Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
What are Cucumbers?
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are actually gourds which grow on long vines. The plants originated in southern India and subsequently spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. True to their origins, heat is the secret to growing cucumbers.
How to Prepare Your Garden to Grow Cucumbers
Choose a sunny location that gets a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sun each day and that has light well-drained soil. Cucumbers don't like wet feet. If you have clay soil, you should add sand or peat moss mixed with organic matter to improve the drainage.
To prepare your soil, add a layer of compost or aged manure to a depth of at least two inches and work it into the soil thoroughly. After planting, you can side-dress your plants with the same compost or aged manure or use commercial fertilizer in liquid or granular form. Try not to over-fertilize your plants as this will result in fruit which is stunted.
Grow Cucumbers on a Trellis
Cucumbers grow on long vines which can take up a lot of space in your garden. To save space, or if you have a small garden, grow your cucumbers on trellises. The vines climb using tendrils so your trellis should be made of materials thin enough for the tendrils to grasp. Install your trellises before putting out your plants to avoid damaging the vines.
Growing cucumbers on trellises also makes it easier to harvest the fruit. It results in healthier plants because they are not laying on the ground where they can more easily pick up diseases and insects.
How to Grow Cucumbers From Seed
Cucumbers are easily grown from seed. You can start your seeds indoors or direct sow them in your garden after the soil warms in the spring. Because they are tropical plants, they are sensitive to cold air temperatures and cold soil.
Start your cucumber seeds indoors two weeks before your last frost date. Plant them 1 inch deep. The best germination is achieved when you use a heat mat that can warm your soil to 70°F. Wait until at least two weeks after your last frost date to plant your seedlings in your garden.
To direct sow your seeds in your prepared garden bed, wait at least two weeks after your last frost date. Plant your seeds one inch deep. Begin regular watering as soon as your seedlings have emerged. Water consistently to avoid bitter tasting fruit. To judge when your seedlings need to be watered, stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry up to the first knuckle on your finger, it is time to water. Adding mulch to your garden will keep the soil moist and discourage weeds.
You can do a second sowing of seeds a month after the first sowing. The warmer weather will encourage your cucumbers to grow and mature quickly. The fruit could be ready to harvest as soon as six weeks later.
Don't be upset if the first flowers on your vines fall off. Cucumbers have male and female flowers. The first flowers are all male. The female flowers will begin to appear within a week or two. It's easy to tell the male and female flowers apart. The female flowers have a swelling at the base of the flower that is the beginning of a cucumber.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
We eat cucumbers while they are still green and immature before they ripen to yellow. When the fruit turns yellow, it is no longer edible.
Harvest should be done by size. Pickling cucumbers should be harvested when they are 2 inches long for sweet or gherkin pickles or 4 to 6 inches long for dill pickles. Slicing cucumbers should be harvested when they are 6 to 8 inches long.
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Use a sharp knife, scissors or small clippers to cut the cucumbers from the vines leaving a small stub on the fruit as you would with pumpkins. Pulling the fruit from the vines could damage the vines and/or the fruit.
How to Store Cucumbers
Cucumbers are mainly water so you should wrap them in plastic wrap immediately after harvesting to keep them fresh and hydrated. Storing your cucumbers in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic will keep them fresh up to ten days but it is best to eat or pickle them as soon after harvesting as possible. Harvest every few days to encourage the vines to continue to produce fruit.
Cucumbers are easy to grow as long as they have lots of sunshine and lots of heat. Plant different varieties so that you will have plenty to eat and pickle.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on September 15, 2014:
How lucky! My first crop last year failed. I did much better this year. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Jim from Kansas on September 15, 2014:
Great information on growing cucumbers. We had a bumper crop of them this year.
Caren White (author) on August 15, 2014:
Susan, you are so lucky! The first I grew cucumbers was a disaster. I didn't get a single cucumber and then my vines died. I did some research over the winter and tried again. The second season, I did much better. Thanks for reading, commenting and following!
Susan Hambidge from Kent, England on August 15, 2014:
I've grown cucumbers for the first time this year.I have to grow them in a greenhouse here in the UK but I have been so pleased with them. They are great for a beginner because they grow quickly and impressively so it is really exciting!.
Caren White (author) on May 28, 2014:
Flourish, what's your secret? I've had problems growing cucumbers which is why I wrote this hub searching for an answer for my failure. Thanks for reading and voting.
FlourishAnyway from USA on May 28, 2014:
Ahh, cucumbers are one of the things I can grow. Tomatoes are another. I simply love their mild flavor and their "climbing" nature with trellises. Voted up and more.