Grow Your Own Sweet & Juicy Cucumbers
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Where to Plant Your Cucumber Plants
The ideal PH level for cucumbers is 6.0 to 6.8. Cucumbers are fast growers and need lots of suns, food, and regular watering. You can cover the plants for protection from pests and weather until they begin to flower.
Cucumbers prefer to be direct-seeded as they don't like their roots to be disturbed. If you are careful, starter plants can be transplanted without issue. You can start seeds indoors three to four weeks before the last expected frost, which is my preferred method.
Harden off your plants by bringing them out during the day and leaving them in a shady area. Over the next week or so, bring them out into the sun to allow them to build up some protection. Leaves will burn if they aren't hardened off.
Plant vine type cucumber transplants two feet apart in rows four feet apart and bush varieties three feet apart. Starters should have one or two true leaves but no runners at the time of transplant.
If you choose to sow seeds outside directly, the soil will need to be warm for the seeds to germinate. Plants should be spaced two to four feet apart in a mound of dirt called a hill as it warms the soil.
There are two types of cucumber plants as far as how they grow—Vining cucumbers and bush cucumbers. The most common varieties grow on vines shaded by large leaves. Vining varieties usually grow up a trellis or fence. If you don't have access to a trellis or fence, cucumbers can be grown on the ground like zucchini or squash. Fruits grown on the soil will not be straight like fruit produced on hanging vines as gravity helps straighten them.
Bush cucumbers are great for container gardens and don't require a fence or trellis.
Slicing cucumbers are the ones we put in soups, salads, and juice. Some types of slicing cucumbers have seeds, and some don't. The varieties without seeds are referred to as burpless as they don't contain cucurbitacin, which causes burping. They are generally sweeter and have thinner skin.
Pickling cucumbers are shorter with thicker skins. The thick skins better absorb pickling liquids.
Plant cucumbers beside asparagus, beans, the Brassicas family, celery, corn, dill, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion, peas, radish, and tomatoes.
Avoid planting near potatoes and sage.
Corn and sunflowers make an excellent trellis for cucumbers.
Dill will help cucumbers by attracting predatory insects.
Plants with edible flowers which also naturally deter pests are:
Borage deters worms, improves growth and flavour.
Marigolds deter beetles.
Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles and improves the flavour of cucumbers.
Improper watering can stress plants and cause bitter, misshapen fruits. The degree of bitterness depends on the degree of stress. Stress in a plant is most often caused by insufficient and uneven moisture, but temperature extremes and poor nutrition can also affect the flavour. Plants need adequate water during flowering and fruiting so water deeply once or twice a week. If not provided, the chemical causing bitterness will be increased. This chemical is most concentrated at the vine end of the fruit and just under the skin; if your fruits are bitter, try cutting an inch or two from the vine end and peeling. When watering, try to water the plant only to keep the leaves dry.
Cucumbers like it warm but can't take extreme heat. If your growing area is scorching, provide them with some afternoon shade by their placement in your garden or with shade cloth as they will benefit.
Cucumber Flowers & Pollination
Female flowers set fruit, and male flowers are for pollination. At first, your plants will produce a lot of male flowers. Once the plants become more mature, they will set both male and female flowers. The male flowers are great for attracting pollinators' to your garden. A male flower has a long, thin stem and is larger than the female flower. The female flower is usually smaller than the male. You will know a female flower when you see the fruits developing behind the base of the flower.
Both the male and female flowers are edible, so if you would like, you can remove some of the males at the beginning of the season to stimulate flower production, coat them with some batter and fry them up in butter. Waste not want not. As you get further into the season, you can pollinate the female flowers by removing the male flowers and then dust their pollen into the female flowers—time to enjoy another snack. Once the male flowers have done their job of pollination, you may as well pick them so that the plant can concentrate on producing fruit.
Fruit that is not fully pollinated will be small and shrivelled. Remove these from the plant so its energy can be concentrated elsewhere.
Pruning Cucumber Plants
Bush varieties can be pretty much left alone unless you are pruning dead or damaged leaves.
Vine cucumbers need vertical support and require pruning to control the growth direction. Note they can be grown on the ground; however, it will take up more garden space.
Proper pruning will also allow the plant to concentrate on fruit production and reduce the potential for disease. Prune vines when they are less than two inches long. Pinch off the first six to eight nodes on the base when they are small, being careful not to damage the main vine. If they have started to attach themselves to their support, leave them alone. While the cucumber plants are still young, remove the lower flowers so the plant can concentrate on vine and leaf growth.
Remove any damaged or diseased parts of the plant as soon as possible. If leaves are growing densely in one place, thin them out a bit to increase air circulation.
Remove all new flowers about a month before your first frost date so the plant can concentrate on the existing fruit instead of new growth.
Harvesting Your Cucumbers
Pick your cucumbers often as the plant will stop producing if the fruits get too large. Hold the fruit and cut the stem with pruning shears a quarter-inch up the vine.
Slicing cucumbers can be stored in the fridge for three days and pickling cucumbers a bit longer.
Pests and Problems
Most cucumber issues are due to plant care. Keep your garden clean and free of rotting or diseased materials. Ensure proper watering, feeding, and air circulation for a great harvest.
Planting Marigolds and cilantro attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs and hoverflies, which feast on aphids. If you spray the plants with water to remove the aphids, make sure you give them time to dry out before the sun goes down to reduce the chances of mould development.
These little yellow beetles with stripes or spots appear in early spring. The beetles will feed on the leaves and fruit. You can cover your plants until their flowers appear or use yellow sticky tape to catch them. These beetles spread bacteria that will kill your plants. Place some yellow sticky tape above the plants to catch them.
If you place a piece of wood or cardboard near your plants, the cutworms will shelter there during the day, making them easy for you to find.
Powdery mildew covers the leaves in a powder coating. Ensuring adequate air circulation helps with this issue. Later in the fall, closer to the end of their growing season, most of my plants will have some level of this mildew. I fill a spray bottle with 60% milk and 40% water and spray the leaves when it is a sunny day. The sun causes the protein in the milk to kill the mildew.
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