Cucumber Growing Tips
Cucumbers for Everyone
Cucumbers are one of those vegetables that home gardeners can't wait to bite into as soon as they're ready in the summer garden. Every spring, they are eagerly planted in anticipation of using them in salads, eating them raw, or including them in a variety of dishes.
You no longer have to have a larger gardening space to grow cucumbers, either, as you can grow them in pots or vertically. There are also new dwarf varieties that fit into small spaces.
So even if you have a small area to grow them in, you can plant some of the more standard types that take up a lot of ground space if you practice vertical training.
That means you can grow cucumbers for pickling, slicing, and/or salads in a fairly small amount of space. In other words, almost anyone can grow cucumbers to enjoy throughout the summer and fall season.
Depending on the reason you're growing cucumbers and the space you have available, you will want to do some research on which specific cucumber varieties will meet your needs.
Length of growing season and available space are also factors, so you will need to choose cucumber types which may have to meet several criteria.
For example, if you have a small growing area and short season, you will either want a bush cucumber or one good for growing on a trellis which also takes a short time to mature.
Cucumbers can reach maturity in a range of 48 days, in the case of pickling cucumbers, and up to about 70 days from the long, slicing cucumber types.
Disease resistance is another factor to include in the decision-making process.
When to Plant Cucumbers
Cucumbers must be planted after all danger of frost is over. You will want to wait a little longer after that for best results though, as cucumbers need the soil to have some spring warming before seeds will germinate.
If you want fresh cucumbers in the fall you can plant a second time in the middle or latter part of the summer, depending on the zone you live in.
For those who want really early cucumbers you can sow them in small containers indoors about a month, or a little less, before the last frost date. Plant several seeds to ensure germination and to find the most hardy plant, which should be the only one used after thinning them out.
How to Plant Cucumbers
Whether you're sowing seed or transplants, cucumbers do need the soil to warm up to get best results. With that in mind, sow seeds from a 1/2" to 1" deep; whether in a row or in hills.
Using the row method, plant several seeds per foot, thinning them to one plant per each foot. For the hill system, plant five or six seeds per hill and thin to three plants every three feet. Keep the most healthy cucumber plants for best results.
If you're using cucumber transplants, don't allow them to grow too large as it could result in plant failure, as most vining plants have better success when transplanted as smaller seedlings. Those can be planted at intervals of one foot each in a row.
Cultivation and Care
Most of the care for cucumbers is centered around the shallow roots of the plant.
For cultivating, that means doing it shallow around the plant, otherwise you could do harm to the roots.
With the shallow roots the plant requires good moisture over all growth stages. Once the the cucumbers begin to set and grow, that is even more critical for best results.
To help warm the soil in the early growing season, you could mulch with black plastic, which also inhibits weeds. In the summer organic mulch will help the plants perform at optimal levels.
Placing black plastic mulch in the earlier part of the season will result in much earlier yields.
When plant start to vine add nitrogen fertilizer to give it a boost.
For those with space issues or who prefer the benefits of vertical gardening with their cucumbers, it's not very difficult.
In this case you can grow them on a fence, trellis, or even a cage if you choose. The only real downside is if you live in an area with heavy winds, as that could do some damage to the plants.
You may also choose to mulch them more heavily, depending on the type of vertical object you use. I used to grow cucumbers vertically using a hinged trellis shaped like an 'A', which made it harder to cultivate.
The benefit of growing cucumbers vertically, besides saving space, is they are very easy to pick, as well as develop straighter than when on the ground.
There are two insects that must be closely watched for with cucumbers: the cucumber beetle and aphids.
Cucumber beetles feed on almost every part of the plant and need to be controlled immediately when discovered with whatever your choice of insecticide is.
If your plants have damage on the stems or cucumbers, or the flowers and foliage have holes or have been chewed on, you can be confident it's cucumber beetles doing the damage if you haven't seen them yet.
Because they fly from plant to plant, cucumber beetles can also spread bacterial wilt disease.
With aphids you need to look for the colonies on the back side of leaves. Take appropriate measures when you discover them.
Striped and Spotted Cucumber Beetles
The cause of bacterial wilt comes from the cucumber beetles, which when attacking the plant spread the disease, which actually resides inside the tiny pest.
This is why it's so important to deal with the beetles immediately, as bacterial wilt is by far the most significant threat from cucumber beetles, not their munching on a few plants.
You won't know a plant is infected until you see wilting vines when the first group of cucumbers are about halfway to maturity. By that time it's too late. For that reason it's best to acquire resistant cucumbers.
If there are some cucumbers you just must have that aren't resistant, then control with the recommended insecticide to manage the situation.
For those with a few home plants, you could place cones or mesh, or some sort of cover over the plants to protect them when they're younger.
As a preventative measure, don't ever handle the cucumber plants when they're wet.
For powdery mildew and cucumber mosaic virus it's best to buy resistant varieties to manage the potential problem.
What's really fun about growing cucumbers is you can harvest them at almost any stage of growth, depending on your personal tastes.
The type of the cucumber and its purpose determine the best size to pick them at.
As a general rule of thumb, pickling cucumbers can begin to be harvested when they reach 2" long; dills as 4" to 6"; and slicing cucumbers when they reach about 8" long.
The key for any length is they need to be picked before the seeds harden. Similar to summer squash, cucumbers are normally eaten when immature.
Keep in mind that the lengths mentioned above are for earliest harvest, they can be allowed to grow more, but they have to be watched closely because they grow quickly in warm weather.
Check the plant at least every other day and remove any of the cucumbers you missed that have turned yellow, grown too large, or are strangely shaped, so younger fruits will develop better.
Harvest your cucumbers in the morning before the sun heats them up.
From a visual perspective, look for the cucumbers to be the same green color everywhere on the fruit and firm to the touch.
But don't wait for your cucumbers to look like a store-bought cucumber, because those bought in a store have been covered with an edible wax which is placed on them to protect them from the loss of moisture. That sheen isn't a natural one, as cucumbers picked from a plant has a more dull, green color to it.
Harvesting the Pickling and Slicing Varieties
Harvesting pickling cucumbers can be a little tricky because if you leave a mature or yellow cucumber on the vine it could result in the entire vine no longer producing.
To manage this pickling cucumbers should be harvested on a daily basis.
Slicing cucumbers have more leeway than pickling cucumbers, but they also need to be removed when you find those that are overly mature, or else the plant could stop producing new cucumbers as well.
For longer lasting cucumbers it's best to store them in the refrigerator right after you pick them. Place them in a plastic bag and they should last as long as three days. The plastic bag should be perforated or loose for best results.
From Salad to Pickles
What's fantastic about cucumbers to me, especially the earlier maturing varieties, is you can grow them with other early maturing crops like leaf lettuce, radishes, green beans, and other vegetables to create some terrific and nutritious salads.
But for cucumber lovers, it's the taste of the first cucumber that is eagerly awaited for.
Whether it's pickling, dill, or slicing cucumbers, they all offer a great look and taste, and for those you want to pickle, can be enjoyed for far beyond the growing season. Now that's a happy thought!