Cucumbers are one of the most popular summer veggies consumed all over the world. While this delicious, crispy, and juicy vegetable is technically a fruit (yes, it’s true), it’s still most often referred to as a vegetable. Whatever you call it, cucumbers are essential to any summer salad, green smoothie, or even cold soup. If you’re a fan of the cuke and curious about growing it, you’ve probably wondered how and when to plant cucumbers.
Fortunately, they can be one of the easiest veggies to grow once you know the basics about planting cucumbers and how to overcome the challenges that may arise. The other great news is that they’re perfect for small gardens and container gardening, depending on the species you pick.
In this article, we’ll explore why growing your own cucumbers is best, the different varieties of cucumbers that exist, and most importantly, when and how to grow them. You’ll also find some essential tips and tricks to ensure a smooth journey into successfully growing cucumbers you’ll love.
Why Plant Cucumbers?
Cucumbers have been immortalized by countless movies, women’s magazines, and spa leaflets as the ultimate cure to reduce puffiness around the eyes. But this super hydrating veggie — which is 95 percent water — is so much more than a beauty hack.
Cucumbers are low in calories and rich in phytonutrients — chemicals found in plants that have protective properties and help prevent and fight diseases. If you also consume the peel (which is safe to do), you’ll be glad to know it’s a fantastic source of fiber and vitamin A.
But health benefits aside, the main reason to plant your own cucumbers is that you’ll have full control over the conditions they grow in. In 2016, this veggie was a part of the “dirty dozen.”
The “dirty dozen” is a list from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detailing which fruits and veggies have the highest pesticide residue levels. This document is updated yearly, and even though cucumbers are no longer part of it, it doesn’t mean they don’t contain any harmful chemicals.
Conventionally grown cucumbers are commonly sprayed with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to protect them from pests and accelerate their growth. If you buy these options over organically grown cucumbers, you’re at risk of consuming these chemicals.
Also, if you regularly buy cucumbers, you’ll notice they’re commonly packaged in plastic containers. If you’re trying to be more eco-friendly, growing your cucumbers is a great (and fun) way to support the cause.
Growing Cucumbers: The Basics
The first thing to know is that the cucumber growing season is the summer. They love full sun (around 8 hours) and warm soil, but they also need loads of water — they’re basically made of it!
They may not be the most straightforward veggie to grow (more on that later), but if you follow this guide carefully, there’s no reason your cucumber garden won’t be a success.
To begin, you’ll need to determine if you’ll be growing them from seeds or seedlings (young plants). Below are a few facts to take into consideration.
Cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family — just like melons, squashes, and pumpkins. These species are quite sensitive to root disturbances, especially during transplanting after germination, which is when the seed grows a stem and pops out of the soil. Thus, starting with seed (or “seeding”) is a better option that also comes with added benefits.
Cucumber plants benefit from loose, well-drained, and fertile soil rich in organic matter. If you’re not sure what to choose, don’t be afraid to ask for help at your local garden center. The staff can recommend the most suitable option available, taking into account your area’s climate and conditions.
Types of Cucumbers
Before we move on to how and when to plant cucumbers, you must understand the characteristics of each cucumber variety.
Cucumbers can grow in two ways: as bush or vining cucumbers.
On one hand, vining varieties grow quite tall — around 6 feet tall. If you don’t have a lot of space, this can be a great option since it’ll grow vertically. Keep in mind that you’ll need some sort of supporting structure such as a trellis, fence, cage, or tripod to encourage the growth of your cucumber vines. These species are prolific, and they yield a lot more fruit than bush varieties.
On the other hand, bush cucumbers don’t need trellises or other props, and they usually grow up to 36 inches tall as round and compact “bushy” plants. They’re perfect for containers and small gardens.
Inside these two species, cucumbers can be categorized into three different types:
- Slicing cucumbers: These are the most common types found in your local supermarket and are characterized by their long and straight appearance.
- Pickling cucumbers: Small cucumbers used specifically for pickling (e.g., gherkins, heirloom Boston pickling, etc.)
- Burpless cucumbers: This is a slicing variety engineered to produce cucumbers with less cucurbitacin, a compound that can cause indigestion and make you gassy.
Now that you know the different types of cucumbers, consider the amount of space you have as well as your preferences. If you’re all about pickles, then gherkins may be your thing. If you struggle with digestion, then burpless cucumbers are the way to go.
If you can’t choose and space is not an issue, why not grow different species? The world is your oyster!
How and When To Plant Cucumbers
As mentioned, cucumber plants are very sensitive, so starting from seed may be the best course of action.
You can do it in two different ways: plant the seeds directly in your outdoor planter or start them indoors.
Let’s take a closer look at each approach.
If you want to plant seeds outdoors, there’s a couple of things you should bear in mind. The ideal growing conditions for cucumbers are between 60° to 90°F, with the soil temperature around 70°F.
Cucumbers don’t deal well with cold temperatures and can quickly develop frost damage. Make sure you plant them outdoors no earlier than two weeks after your last frost date. If you’re not sure when that is, use the Back to the Roots grow calendar to find out.
To start your cucumber seeds indoors and then move them outdoors, use compostable growing trays. Once the threat of frost has passed, transplant your baby plants to your outdoor containers by using a pair of scissors to separate the growing tray cells. Plant the whole thing inside your gardening containers and fill them with a generous amount of organic potting soil, covering them with organic mulch.
Make sure to check the seed packets for spacing between plants, as each variety has unique and specific needs.
If you’re growing vining cucumbers, add the trellising structure once you sow the seeds or when you transplant the baby plants to their gardening containers. Doing so avoids further disturbances to the sensitive cucumber plants and prevents damage to both seedlings and vines.
As much as cucumbers love sun and warmth, they equally love water. Even though they’re heavy feeders and thrive in evenly moist soil, they don’t like soggy or compacted environments. It’s all about finding a balance.
Ideally, cucumbers should receive about one inch of water per week — or more if temperatures rise. For this reason, using a soaker hose or drip irrigation to ensure proper soil moisture can be incredibly helpful.
These systems help you maintain optimal conditions and help keep the leaves dry, preventing issues like powdery mildew, anthracnose, and bacterial wilt.
If you’re unsure when to water your cucumber plants, use the finger testing method. Simply dig your finger into the soil, and if it’s dry past the first joint, then watering is needed.
Place some organic mulch around the plants to slow down moisture evaporation during the hotter months. This also prevents the soil from becoming compacted as a result of heavy watering.
Don’t freak out if the leaves wilt in the afternoon when temperatures are high. Your cucumber plants are taking water faster than their roots can supply. However, if the foliage looks withered in the morning, this means the soil is too dry and needs immediate hydration.
Inconsistent watering usually leads to bitter-tasting and oddly-shaped fruits.
Now that we’ve covered how and when to plant cucumbers, as well as their watering needs, it’s time to collect the fruits of your hard work!
Most varieties of cucumbers are ready to be harvested 55 to 65 days after sowing the seeds. With optimal soil temperature conditions, these veggies grow quite quickly and ripen in about six weeks.
The more you let them grow, the more bitter they will taste. Plus, if you don’t harvest cucumbers once the peak harvesting time starts, it will slow down fruit production.
- Slicing cucumbers are ready when they reach 6 to 8 inches
- Pickling cucumbers can be harvested when they’re 2 inches long
- Burpless cucumbers grow up to 10 inches when they’re ready to be collected
If cucumbers reach a yellowish color, they’re overripe. This means the skin will be tougher, the taste will be more bitter, and the cucumber will be more “seedy.”
To harvest your cucumbers, use a knife or gardening clippers to cut the stem just above the fruit. Do not pull the fruit as it may damage the vine and the plant.
Challenges of Growing Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a great addition to any fruit or veggie garden, and even though they’re easy to grow, they do come with a few challenges.
The best way to overcome any hiccups is to learn what to expect and how to deal with unwanted situations.
Once your cucumbers are in contact with the outside world, there’s a chance they’ll encounter some “buggy” situations. Aphids, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles are the most common enemies of these plants.
One of the most effective ways to combat these pests is to use a gardening net, a row cover, or a berry basket as protection against these inconvenient insects.
If you opt for bush cucumbers, set a tile or piece of wood under the fruit, so it doesn’t have direct contact with the wet soil. Mulching can also help the cucumbers become more disease-resistant and less prone to insect attacks.
Avoid planting your cucumber plants next to potatoes, as these release a substance in the soil that hinders the growth of your beloved cukes.
If you’ve followed the instructions in this guide but your plants have not provided fruit, don’t worry. It’s probably a pollination issue.
The first flowers that show up on your cucumber plants are male flowers, and they can’t produce fruit. Female flowers usually pop out a week or so after the male flowers. Bees can then start carrying pollen from the male to the female flowers. If this is the case, all you need is patience.
If there aren’t any pollinator insects around your plants, you can spray them with sugar water to attract some.
As an alternative, you can do manual pollination by dipping a Q-tip into the male flower and transfer it into the center of the female blossom. If you’re not sure which is which, female florets are recognizable for their cucumber-shaped swelling at the base — which will later become the fruit.
Grow Cucumber Plants In Your Veggie Garden
Cucumbers are fantastic, crunchy veggies that can take your nutritious dishes to the next level. They may sound a bit tricky to grow, but with all the knowledge you’ve gathered from this guide, you can overcome any obstacles and grow the most delicious cucumbers.
Loads of sun, constantly moist soil, and adequate bug protection is all they need to grow, thrive, and start producing the organic cucumbers of your dreams.