Cucumbers, a tropical plant, thrive in hot weather when there is plenty of water to sustain them. When trained to a trellis, cucumbers are a very space efficient crop. There are plenty of varieties for any need—from pickling to salad cucumbers. The taste of your freshly grown cucumbers, picked and eaten straight from the garden, will leave you promising never to buy grocery store-bought cucumbers again.
There are two types of cucumbers – bush varieties and vining varieties. Bush varieties won’t yield as much as vining types, but vining types will take over the garden if not trained to a trellis.
Cucumbers need soil with a pH range of about 6.0 to 6.8, warm and fertile, and situated in full sun. They can tolerate alkaline soil up to 7.6, but it’s best if you amend the dirt if you want abundant harvests. Work about 2 inches of compost into the top several inches of the soil. If you live in a cooler climate, you can warm the dirt by several degrees by covering your gardening area with black plastic about two weeks before planting.
Your cucumbers will need soil that is consistently moist. Fertilize your plants with a fish emulsion liquid fertilizer such as Protogrow® every two weeks or so to keep your plants robust and healthy.
When to Plant
You’ll plant your cucumbers when all danger of frost has passed. You can plant seeds or transplants (although seedlings don’t transplant easily—it’s best to start your cucumbers with direct sowing). If you plan to set out transplants, start your seed indoors about two weeks before the last frost of spring.
How to Plant
You’ll need to sow your seeds about 3 inches apart in a row at the base of a trellis. Thin your seedlings (or set out your transplants) to 12 inches apart. Or, if you’re planting on a mound and utilizing a round trellis, plant six to eight seeds per hill and space your hills 3 to 4 feet apart. Thin to three plants per hill (or set your transplants 3 to a hill).
Good fruit development demands proper and consistent watering—an inch a week is optimal, but more if temperatures are fairly hot. Inadequate or inconsistent watering may produce poor tasting or oddly shaped fruit.
Harvest your cucumbers in the morning when their still cool and don’t let your fruit become too large lest they turn bitter or spongy. Pickling cucumbers can be harvested when they’re three to four inches long. You can harvest slicing cucumbers when they’re six to eight inches long. If you miss harvesting a cucumber and it gets too big, you should either cut it from the vine and throw it away, or, if it’s an exceptional specimen, let it grow for seed stock.
For the best pickles, use freshly picked fruits. Otherwise, store your cucumbers in the refrigerator.
If your vines grow but don’t fruit, pollination is not occurring. Cucumbers are self-pollinators and produce both male and female flowers. To hand pollinate, pick a male flower (one without a bulbous swelling behind the bloom), strip off the petals, and press it into the center of the female flowers.
There are several pests that attack cucumber plants, including cucumber beetles and their larvae, and grey squash bugs. Hand pick and destroy, and spray the foliage with insecticidal soap. Because many of these bugs gather in mulch, don’t mulch your plantings (the plants overshadow the dirt anyway and inhibit weed growth).
Powdery mildew can be exacerbated by improper air circulation. Spray plants with baking soda or sulfur spray when it appears and destroy infected plant material.
Bacterial wilt causes a sudden wilt on one part of the plant and is spread by cucumber beetles. Destroy the plant. Cucumber mosaic virus produces mottled leaves and bitter fruit—destroy infected plants.
Pickleworms can be especially onerous in the South—plant early to avoid them. Spray Bt or beneficial nematodes once a week and after any rain beginning in June. Spray in the evenings.