Growing cucumbers can be accomplished almost anywhere, but they do require warm soil for growth. If you plant cucumbers successively (explained below) you will have a refreshing crop throughout the summer. Be sure to pick maturing cucumbers daily, or the plant(s) will stop producing!
Stressed Cucumbers = Bitter Cucumbers
Cucumbers become bitter due to stress. Stress is caused by a lack of nutrition (due to infertile soil and/or lack of space), uneven watering, and temperature extremes.
The following guidelines are important for learning how to grow cucumbers, and will get you off to a great start.
Soil preparation is important because cucumbers require friable, fertile soil (lots of nutrition). To create good soil, mix in 1-2 inches of compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Cucumbers grow best in soil that has a pH of 6-7.
Cucumbers Need Room to Grow
For growing cucumber you will need at least 6 feet of horizontal space per plant. If you are limited for space, you can set up a trellis for the cucumber vine to climb. Cucumbers grown on a trellis will often provide a greater yield and be better-formed.
Cucumbers Need a Lot of Moisture
Because cucumbers grow vigorously and are composed of 95% water, they require constant and even watering. 1-2 inches of water per week is a good guideline, but constantly monitor the soil. Lack of water will stress the plants. Keep the soil slightly moist.
Mulching around the plants, especially with plastic mulch, will help keep moisture in, and the weeds down. Watering at the cucumber stem is preferable. If watering over-top plants, water in the morning so that they leaves have time to dry during the day. This will aid in disease prevention in your vegetable garden.
Temperature Extremes Are Bad for Cucumbers
The plot you plan to use for planting cucumber should get at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Cucumber plants do well in a hot and humid location. On the other hand, if temperatures are expected to consistently reach over °95F/°35C, we recommend providing ~50% shade for the plants during the afternoon.
When to Plant Cucumbers
You can begin to grow cucumbers as soon as the soil is consistently above °70F/°21C, which is close to the minimum temperature for germination. 3-4 weeks after your last expected frost date is usually a suitable time to plant seeds outdoors. At approximately °90F/°32C, cucumbers will germinate within ~4 days.
Note: a late frost can destroy your cucumber plants. Simply re-sow seeds if this happens.
To extend the harvest season, consider successively planting your cucumbers. Plant a batch every 2-3 weeks, and you will have cucumbers maturing throughout the summer and early fall.
How to Plant Cucumbers
Growing cucumbers can be accomplished in one of two ways:
- Hills - Growing cucumber on a "hill" of dirt, allowing the vines to spread down into the garden.
- Rows - Growing cucumber in rows which is suitable for growing the plants up a fence or trellis.
Planting Cucumbers Using Hills
Hills are the traditional method of growing cucumbers. To build hills, create mounds of dirt approximately 2 feet in diameter, and 6-8 inches high. Hills should be built 6 feet away from each other so that the vines have room to spread. Drill ~5 holes into the hill (keep them 3 inches apart) using a stick or your finger.
The holes should be 1-inch deep. Place a seed in each hole, cover with dirt, and water so that the hill is moist, but not saturated. Once the seedlings sprout true leaves, thin out the weakest plants so that three plants remain. Grow these to maturity.
Planting Cucumbers Using Rows
To grow cucumbers using rows, create raised rows of dirt (~4-6 inches high). The raised rows will provide additional warmth for the plants. If growing multiple rows of cucumber, ensure rows are spaced 6 feet apart from each other so that the vines have room to grow. The rows can be placed closer together if you are using a trellis that the vines can use to grow upwards.
Once the rows are in place, plant the cucumber seeds 1 1/2 inches deep and ~6 inches apart. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them out so that they stand 12-18 inches apart. Grow these to maturity.
Growing Cucumbers on a Trellis
Growing cucumber on a trellis minimizes rot and disease, is easier to water at the stem, is easier to harvest, and often produces better-formed and cleaner fruit (out of the dirt). To grow cucumbers on a trellis, simply follow the guidelines for planting cucumbers in rows. Then, when the plants grow to a height of 1 foot, guide the vines gently up the trellis by winding them around the trellis once or twice.
Harvest cucumbers when they are dark green by cutting the fruit from the vine. Slicing cucumbers will usually reach 6-8 inches at maturity, while pickling cucumbers will mature at 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. It is very important to pick ripening cucumbers daily in order to extend the growing season.
If ripening cucumbers are allowed to stay on the vine, the vine will stop producing new fruit. Cucumbers are over-ripe when they begin to turn yellow at the end with the blossom. Near the end of the harvesting season (about 1 month before the first frost), pinch off any new blossoms so that the plant will puts its energy into ripening the remaining cucumbers.
Potential Problems Growing Cucumbers
When learning how to grow cucumbers it is important to know what can go wrong. Cucumbers can be prone to mildew, mold, and scabbing. Check with local farmers to find the best varieties to withstand diseases for your area. Many of the diseases that affect cucumbers can be avoided by following the growing guidelines above.
Covering your cucumber plants early in spring will not only keep them warmer, but will also protect them from pests. Cucumber beetles that feed on the plants will be detered by protective floating row covers. Remove the covers once flowering starts so that bees can pollinate the growing cucumber plants.