How to Grow and Care for Cucumbers

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There’s nothing quite as tasty as the crisp and crunchy freshness of homegrown cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). Whether you have an outdoor space for a garden or only a small patio, there’s the perfect cucumber you can plant. Follows some of our tips in our grow guide below and you will be growing them in no time. Best of all, you don’t have to be a master gardener for growing success.

Choosing a Variety

The three major cucumber types are burpless, pickling and slicing, of which there are numerous cultivars. When choosing what type to plant, it’s best to know the growth characteristics of each variety. This allows you to select the best variety for your situation.

When purchasing seeds, the front of the packet usually shows you what the fruit looks like. Checking the back of the seed packet tells you all the important details about planting and growing the particular cultivar. You’ll find essential details such as:

  • Type
  • Fruit Size
  • Planting Depth
  • Day To Harvest
  • Height & Spread
  • Preferred Light Conditions

Whether growing in the garden or in a container, the next important factor is knowing the amount of growing space offered. After all, some cultivars sport 10-foot vines that won’t work too well confined to a small space or container.

Types of Cucumbers

Characteristics of the three major types include:

  • Pickling:  Typically bears 3- to 4-inch warty fruits, have thin skins and are usually ready for harvesting earlier than slicing types. However, the harvesting generally lasts for only seven to 10 days.
  • Slicing: Fruits average around 8 inches long, skins are thicker than pickling types and vines start bearing fruits about a week after pickling varieties. Harvesting usually continues for up to six weeks.
  • Burpless: Plants bear long, thin fruit that have a milder flavor and most of the gas-causing compound cucurbitacin has been eliminated through breeding. Asian types fall into this category.

Additionally, slicing cucumbers are further broken into the categories of bush types and vining types. Bush types sport shorter vines and produce an earlier harvest. This makes them good choices for small space gardens or containers.

On the contrary, vining types produce large, sprawling plants and require a large growing space for healthy growth. However, plants usually produce more fruits than bush plants.

Growing Season

Cucumbers are warm-season crops that are sensitive to cold temperatures. Therefore, it’s best to wait until any chance of frost has left your region before planting.

In fact, soil temperatures need to be at least 65°F before planting seeds or transplants. They won’t germinate if temperatures are below 60°F and even at 68°F, germination is slow.

Ideal Growing Site

Full Sun

Cucumbers grow best when they receive full sun for about 6 to 8 hours per day. They can grow with less, such as 5 hours per day, but they will yield less plentiful fruit and will not taste as sweet.

Well Drained Soil is Preferred

They grow best with well-drained soil. Well-drained soil allows for good aeration and also prevents root rot. Preferably the soil should also have a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5

Preparing the Soil for Planting

It’s always a good idea to get a soil test before planting to see what nutrients your soil lacks. However, if you proceed without testing, it’s still a good idea to amend the planting site’s soil with additional organic matter.

The first step in prepping the planting site is removing unwanted weed or grass growth from the area. Weeds and grasses harbor pests and diseases, as well as rob your cucumber plants of needed nutrients.

Once you have the planting site clean, add about a 6-inch layer of compost or well-aged manure. Spread it evenly over the soil and then work it into the area to a depth of about 10 inches. Rake the area even.

Next, you can form your hills and rows. The growth habit of the cultivar you choose determines your spacing.

  • For vining types, allow about 5 feet between hills.
  • For bush types, allow about 2 feet between hills.

You can use a trellis to conserve space between hills and rows. Installing a 3- to 4-foot trellis next to each hill allows the plant to grow vertically, freeing up more garden space.

Direct Seeding in the Garden

Now that you have your planting site prepped, you can plant your seeds into the garden. Plant the seeds per packet instructions or 1 to 1.5 inches deep, planting three to six per hill.

Outdoor temperatures determine how long it takes for germination of the cucumbers to occur.

  • Germination typically occurs in three to ten days.
  • Germination can occur in three days with temperatures of 80°F to 90°F.
  • Germination can take ten days when temperatures are cooler.

Thin to two to three plants per hill, snipping them off at ground level once the plants reach about 5 inches tall. Knowing the different cucumber growth stages will help you become a better gardener.

Getting an Early Start

If you want to get an early start on the season, you can start your seeds indoors about three weeks before planting outside. However, cucumbers like all cucurbits have sensitive root systems that don’t like to be disturbed.

When starting your seeds indoors, be sure to plant them in peat pots. This way, when it is time to plant outdoors, you can plant the entire pot into the soil. This assures the root system isn’t disturbed.

Keep the peat pots in a bright and warm location indoors, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Before planting in the garden, harden the plants to outdoor sun conditions for several days. Plant the cucumber transplants no deeper than they are growing in the peat pots.

Planting in Containers

Don’t fret if you do not have a large garden space because you can grow them in containers. Select a bush type that has compact growth. Shorter vining types also work well, provided you set the container next to a structure for plants to climb on.

Consider the following when selecting and prepping the container:

  • Using a 14-inch pot is usually large enough to contain two cucumber plants.
  • Make sure the container has bottom drain holes to prevent too soggy conditions leading to root rot.
  • Fill the container with a fertile potting mix that drains well.
  • Any material works well, but the soil dries faster in terra cotta than plastic, which requires more frequent water applications.

When planting your transplants in the container, plant them at the same depth they are growing in the peat pot.

Continued Care

Giving your cucumber plants the continued care they require guarantees healthy plants and a productive harvest.

Water Requirements

Due to their shallow root systems, cucumbers require consistent moisture. Always water the area after planting your seeds or transplants, whether in the garden or in containers.  

Water often and deeply, making sure to saturate the root system. This is especially critical when conditions are hot and dry.

When watering, apply at the base of the plant. Wet foliage, especially at night, can lead to disease problems. Water plants early in the day so the foliage has time to dry.  

Check the moisture in containers by sticking your finger into the soil. If the top inch feels dry, apply water until it runs from the bottom drain holes.

Fertilizer Requirements

Although cucumbers require periodic fertilization, use caution when applying nitrogen fertilizers. Applying too much and too often leads to robust foliage growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.

Osmocote slow-release pellet fertilizer on Amazon

If you are growing in containers, then once the plants germinate and have a set of true leaves, apply a time-released pelleted blend like Osmocote. Always follow label instructions on amounts.

In addition, feed weekly with a water-soluble blend high in potassium and low in nitrogen like a 9-15-30. Follow label instructions on amounts.

If you are growing in a garden, fertilize when the blossoms start forming and again in three weeks. Side-dress using a 10-10-10 blend scratched into the soil. Follow label directions on amounts or about 1/4 pound per 10 feet of growing area. After applying, water into the soil.

Weeding

Keep the planting site free of any weed growth. Unwanted weeds not only rob your vegetable required nutrients but also can harbor pests and diseases.

Harvesting

Depending on the variety, you can expect to harvest your cucumbers anywhere from around 50 to about 70 days after planting. The size of your harvest will depend on the cultivar and its use.

For example, you can harvest pickling types when the fruit is anywhere from 2 inches to 6 inches long. For slicing types, it’s best to harvest when the fruit is 6 inches to 8 inches long. Unless it’s a yellow-colored variety, don’t allow the cucumbers to start turning yellow before harvesting or the fruit will taste bitter.

When harvesting, trim the stems off the vine so you don’t damage the vines. It’s best to do your harvesting in the morning and not during the afternoon’s hot conditions.

If you want even more plentiful harvests, you can also check out our page on cucumber companion plants.

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About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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