvest and helps prevent the spread of fungus and disease among plants by keeping them off the ground and facilitating better airflow.
Select varieties of vining cucumbers to grow on a trellis. Use sturdy materials that can support the weight of mature cucumber vines full of fruit.
Your trellis should be four to six feet tall to give the cucumber vines ample room to grow. It must also have adequate airflow to prevent the plants from developing fungal diseases.
To train cucumbers to grow vertically, gently weave the vines into the trellis. They don’t usually need to be tied. It might be necessary to untangle wandering vines from neighboring plants.
Did you know that cucumbers are a vegetable you can grow in pots, too? In the garden or a container, you’ll soon be rewarded with a delicious harvest.
Best Cucumber Varieties
The best cucumber variety to grow depends on your intended use and growing space. In raised beds and container gardens, compact bush varieties or trellised vining cucumbers take up less space. Here are a few of the top cultivars favored by gardeners.
While there are taste and texture differences between slicing and pickling cucumbers, it’s fine to eat pickling cucumbers fresh and pickle slicing cucumbers.
Some people prefer pickling varieties because of the smaller fruit. Gherkin is a specific type of pickling cucumber.
Lemon cucumber varieties are round and yellow with a mildly sweet flavor. They have a vining growth habit and tend to produce fruit later into the season than most other cucumber varieties.
How long does it take for cucumbers to grow? Most cucumber types are ready to harvest within 50-70 days. After the plant begins flowering, the fruit ripens quickly. Cucumbers are ready to pick within ten days from when the female flower opens.
Harvest cucumbers using a clean, sharp knife or scissors to avoid damaging the plant. Don’t allow the cukes to sit on the vine too long, or they become tough and bitter.
To encourage steady production, harvest cucumbers regularly. Some gardeners recommend picking the fruit early in the morning for a less bitter taste.
Ideal Soil for Growing Cucumbers
Cucumber plants grow best in well-draining, fertile soil. A few weeks before transplanting your cucumber seedlings, work several inches of organic compost into the soil.
Water it in, then cover the ground in a dark-colored mulch layer or a black plastic sheet to raise the soil temperature.
It’s best to grow cucumbers in mounds of soil so that water drains away from the plant’s crown. Cucumber plants are highly susceptible to root and stem rot, so it’s best to keep the stem off the ground in particularly wet climates.
Avoid walking near plants or using a hoe when pulling weeds, as cucumber plants have shallow root systems that are easily disturbed.
Best Fertilizer for Cucumber Plants
In addition to nutrient-rich soil, regularly fertilizing your cucumber plants throughout the growing season is crucial. There are three fundamental nutrients present in plant fertilizer: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Nitrogen encourages green leafy growth, phosphorus promotes robust root systems, and potassium supports fruiting and flowering processes.
When planting cucumbers, use an all-purpose, organic fertilizer during the first four to six weeks after transplanting. Apply two tablespoons of fertilizer to the bottom of each hole when planting your seedlings. You could also make your own cucumber and zucchini fertilizer with manure or compost or even banana peels.
Reapply again in four weeks. Once the plants begin flowering, switch to a fertilizer with higher phosphorus and potassium levels to assist fruit production. Try making a cost-effective DIY fertilizer blend using this simple recipe.
Mix the ingredients in a large bucket. Every three to four weeks, apply two tablespoons of fertilizer around each plant’s base and work it into the top several inches of the soil. Store your DIY fertilizer blend in an airtight container.
Common Pest and Disease Problems with Cucumbers
Despite your best efforts, cucumber plants are sometimes prone to issues with pests and disease. Healthy plants are more resistant to attacks from insects and pathogens, so be sure to fertilize regularly and use companion planting techniques to foster an interdependent garden ecosystem.
There are two types of cucumber beetles commonly seen in North America. Striped cucumber beetles have a dark-colored head, yellow and black stripes on the abdomen, and are about a quarter-inch long.
They only feed on cucurbits like cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and watermelon. Spotted cucumber beetles are similar to their striped cousins and have 12 black spots on a yellow abdomen. They feed on other plants as well as cucurbits.
These beetles cause significant plant damage by eating holes in leaves and flowers and severing young seedlings’ stems. They also spread plant diseases like bacterial wilt.
Cover your newly transplanted seedlings with row covers to prevent cucumber beetles from killing the plants. Once the plants begin flowering, remove the row covers for several hours each day to allow for pollination.
Neem oil and insecticidal soap are safe to use on sensitive cucumber plants. They effectively kill cucumber beetles and other common insect pests like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
Powdery mildew is one of the most commonplace fungal diseases that affect cucumber plants. White patches of mildew appear on the plant’s leaves and stem, and occasionally the fruit. The fungus prefers warm, wet conditions and can overwinter in plant debris.
One of the other cucumber leaf diseases is downy mildew. It differs from powdery mildew in that yellow leaves on cucumber plants may form, as well as yellow spotting. Dark grey or purple spores appear on the leaves’ undersides.
Downy mildew thrives in damp, shady areas and only overwinters on plant material in temperate climates.
To treat both types of fungus, remove the affected leaves or stems from the plant and sanitize your tools afterward to prevent further spread.
Spray the entire plant, including the leaves’ undersides, with organic copper or sulfur fungicide. Neem oil is also an effective antifungal treatment. Use drip irrigation to keep water off the cucumber leaves.
You don’t want to end up with cucumber yellow inside or worm holes. Keep an eye out for pests and disease so you can enjoy a full harvest.
Companion Plants for Cucumbers
Companion planting is an advantageous garden design strategy that utilizes the beneficial qualities of compatible plants. Certain plants work to attract beneficial insects, repel pests, and enhance their neighbors’ flavor and overall growth.
However, some plants hinder one another’s growth and should grow separately. Marigolds, nasturtiums, and radishes deter insect pests like cucumber beetles, whiteflies, and aphids.
Companion planting cucumbers includes members of the allium family like chives, onion, and garlic that repel spider mites, aphids, deer, and rabbits.
Dill does double duty in repelling many insect pests like aphids, beetles, and spider mites in addition to attracting beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.
Oregano deters cucumber beetles and mosquitoes, and attracts lacewings and pollinators. Growing flowers like borage, calendula, chamomile, cosmos, and lavender attract pollinators to your garden. Plant potatoes and sage away from cucumbers, as these plants stunt each other’s growth.
Have you ever asked, “How do cucumbers grow?” Between their many culinary uses and health benefits, it’s no wonder that cucumbers are the second most popular garden vegetable grown in the US.
Now that you know how to grow cucumbers, learn what to do with your supply. Determine the shelf life of cucumber and prepare them for storage so you always have a supply of this healthy and crunchy veggie.
Preserving and storing cucumbers is easy with a few simple recipes.
As long as you supply them with at least an inch of water per week, plenty of sunshine, and well-draining, fertile soil, cucumbers are a fun and easy crop to grow.
Consider training your vining cucumbers to grow on a trellis for easier harvesting and less risk of fungal disease. Don’t forget to fertilize regularly to ensure healthy growth and plentiful fruit production.
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