Growing cucumbers in your garden
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are so easy to grow: Give them sun, consistent water and decent soil, and they’ll produce a large crop of crisp fruits starting in midsummer. But to have the best crop of these crunchy, refreshing veggies, let me give you a few tips on how to plant, prevent pests, and grow them vertically. You'll have plenty for eating fresh or pickled!
- When to plant: In late spring when soil temperatures reach 70 degrees F
- Light: Full sun
- When to harvest: Once fruits are the size recommended on the seed packet, about two months after planting
- How much to plant: 2 to 3 plants for a family of four for fresh eating, 5 to 6 plants for making pickles
- Problems: Striped and spotted cucumber beetles
Two ways to plant cucumbers
Direct sow seeds or transplant seedlings I have started indoors ahead of time. In my zone 5 garden, I do both to maximize production. Once the risk of frost has passed in late spring and the weather has warmed, I transplant 4-week-old seedlings into my raised beds. A month later I direct sow seeds into empty spaces in the garden. This successive planting technique ensures we have a nonstop supply of crunchy cucumbers until frost. Gardeners in warmer climates can direct-sow seed as soon as the soil is warm enough in spring.
Different ways to grow cucumbers
You can grow cucumbers in any garden including in-ground gardens, raised beds, straw bales or even containers. Most varieties produce vines that grow 7 to 9 feet long. If you’re short on space and want to plant in containers, choose varieties with compact vines. These are often described as “bush” cucumbers in seed catalogs, and the plants only grow about 3 feet long. Learn more about the different types of cucumbers here.
4 Tips for growing cucumbers
One of the greatest joys of summer is wandering through my vegetable garden and sampling the perfectly ripe peas, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. Enjoy the biggest harvest of high-quality cucumbers with these simple tips:
1. Wait for warm weather to plant outdoors
Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold temperatures and soil. Don’t rush the seeds or seedlings into the garden too early. I wait to plant until about a week after my last expected frost date or when daytime temperatures reach 70 degrees F and nights are above 60 degrees F.
2. Pick the right site in your garden
Cucumbers thrive when grown in a sunny spot with fertile, well-draining soil. I dig in 2 inches of compost or aged manure into the garden bed before planting. If your soil isn’t particularly fertile, you may also wish to add a slow-release organic vegetable fertilizer onto the soil at this time.
3. Water cucumbers consistently
Cucumbers need a steady supply of water to produce lots of nonbitter fruits. Check soil moisture and water deeply when it’s dry about 2 inches down. Aim to irrigate in the morning and try to avoid wetting the leaves as splashing water can spread disease. To reduce watering I mulch my cucumber plants with a 2- to 3-inch layer of straw.
4. Harvest often
The key to a large cucumber harvest is to pick often, even daily once the plants begin producing. If overmature fruits are left on the plants, production slows or stops. Clip, don’t tug, fruits from the vine as soon as they reach the size and color indicated on the seed packet.
Dealing with cucumber beetles
Cucumbers are generally easy to grow, but they can fall prey to cucumber beetles. Striped and spotted cucumber beetle (above) adults eat holes in the flowers and leaves while the larvae nibble on the roots. Plus, they can transmit bacterial wilt, a pathogen that quickly kills cucumber plants. Leaves, and eventually entire stems, wilt and die when bacterial wilt strikes as you can see above.
Plant resistant cucumber varieties
There are a few things you can do to deter or reduce damage from cucumber beetles: Plant resistant cucumber varieties like:
- ‘Suyo Long’
- ‘English Telegraph’
- ‘Summer Dance’
Protect cucumber plants from pests
Cover seedlings with a lightweight row cover or insect barrier netting at planting time. Remove when the plants begin to flower to allow for pollination. Use yellow sticky cards to trap adult beetles. Hang cards just above the trellised plants or attach them to stakes for nontrellised ones.
Cucumber trellis ideas for the garden
Vigorous cucumber vines wander in every direction and can take up a lot of garden space. For this reason I prefer to grow my vines vertically. This allows me to maximize production in my raised beds but also keeps the vines off the soil, reducing insect and disease issues. The fruits of trellised cucumbers are also easier to spot and grow straighter. Here are a few different ways to train your cucumbers.
Trellising cucumbers with metal mesh
My go-to cucumber trellis is a sheet of 4×8-foot metal mesh from my local building supply store. This material is inexpensive, durable, and very strong. I have these sheets mounted on wooden stakes along the back of my vegetable garden where they won’t shade nearby crops.
Make a cucumber tunnel
You can also make a tunnel with two of these panels or a 16-foot length of cattle panel bent in a U shape. Plants cover the outside of the tunnel while the fruits hang down for easy picking.
Use twine to trellis cucumbers
Cucumber plants are good climbers, and their tendrils easily wrap around supports. I grow cucumbers vertically up heavy garden twine secured to overhead metal trusses in my polytunnel. This method also works well outdoors if you have a nice pergola like this one to attach the twine to.
Grow a living screen
Train your vining vegetables to grow up twine under a pergola for handy picking and easy cleanup in fall. When these cucumbers and green beans have finished producing, simply cut the twine down and throw everything in the compost pile!
Use cages for bush cucumber varieties
A simple tomato cage is a great way to get bush varieties off the ground and keep foliage healthy and fruit easy to find. Insert the cage into the container or bed when you seed or transplant.