Days to germination: 4 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 60 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular waterings
Soil: Loose and fertilized
Container: Dwarf or bush varieties are ideal
Your choice of cucumber varieties is almost endless, which gives the home gardener lots of options in terms of plant size and fruit size. You can grow little pickling cucumbers, or long thin ones for slicing.
You can also find varieties labeled as “burpless”. Cucumbers have a tendency to give some people gas, though it doesn’t effect everyone who eats them. Burpless cucumbers are supposed to help reduce this unfortunate problem.
Though you can cook cucumber, it’s one of those vegetables that are more often eat raw. Cucumber makes a nice addition to creamy summer soups too. Tasty as they are, cucumbers are a bit low on the nutritional scale. They have practically no calories and small amounts of vitamins C and A. You can also get some potassium and manganese from cucumbers.
Starting from Seed
You can either start your cucumber seedlings indoors for later transplanting, or seed your cukes directly into the garden once it warms up.
For indoor starts, plant your seeds around 3 to 4 weeks before your expected last frost date. Cucumbers can be very delicate to transplant, so you’re best to start your seeds in peat or newspaper pots that can be planted directly into the garden without removing the seedling.
The seeds should be around an inch under the soil, and will germinate best if kept warm (around 70F).
Put your plants out a week or two after the last frost has passed, once the soil has begun to warm up. You can put your seeds out in the garden at around the same time if you are planting out directly. Dig the soil up well, adding a generous dose of aged manure and some lime.
Plant your seedlings approximately 6 inches apart if you are planting vining cucumbers that will be growing upwards along a trellis. If you intend to let the vines spread out on the ground, then plant 4 or 5 seeds in small hills that are 2 feet apart from each other. Bush cucumbers should be around 1 foot apart.
For seeds going right into the garden, space them out the same way with 5 or 6 seeds at each spot. Thin down to no more than 3 seedlings per hill.
The cucumbers will grow from the base of the flowers that bloom on the vines, but don’t be shocked if the first batch of blossoms don’t produce any fruits. There is nothing wrong with your plants. The first flowers are always all male, and it’s the later female flowers that will make your cucumbers.
Don’t spray water all over your plants when watering, try to keep your water directed at the soil rather than the leaves to help prevent powdery mildew (see the diseases section). Keep your cucumbers watered at least twice a week, but don’t soak them. Your soil need to be well-drained so the roots aren’t constantly wet.
While your plants are growing, you can feed them with a weekly starter fertilizer for their first 3 or 4 weeks. After that, you can give them regular fertilizer every month.
As the season is coming to an end, start pinching off the blossoms around 1 month before you expect winter frost to arrive. That will save the plant’s resources for the remaining cucumbers so you can get them mature enough to pick before winter.
Cucumbers are very popular for container gardening, especially the small dwarf kinds (such as Salad Bush) that grow in a bush rather than on long vines. But with the right support, vining cukes can do fine in large containers as well.
Fertilize your plants once a month to make sure they have the nutrients they need. Use a large container, at least 5 gallons in size.
Pests and Diseases
Cucumber leaves that get a fine white coating of “powder” have a fungus infection called powdery mildew. It thrives in humid places so water the soil, not the leaves. If your plants have it, you can use some natural fungicide to clear it up.
Striped cucumber beetles can do a lot of damage to the leaves and blossoms of your plants, even the large mature ones. Diligent hand-picking really helps, and regular sprays of a pyrethrin-based insecticide can also help repel the pests. They can spread bacterial wilt, so don’t ignore them just because they aren’t doing much immediate damage.
Tiny aphids can also do damage to the leaves and stems in large numbers. There are various insecticides that will repel aphids, and ladybugs are a natural predator that can help keep the problem to a minimum. Slugs, snails and cutworms are all possibly threats to your cucumbers. Pick them by hand whenever you see them. Keep a small piece of wood in the garden for them to hide under during the day. Makes it handier to catch them for disposal.
If the leaves are becoming mottled, and the vines growing poorly, you may have mosaic disease. You can’t treat it, but some varieties of cucumber are more resistant than others. Rotate your crops and don’t plant cucumber in the same patch every year.
Harvesting and Storage
Bush cucumbers tend to all mature at the same time, for a single harvest. But vining cucumbers will produce new blossoms and fruit all through the season for ongoing picking. Use a knife or clippers to cut the fruit off the vines. Pulling on them can easily damage the rest of the plant.
Larger isn’t necessarily better. If you let any cucumbers get too large, the plant will start to slow down and stop making new blossoms. So check under those broad leaves to make sure no fruits have been missed. Take note of the expected fruit size for the variety you plant. Some cucumbers are “full size” much smaller than others, so don’t just judge by the number of inches. Once past their prime, cucumbers will get very bitter.
Once they start to turn yellow, they are well past the eating stage. Pick them anyway so the plant will keep growing and toss them on the compost pile. Unless you are growing the round yellow “Lemon” variety cucumbers, of course.
Wear light gloves when you are picking cucumbers because they can have short but sharp spines along the fruit. Some varieties are worse than others in this regard. The spines break off very easily, and your cucumbers can be de-prickled with a rough wipe of a towel. Stubborn spines can be eliminated by peeling your cucumbers.
You can store fresh cucumbers in the fridge where they will last about a week. The only practical way to store cucumbers for the long-term is pickling, which is often the reason why people grow cucumbers in the first place.