A tropical vegetable, cucumbers thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful. Plants are so frost-tender that they shouldn’t be set into the garden until soil temperatures are reliably in the 70-degree range (no less than 2 weeks after the last frost date).
Cucumber plants grow in 2 forms: vining and bush. Vines scramble along the ground or clamber up trellises, while bush types, such as Burpless Bush Hybrid, form a more compact plant. Generally, vining cucumbers yield more fruit throughout the growing season. Bush selections are especially suited to containers and small gardens. You can increase the season’s yield of bush varieties by planting several crops in succession 2 weeks apart. Lemon cucumber makes a wild, lanky vine. It needs a tall trellis.
Whether you want a cucumber for slicing or pickling, there’s a variety to suit your taste. Lemon cucumber offers smaller fruits perfect for a single serving, while Boston Pickling boasts classic heirloom taste. The long Armenian cucumber is a specialty ethnic cucumber prized for taste and the fact that a single cucumber yields so many slices.
Cucumbers need warm, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8, although they will tolerate a bit more alkaline soil to 7.6. Work compost or composted manure into soil.If you want to grow cucumbers in rows on the ground, create hills like you do for squash spaced 4 feet apart. Space 2 to 3 transplants per hill, setting seedlings 6 inches apart. For vines trained on a trellis, space plants 1 foot apart. If you have 2-3 plants in one biodegradable Bonnie pot, then you can plant the whole pot on one hill and let the plants grow together from that spot.
In areas where spring is long and cool, you can warm the soil 3 to 4 degrees by covering the hill or row with black plastic.If you do not plant in black plastic, then mulch with pine straw, wheat straw, chopped leaves, or your favorite organic mulch shortly after planting. If the weather is unseasonably cool, you can wait a while to mulch until the ground is warmed by the sun. Mulch is especially important to keep the fruit clean for bush types and vines not growing on a trellis. Straw mulch is also thought to be uncomfortable for slugs and creates an uneasy footing for cucumber beetles, helping to keep them at bay.
If you can, trellis your vines. This keeps the fruit clean and saves space. A 12- to 18-inch diameter cage made from 4- or 5-foot welded wire fencing or hog wire will support 2 or 3 vines. Wire is easy for the tentrils of climbing cucumbers to grab as the plant grows.
Cucumbers grow fast and don’t demand a lot of care. Just keep the soil consistently moist with an inch of water per week—more if temperatures sizzle and rain is scarce. Inadequate or inconsistent moisture causes oddly shaped or poor-tasting fruit. If possible, water your cucumbers with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep the foliage dry. This helps prevent leaf diseases that can ruin the plant.
You can fertilize with a liquid food every 2 weeks, applying it directly to soil around plant stems. Or you can use a granular, slow-release fertilizer worked into the soil when you plant or sprinkled around the plants later.
If vines bloom but don’t fruit, something is probably interfering with pollination. First, make sure that you see both male and female blooms. Male blooms usually appear first and then drop off, so don’t be alarmed if this happens when the plant begins to bloom. Nothing is wrong. Within a week or two, female flowers will also appear; they have a small cucumber-shaped swelling at the base that will become a cucumber; male blooms don’t and they fall off after a day. Cold weather, rain, and insecticides that kill bees can hamper pollination. You can’t change the weather, but do avoid spraying or dusting a pesticide toxic to bees; this is always stated on the product label. Also consider planting bee balm, zinnias, lantana, and other flowers that attract bees to the edges of your garden. Planting a row of these is also a great way to have flowers on hand for cutting. Several pests bother cucumbers. Squash bugs may attack seedlings. Slugs like ripening fruit. Aphids can colonize leaves and buds. Straw mulch helps keep slugs at bay, as can trellising vines to get the fruit off the ground. Vines are also bothered by cucumber beetles, which chew holes in leaves and flowers and scar stems and fruits, but worse than that, they spread a disease that causes the plants to wilt and die. Powdery mildew is a disease that leaves white, mildew-like patches on the leaves. Apply fungicides at the first sign of its presence. To minimize disease spread, avoid harvesting or handling vines when leaves are wet.
You can pick cucumbers whenever they’re big enough to use. Check vines daily as the fruit starts to appear because they enlarge quickly. Vines produce more fruit the more you harvest. To remove the fruit, use a knife or clippers, cutting the stem above the fruit. Pulling them may damage the vine.Don’t let the cucumbers get oversized or they will be bitter and will also keep the vine from producing more. Overripe fruit has hard seeds that are difficult to chew. Yellowing at the bottom (blossom end) of a cucumber signals overripe, bitter fruit. Never leave overripe fruit on the vine just because it is too far gone. Remove it.Harvest lemon cucumbers just before they begin turning yellow. Although they are called lemon cucumber becuase the little oblong or round fruits turn yellow and look like a lemon, by the time the fruit turns yellow it may be a little too seedy for most tastes.
You can keep harvested cucumbers in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days, using as soon as possible after picking. If you don’t eat a slicing cucumber all at once, cover the unused portion in plastic wrap to prevent dehydration in the refrigerator. In fact, it’s a good idea to wrap your whole cucumbers in plastic or store them in a zipper bag in the fridge. Remember that store bought cucumbers are waxed to keep them from losing moisture. Yours aren’t. Keeping them in wrap or a plastic zipper bag will keep them crisp longer.
I read that cucumbers are to be planted in hills. How do I do this?
Should you stake cucumbers?
Which varieties of cucumbers can be grown in containers?
My cucumbers bloomed but failed to set fruit. Why does this happen?
Why do my cucumbers taste bitter?
It is cold in the spring where I live. How do I protect my cucumbers from the chill?
How often should I water my cucumbers?
When should I harvest pickling type cucumbers?