Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Cucumbers
An easy-care vegetable that loves sun and water, cucumbers grow quickly as long as they receive consistent watering and warmth. Don’t let cucumbers get too large before you pick or they will taste bitter! See how to plant, grow, and harvest cucumbers in your garden.
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There are two types of cucumber plants: vining cucumbers and bush cucumbers.
Vining cucumbers, the most common varieties, grow on vigorous vines shaded by large leaves. The growth of these plants is fast, and the crop yield is abundant if you care for them properly. Vining varieties grow best when trained up a trellis or fence. Since they grow off the ground, the fruits will be cleaner—versus those that grow directly atop soil—often more abundant, and easier to pick.
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Bush cucumbers, however, are nicely suited to containers and small gardens.
If you’re interested in making pickles, we recommend several prolific varieties below that are bred especially for pickling, such as heirloom ‘Boston Pickling’ or ‘Calypso’. For crispy pickles, be sure to prepare them within a few hours of harvesting!
When to Plant Cucumbers
For an early crop, sow cucumber seeds indoors about 3 weeks before you plan to transplant them in the ground. Provide bottom heat of about 70ºF (21ºC) with a heating pad or place the seed flats on top of a refrigerator or water heater.
Cucumber plants should be seeded outdoors or transplanted outside in the ground no earlier than 2 weeks after the last frost date. Cucumbers are extremely susceptible to frost and cold damage; the soil must be at least 70ºF (21ºC) for germination. Seedlings set best at that temperature, too. (In cooler climates, warm the soil by covering it with black plastic.) Do not plant outside too soon!
Make successive plantings (every 2 weeks) for continued harvests through the season. In warm soil, cucumbers will grow quickly and ripen in about 6 weeks.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
Select a site with full sun. Cucumbers need warmth and lots of light.
Cucumbers require fertile soil. Prior to planting, add about 2 inches of aged manure and/or compost to the bed and work it in to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Soil should be moist but well-draining (not soggy) and warm.
Soil should be neutral or slightly acidic with a pH of around 6.5 to 7.0.
Improve clay soil by adding organic matter. Improve dense, heavy soil by adding peat, compost, or rotted manure. (Get a soil test if you are unsure of your soil type; contact your local county cooperative extension.) Light, sandy soils are preferred for northern gardens, as they warm quickly in the spring. See our guide to soil amendments.
How to Plant Cucumbers
Plant seeds 1 inch deep and about 3 to 5 feet apart in a row, depending on variety (see seed packet for details). For vines trained on a trellis, space plants 1 foot apart.
Cucumbers can also be planted in mounds (or “hills”) that are spaced 1 to 2 feet apart, with 2 to 3 seeds planted in each mound. Once plants reach 4 inches in height, thin them to one plant per mound.
If you live in the cooler climates, you can help warm the soil prior to planting by covering the hill or row with black plastic.
After planting, mulch around the area with straw, chopped leaves, or another organic mulch to keep pests at bay, and also keep bush types off the ground to avoid disease.
A trellis is a good idea if you want the vine to climb, or if you have limited space. Trellising also protects the fruit from damage from lying on the moist ground. See how to build a trellis and support for vining vegetables.
Cover freshly planted cucumber seeds with row covers, netting, or a berry basket if you have pests; this will keep them from digging out the seeds.
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How to Grow Cucumbers
When seedlings emerge, begin to water frequently.
The main care requirement for cucumbers is consistent watering! They need at least one inch of water per week (or more, if temperatures are particularly high). Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting fruit.
Water slowly in the morning or early afternoon, and avoid getting the leaves wet, as that may encourage leaf diseases that can ruin the plant. If possible, water your cucumbers with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep the foliage dry.
Mulch around plants to retain soil moisture.
Cover young plants with row covers or berry baskets if pests appear.
When seedlings reach 4 inches tall, thin plants so that they are at least 1½ feet apart.
If you’ve worked organic matter into the soil before planting, you may only need to side-dress your plants with compost or well-rotted manure sparingly.
Otherwise, fertilize the plants with a liquid 5-10-10 fertilizer. Apply 1 week after the plant starts blooming and every 3 weeks thereafter, directly to the soil around the plants. Or, you can work a granular fertilizer into the soil. Do not over-fertilize or the fruits will get stunted.
If you have limited space or would prefer vertical vines, set up trellises early to avoid damage to seedlings and vines.
Spray vines with sugar water to attract bees and set more fruit.
Little or No Fruit:
If your cucumber plants do not set fruit, it’s not usually caused by a disease. There is probably a pollination issue. The first flowers are usually all male. Both female and male flowers must be blooming at the same time for fruit to set. This may not happen early in the plant’s life, so be patient. (Female flowers are the ones with a small cucumber-shaped swelling at the base that will become the fruit; male flowers do not have this swelling at the base.)
Lack of fruit may also be due to poor pollination by bees, especially due to rain or cold temperatures, or insecticides. To rest assured, you could always hand pollinate. (Dip a Q-tip into the male pollen and transfer it to the center of the female flower.)
Remember, gynoecious hybrid varieties (those that produce primarily female flowers) require companion cucumber plants with male flowers in order to produce fruit.
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