How to Grow Cucumbers in Your Home Garden
This guide explains how to grow cucumbers, including how to grow cucumbers from seed, when to plant and a trick to produce cukes with no bitterness.
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Cucumbers can be one of the most rewarding vegetables you grow in your garden. They grow quickly and just a few plants can give you an abundance of cucumbers throughout the season! Here’s how to grow cucumbers, from seed to harvest.
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Cucumber Growing Basics
Cucumber plants crave two things above all else: heat and water. This means that you have to wait for consistently warm days before you can plant them. They also need regular watering, so your planting location should be a spot you can easily reach with a hose or watering can. Finally, keep in mind that cucumbers will taste better and produce more with frequent harvests. Get out your favorite cucumber recipes and have them ready!
- Vining: Vining cucumbers have long vines that can either run along the ground, grow from small mounds, or better yet, climb up a support like a trellis or fence. Growing cucumbers vertically also saves you garden space and increases your harvest.
- Bush: Bush varieties of cucumbers are smaller and ideal for container growing but are available in fewer types and varieties than vining.
Growing Cucumbers from Seed
Cucumbers can’t be planted outside until well after the last possible frost date, and this can be a frustration for Northern growers. Starting the seeds indoors is a great way to get plants growing earlier and extend your growing season. Emerging seedlings will want a warm place to grow: use a heating pan under the tray or place it in the warmest, sunny location you have indoors. You can also look for seedlings or small cucumber plants at your local garden center.
Some sources say that cucumbers can be fussy about being transplanted. An easy backup plan is to save a few seeds to plant directly in the ground once it’s warm enough. That way, if your seedlings struggle after transplanting, you will have a backup crop underway.
Where to Plant Cucumbers
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Assess your garden space to choose the type of cucumbers to grow. Vining cucumbers grown on the ground will need as much as four feet of space between plants, but trellised cucumbers need only a foot of spacing. (And strong support, of course!) Bush varieties produce fewer cucumbers than vining but give you lots of flexibility in smaller gardens or in containers that you can place where you want.
Like tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers need all the sun they can get. Find a growing location that gets six to eight hours per day. Cucumbers also need soil that drains well and is full of nutrient-rich, organic matter. If your soil is lacking, you can always amend it by working in several inches of aged compost or manure. This rich soil will also hold moisture more effectively, and that will help your cukes.
The Best Time to Plant
Remember: Cucumbers crave heat, and they also hate the cold. Cucumber plants are very vulnerable to cold snaps—because of this, it’s recommended to wait until two weeks after the last threat of frost before planting seeds or seedlings. The air temperature should be consistently above 70° F.
Plant seeds about one inch deep in well-drained, rich soil. Gardeners who have soil prone to waterlogging and poor drainage grow cucumbers on small mounds that are four to six inches high. The elevation helps moisture drain away and prevent root rot.
For spacing, allow three to four feet between vining cucumbers growing on the ground, one foot between cucumbers growing on vertical supports, and two to three feet between bush types of cucumbers.
Tools You’ll Need for Growing Cucumbers
Caring for Your Cukes
Once established, cucumbers grow fast and are relatively easy garden vegetable to care for. That doesn’t mean you can just ignore them, though! Here’s what to do to care for your cukes:
- Water regularly: Consistent moisture will keep your plants healthy and turn out cucumbers that are less bitter. Aim to give your plants at least an inch of water each week, and more during extremely hot stretches. Also, water cucumbers at their bases, keeping the leaves dry. (A soaker hose is ideal here.) Doing this helps prevent powdery mildew from setting in.
- Mulch around the base: Add a layer of mulch or straw at the base of cucumber plants to keep the soil warm and moist, and to deter pests.
- Keep an eye out for pests: Check your plants and growing cucumbers for pests like slugs, cucumber beetles or powdery mildew. Catching these early will give you the best chance of keeping plants healthy.
Harvesting Your Cucumbers
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Pick your cucumbers often, as soon as they reach a usable size and before seeds are fully formed inside. To harvest cucumbers, get out your garden shears and snip the stem close to the top of the vegetable. Resist the urge to just rip the cucumbers off the vine, because this could damage the plant.
Tips for Growing the Best and Tastiest Cucumbers
Cucumber plants produce male and female flowers, and you need pollinators to get pollen from one to the other to grow cucumbers. Encourage bees and other beneficial insects to visit your garden: plant some of their favorite flowers nearby and limit your use of pesticides that hurt pollinators. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests spraying cucumber vines with a sugar-water solution to help attract bees!
Plant sunflowers for sweeter cukes
Seasoned gardeners know the benefits of planting companion vegetables: plants that actually help each other grow better.
Gardeners have discovered that cucumbers taste sweeter when they’re planted next to sunflowers. Why is this? Cucumbers have natural compounds, cucurbitacins, that can create a bitter flavor, and these compounds can increase if plants are stressed from drought or temperature. Sunflowers seem to help by releasing an enzyme called elastase that neutralizes cucurbitacins. Sunflowers can also serve as climbing support for smaller varieties of cucumbers, whose vines will twine up the stalks.
Because cucumber plants grow fast and can be prolific, you may find yourself picking cucumbers every few days! But since cucumbers picked earlier are sweeter, it’s definitely worth it. And the more you pick, the more cucumbers your plants will give you.