Every home garden should have a cucumber vine or two meandering up a vertical support and producing an abundance of crisp, cool cucumbers.
Cucumbers are easy to grow and under the right garden growing conditions, just a couple of vines will keep a family eating fresh cucumbers all summer.
1. Planting Location
Cucumbers can be grown in a traditional in-ground garden, raised bed, or in containers. They don’t care where their feet (roots) are as long as their head is in the sunshine.
Cucumbers are tropical vegetables and need heat and moisture to thrive.
Select a planting location that is going to keep them in direct sunlight most of the day and close to a water source so you can easily keep plants consistently watered.
2. Choosing a Cucumber Variety
There are two types of plants and two main types of vegetable; vining and bush plants, slicing or pickling cucumber. Garden space and desired usage will determine which variety you should grow.
2.1 Vining Plants
A vining plant will grow about 10 feet and need some type of vertical support to keep the vegetables off the ground.
A trellis, fence, or porch railing will provide vertical support for the climbing vine. Corn or sunflowers used as a companion plant will also provide sturdy support for the climbing vines.
A thick layer of mulch, such as one foot of straw, can be scattered on top of the garden soil and vines allowed to grow free. However, vegetables growing that close to the ground are an easy-to-reach buffet for pests.
Vining cucumber varieties, like the popular American, Burpless Straight 8 and Marketmore, are very productive slicing varieties. Vining plants are best grown in-ground or in raised beds due to their need for tall, vertical support.
2.2 Bush Varieties
Same great cucumber flavor and vegetable size, they just grow on smaller plants.
Bush plants do not produce vines, and the plant will grow in a compact bush-style that will reach about 3-4 tall at maturity. Bush plants rarely need to be supported, but over-achieving plants might benefit from having a tomato cage placed around it to keep it upright.
The popular Straight 8 comes in a bush variety that is ideal for growing in a container. Dasher II, Sweet Success, and several pickling varieties also come in bush varieties that thrive when planted in containers.
Bush plants are also ideal for planting in small gardens since they take up less space.
2.3 Slicing Cucumbers
These are the long, straight cucumbers commonly seen in supermarkets. They’re bred for fresh eating, with thin, non-bitter skins and slow development of seeds.
The ‘burpless’ varieties of slicing cucumbers are bred to produce less of the bitter chemical that releases gas in the stomach. The slicing type will produce cucumbers throughout the summer.
Slicing varieties are crisp, cooling and good for use in salads, smoothies, beverages and to eat as-is dipped in your favorite dressing. Slicing cucumbers can be pickled, but the pickling variety will produce better results.
2.4 Pickling Cucumbers
This type is shorter, stouter, and have more spines, as well as drier flesh that allows them to soak up more of the brine they’re pickled in.
Pickling cucumbers will produce an abundance of cucumbers at the same time so you will have plenty for pickle making.
They will continue to produce during the summer, but not as prolific as the first harvest. Pickling cucumbers come in vining and bush types. They are also great for eating as-is.
3. Growing From Seeds
Cucumbers seeds can be started indoors in small pots six weeks prior to the last frost date in your area so you’ll have strong plants ready for the garden.
You can also wait until after the last frost in spring and plant the seeds directly into the ground or growing container.
4. Soil Prep
Add several inches of compost to the selected sunny garden location, and till into the depth of 6 inches, then rake the garden soil level.
Seeds are planted in small hills created in prepared soil. Form each soil hill about 12 inches in diameter and 6 inches high and two feet apart for bush varieties or vines that will be given vertical support.
5. Planting Seeds in-Ground
Scratch out a hole that is four inches in diameter and four inches deep in the center of each soil hill. Place a handful of compost in the hole, place two cucumber seeds on top of the compost, then add another handful of compost on top of the seeds.
Water in well. The compost center hole where the seeds are planted should be slightly lower than the surrounding soil of the planting hill. This indentation will act as a mini reservoir to catch and hold water for the seed germination process.
Keep the garden soil worked to prevent weed growth and soil crusting until the vines begin running, then apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch for the cucumber vines to grow on. For vining plants, install the vertical supports at this time.
If cucumber vines will run freely on the garden soil, form planting hills 6 feet apart. Apply one foot of organic mulch within a 10 feet radius of plants when vines begin to run.
6. Container Prep
Select a container that is at least one foot wide and one foot deep. Make sure the selected planting container has sufficient drainage holes on the bottom, then place a coffee filter over the holes inside the container to prevent the potting soil from leaching out.
Place a handful of Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom of the container before adding growing medium to help prevent soil compaction and improve drainage.
7. Growing Medium
Cucumbers are heavy feeders and drinkers, so start with a good quality potting soil that contains perlite.
Perlite is a volcanic rock that looks like small pieces of Styrofoam that have excellent water-retaining ability to help keep the soil moist throughout the growing season.
Container grown plants dry out very quickly in the heat of summer, so perlite is an essential ingredient in the growing medium.
Create a growing medium that is two-thirds potting soil and one-third compost. Add a handful of perlite if the potting soil does not contain it.
Fill the container to within one inch of the top rim. Scratch out a 4-inch deep and 4-inch wide hole in the center, add a handful of compost, then place two seeds on the compost.
Then add another handful of compost on top of the seeds.
Finally, water container thoroughly and place in a full sun location.
Keep soil moist until seeds germinate. Allow seeds to reach 4 inches tall, then remove the weakest looking plant to transplant elsewhere. Add a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, like straw or compost, on top of the soil.
8. Harvest Time
All cucumber varieties will take between 50-65 days from planting time until harvest time. Read the seed packet label to determine exactly how long a specific variety will take to reach maturity.
Cucumbers can be harvested at any stage of growth but will have the best flavor and smallest seeds when they are between 4-6 inches long. Harvest by snipping the vegetable off the vine at the mid-way point of the stem.
All plants have companions that help them grow and develop to their fullest potential. They also have plants that are non-compatible, called combative plants, that will hinder the growth and development of the plant and produce.
Good companion plants for cucumbers are corn, sunflowers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, and peas. Plant these in close proximity to cucumbers for mutual benefits.
Non-compatible (combative) plants that compete with cucumbers for same soil nutrients, change the flavor of cucumbers and/or attract harmful pests to the plant are all herbs, melons, and potatoes. Keep these plants at least six feet away from cucumber plants.
Common Pest Problems
Pests are the problem in any vegetable garden, with certain pest always looking for a free meal.
Aphids are one of those indiscriminate plant pests that will literally suck the life from a plant by hiding under the leaves and sucking the plant sap. Aphids like the tasty sap of cucumber plants.
Slugs, snails and cucumber beetle are also a common problem.
Pick off the larger pests by hand, then spray the entire plant (especially the underside of leaves) with this DIY organic garden pest spray: Place 2 cups of hot pepper (fresh or dried) and 2 cups of water in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour mixture into a pot and boil on low heat 5 minutes, then strain to remove pepper seeds. Pour hot pepper mix into a spray bottle, add 5 drops of liquid dish detergent and shake well. Spray hot pepper mix on cucumber plant once a week.
This organic hot pepper pest spray is safe for use on all vegetable and flower plants.