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A Taste of Summer: Growing Cucumbers

By Tiffany Selvey
cucumbers on a vine

For many gardeners, harvesting homegrown cucumbers is one of the most anticipated moments of the summer gardening season. But before you enjoy the bright flavor and satisfying crunch of your cucumber bounty, you must get your hands dirty.

Attractive cucumber plants can be grown in the ground, in raised beds or in containers. To make the most of your harvest, read seed labels carefully to select just the right cucumber for your space and culinary needs.

Selecting the Right Cucumber

growing cucumber plants

Cucumbers have two different growth habits: bush and vine. Bush varieties are compact and do not require a trellis. They are ideal for growing in containers or small raised beds. Vining cucumbers produce more fruit, but they require a larger space than bush varieties. In large gardens, vines are often left to grow on the ground, but this practice promotes disease. Growing cucumbers vertically on a trellis helps improve air flow and limit the spread of foliar diseases, such as powdery mildew, that can cause the loss of leaves.1

Suitable for specific culinary uses, cucumbers come in slicing and pickling varieties, available in both growth habits. Slicing varieties have tender skin and soft flesh, making them ideal for fresh eating. Pickling cucumbers have tougher skin and flesh that allows them to preserve well. There are also many types of novelty cucumbers, such as the lemon cucumber, which is a vining variety that grows in the shape and color of a lemon.

Planting Cucumbers in the Garden

Here are the materials you will need for growing cucumbers:

Once you have found the perfect cucumber, it is time to plant. Regardless of the type of cucumber you grow, the planting process is the same:

  1. After the last chance of frost has passed in your USDA Hardiness Zone, prepare the garden space. Remove all weeds, loosen the soil with a tiller or shovel, and add a complete fertilizer,3 such as Lilly Miller® Morcrop Tomato & Vegetable Food 5-10-10.
  2. Check the soil temperature using a soil thermometer. Plant seeds when the soil has reached 60 to 70 degrees.1 They will not sprout in soil that is too cool.
  3. If you're planting a vining variety, install a trellis that is at least 6 feet tall. No support is needed if you are growing a bush cucumber. Space rows of cucumbers 3 to 4 feet apart.
  4. Plant seeds 6 inches apart, 1 inch deep.1 Cover with soil.
  5. Water thoroughly.
  6. When seedlings have reached 4 inches tall, thin them to 1 seedling every 16 inches by cutting the seedling with pruning shears where it meets the soil.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy.2 

Here are the materials you will need for growing garden cucumbers:

Cucumber seeds

Once you have found the perfect cucumber variety, it is time to plant. Start cucumbers from seeds sown right in your garden. Regardless of the type of cucumber you grow, the steps in the planting process are the same:

  1. After the last chance of frost has passed in your growing area, prepare the garden space. If you're unsure when the last freeze usually happens, your county extension agent can help. Remove all weeds, loosen the soil with your shovel, and mix in a complete fertilizer with a nutrient balance designed to support garden fruits and vegetables,2 such  Lilly Miller® Morcrop Tomato & Vegetable Food 5-10-10
  2. Check the soil temperature using a soil thermometer. Wait to plant until the soil temperature has reached 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.3 Like zucchini and cucurbits, cucumbers like it warm. They will not germinate and sprout in soil that is too cool.
  3. If you're planting a vining variety, install a trellis that is at least 6 feet tall. No support is needed if you are growing a bush cucumber. Space rows of cucumbers 3 to 4 feet apart.
  4. Plant seeds according to your seed packet instructions. Planting 6 inches apart and 1 inch deep is typical for many cucumber varieties.3 Cover the seeds with soil.
  5. Water thoroughly with your watering can or a hose on a gentle setting.
  6. When seedlings have reached 4 inches tall, thin them to one seedling every 16 inches. Do this by cutting off the extra seedlings with pruning shears at the soil level.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy.

Planting Cucumbers in Containers

To grow a cucumber container garden, you'll need these additional materials:

  • 18-inch-diameter container
  • Compost
  • Potting soil
  • Vermiculite

To grow cucumbers in a container, fill an 18-inch-diameter pot with a high quality potting mix. Make your own mix by combining equal parts potting soil, compost and vermiculite, a mineral that helps retain moisture. Plant three seeds 1 inch deep in the middle of each container. When seedlings have reached 4 inches tall, thin them to one seedling per container.

Fertilizing

cucumber flowers

Fertilize cucumber plants twice during the growing season with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as Pennington® ​All Purpose Fertilizer 34-0-0. Fertilize one week after blooming begins and again three weeks later.2

Managing Pests and Disease

Cucumbers are susceptible to fungal issues and pests. Some fungal problems can be prevented by trellising, but others, such as downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot, may require intervention. At the first sign of fungal problems, use Daconil® Fungicide Ready-To-Use, which will stop the fungus from doing further damage.

For common pests, such as cucumber beetles, aphids, squash bugs and flea beetles, you can pick the pesticide product that works best for you. Sevin® Insect Killer Ready to Use, in a convenient spray bottle, kills more than 500 insect pests by contact and keeps protecting your garden for up to three months. Just allow one day between using this liquid Sevin® product and enjoying a cucumber harvest. If you prefer dusting, use Sevin®-5 Ready-To-Use 5% Dust. It kills more than 65 insect pests and can be used up to three days before harvesting cucumbers.

Harvesting

Once the hard work is done, it's time to enjoy the fun part of growing cucumbers: the harvest. When fruits have reached the proper size for the variety, use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut the cucumber from the stem. Because cucumber vines and stems are fragile, never pull or tug on fruits, as that can damage the plant. Cucumbers mature quickly, so harvest every two days to keep fruits from getting overripe.

When planted properly, the cucumber is a simple garden plant that offers a large harvest for the space used. Whether you're growing a small bush of pickling cucumbers or a long row of slicing varieties, this prolific crop produces fresh fruit throughout the season to satisfy those summer cravings.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions, including guidelines for pre-harvest intervals (PHI) and application frequency.

Daconil is a registered trademark of GB Biosciences Corp.

Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.

Lilly Miller is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

Pennington is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.

harvesting cucumbers

Sources:

1. S. Gray, "Vegetables: Growing Cucumbers in Home Gardens," Washington State University Extension, 2013.

2. R. Westerfield, "Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden," UGA Extension, September 2013.

3. R. Jauron, "Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden," Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, April 2002.

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