How to Grow Cucumber

Cucumber on leafCucumber is a tender annual that grows best in temperatures ranging from 60° to 90°F. Sow cucumber seed in the garden after the soil has warmed, 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring. Sow cucumber seed indoors as early as 6 weeks before transplanting into the garden. Cucumbers require 55 to 65 frost-free days from sowing to reach harvest.

Description. Cucumber is a weak-stemmed tender annual that grows 8 to 12 inches tall and sprawl on the ground or up over small trellises or supports. Leaves are somewhat heart shaped with rough margins; leaves and stems are covered with prickly short hairs. Fowers are yellow. Fruit is commonly pale or dark green but some varieties are yellow or white; fruit ranges in size from 3 inches to more than 24 inches long.

Most cucumbers are monoecious, meaning plants produce both female and male flowers. Female flowers are commonly pollinated by insects after visiting male flowers.

Newer cucumber varieties are gynoecious producing only female flowers. These plants must be set near a monoecious plant for pollination or must be pollinated by hand. Gynoecious cultivars include ‘Conquest,’ ‘Early Pride,’ and ‘Bush Baby.’

• Cucumber varieties include bush or vining plants; vining cultivars require more space but produce more fruit.

Pickling cucumbers have thin, pale green skin, bear fruit early, and concentrate fruiting in a 10 days period.

Slicing cucumbers, for fresh eating, commonly are green skinned and set fruit for 4 to 6 weeks. Slicing cucumbers include “burpless’ cultivars which are mild flavored and easy to digest.

European, English, or greenhouse cucumbers are seedless cultivars developed for greenhouse growing.

Lemon cucumbers are yellow oval-to-round heirloom cucumbers.

Asian cucumbers are thin, heavily ribbed cultivars that grow from 12- to 24-inches long.

• Gherkin is a term used for any pickling cucumber; however, a true gherkin is not a cucumber but the fruit of a different species, Cucumis anguria.

Cornichons is the generic French term for any small cucumber.

Yield. Grow 2 to 3 cucumber plants per household member for fresh eating. Grow 3 to 4 plants per quart for pickling.

Site. Grow cucumbers in full sun. Cucumbers will tolerate partial shade. They prefer loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting. Cucumbers prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Set trellises or support in place before planting.

Planting time. Cucumbers are tender annuals that grow best in temperatures ranging from 60° to 90°F. Sow cucumbers in the garden after the soil has warmed, 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring. Sow cucumber seed indoors as early as 6 weeks before transplanting into the garden. Cucumbers require 55 to 65 frost-free days from sowing to reach harvest.

Planting and spacing. Sow cucumber seed 1 inch deep. Sow 6 to 8 seeds per mound (16 inches across) or inverted hill (make an inverted hill by removing an inch or two of soil to form a circle 12 to 16 inches across; use this soil to make a rim around the circle–this is to protect young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil leaving shallow roots exposed). When seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin to the strongest plants spaced 6 to 12 inches apart. Space hills 4 to 6 feet apart. Cut thinned seedlings off at soil level with scissors to avoid disturbing the roots of remaining plants.

Water and feeding. Keep cucumbers evenly moist with regular watering. Do not let the soil dry out. Cucumbers are about 95 percent water and require regular water for fast, even growth. Leaves may wilt in the afternoon in hot weather; that is because plants are taking up water faster than roots can supply. If plants are wilted in the morning, the soil is too try and needs immediate water. Mulch to avoid soil compaction caused by heavy watering.

Add aged compost to planting beds before planting. Side dress cucumbers at midseason with aged compost. Keep planting beds free of weeds which compete for soil nutrients and water.

Companion plants. Beans, corn, peas, pumpkins, and squash. Do not grow cucumbers with potatoes and herbs.

Care. Keep cucumber growing beds weed free; cultivate shallowly to avoid disturbing roots.

Cucumbers have separate male and female flowers. The first flowers to appear are male flowers which will not produce fruit. Female flowers appear a week or so later and are pollinated by the male flowers commonly with the help of insects. If plants are indoors where pollinating insects can not come or if pollination is slow or does not occur, use a soft-bristled brush to dust inside a male flower then carefully dust the inside of a female flower (a female flower will have an immature fruit on its stem, a male won’t).

Once fruits form set each one on a wooden plank so that it does not have direct contact with the soil; this will allow cucumbers to mature with less exposure to insects. Harvest cucumbers as soon as they reach size; mature cucumbers left on the vine will suppress the production of new flowers and fruit.

Container growing. Many dwarf or mini-cucumber varieties will grow in a pot as small as 6 inches. Check the description of the cucumber and its space requirements. ‘Potluck’ is a small growing variety. Larger cucumbers for containers include ‘Patio Pik’ and ‘Bush Whopper.’ Use a 12- to 18-inch trellis, stake, or other support to increase the yield of container-grown cucumbers.

Pests. Cucumbers are attacked by aphids and cucumber beetles. Control aphids by hosing them off with a blast of water or pinching out infested vegetation. Cucumber beetles spread cucumber bacterial wilt when feeding on plant tissue. Hand-pick them off the vines and destroy them.

Get cucumber disease and pest cures and controls: click here.

Diseases. Cucumbers plants are susceptible to scab, mosaic, and mildew. Keep the garden clean of debris and weeds that can harbor pests and disease. Remove diseased plants immediately; put them in a paper bag and throw them in the trash to avoid the spread of disease. Plant disease resistant varieties. Look for the following coding to indicate disease resistance: leaf spot (LS), anthracnose (A), bacterial wilt (BW), mosaic (M), scab (S), and downy mildew (DM).

Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles; plants suddenly wilt and die just as they begin to produce. Control beetles as soon as they appear.

Downy mildew, a fungal disease, will cause some cucumber leaves to turn grayish white late in the season. Plant resistant varieties and space plants further apart to increase air circulation.

Harvest. Cucumbers will be ready for harvest 55 to 65 days from sowing. Size at harvest will depend upon variety: Slicing cucumbers are picked when they are 6 to 10 inches long; pickling cucumbers–sweet or dill–are picked when 1 to 6 inches long; Regular dills are picked when 3 to 4 inches long. Hothouse-grown English or Armenian cucumbers are picked when 12 to 15 inches long.

Varieties. Cucumbers are divided into the slicing cucumbers for fresh eating and pickling cucumbers. There dozens of varieties to choose from. In the list below “gyn” denotes gynoecious.

Slicing: Ashley (66 days); Comet II (gyn-60 days); Dasher II (55 days); General Lee (gyn-55 days); Jazzer (48 days); Marketmore (76 days); Poinsett (65 days); Revenue (gyn-48 days); Slice King (49 days); Spacemaster (60 days); Speedway (gyn-56 days); Supersett (53 days); Sweet Slice (62 days); Tasty Green (55 days); Ultra-Slice Early (56 days).

Pickling: Baby Bush (51 days); Calypso (gyn-56 days); Conquest (gyn-50 days); Cross Country (51 days); Edmondson (70 days); Green Spear (gyn-55 days); Pik Rite (gyn-63 days); Salty (53 days); Spear It (gyn-52 days); Sumter (56 days).

Burpless: Comet II (gyn-60 days); Green Knight (60 days); Jazzer (48 days); Perfection (60 days); Sweet Slice (62 days); Tasty Green (55 days).

Greenhouse: Aidas (gyn-65 days); Carmen (gyn-65 days); English Telegraph (65 days).

Container varieties: Patio Pic (50 days); Potluck (50 days); Spacemaster (60 days); Bush Whopper.

• Others: Lemon (64 days); Long White (65 days); White Wonder (60 days).

Storing and preserving. Pickling and slicing cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. Hothouse cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Be sure the temperature is not too low or cucumbers will freeze and turn soft. Pickled cucumbers will keep for up to 1 year.

Common name. Cucumber

Botanical name. Cucumis sativus

Origin. Asia