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Cucumber Growing Tips

Cucumber on vineCucumbers–natives of India–love warm weather. Wait until soil and air temperatures averages 70°F each day before sowing or transplanting cumbers to the garden.

While warm temperatures are required for growing, cucumbers require a relatively short season–55 to 60 days from sowing to harvest. In long-season regions, you can plant successive crops. In cool or short-season regions, choose the warmest time of the year for growing cucumbers.

Here are a few tips for growing cucumbers:

• Cucumber sex. Cucumbers are either monoecious or gynecious. Monoecious plants have both male and female flowers on the same plant; the first flowers that appear are male or non-fruiting; fruiting female flowers appear 7 to 10 days after at the end of shoots. Gynecious cucumbers have only female flowers. They require a male flower on a nearby plant for pollination. (Packets of gynecious cucumber seeds commonly contain pollinator-plant seeds; these seeds will be color coated for identification.) Cucumbers are pollinated by visiting insects or birds. (Most cucumber varieties are monoecious.)

• Sowing and planting. Cucumber seeds will germinate in as little as three days when the soil temperature is 80° to 90°F. Sow cucumber seed indoors about three weeks before setting seedlings into the garden. Start cucumbers indoors in individual pots so that the roots are not disturbed at transplanting. Set out cucumber starts when the garden soil temperature is 70°F or greater. You can speed garden soil warming by covering the planting area with black plastic mulch or by using mounds or raised rows to grow cucumbers.

• Spacing. Plant cucumbers in full sun and set bush cucumbers 18 to 24 inches apart and vining varieties at least 24 to 36 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Cucumbers like well-drained roots so planting on mounds is a good idea. Set three plants on mounds 3 feet across; space mounds 6 feet apart. Set trellises or pole supports in place before you plant seedlings. To prevent diseases, air circulation around plants is important.

• Protection. Cucumbers do not like chilly weather or chilly soil. They will die back with even a touch of frost. When night temperatures fall below 65°F protect cucumbers with floating row covers.

Lemon cucumber
Lemon cucumber

• Water. Cucumbers are 96 percent water. For best growth, they require uninterrupted moisture from sprouting to harvest. Water seedlings well, and keep soil moist throughout the season especially when flowering and fruiting. Bitter and misshapen fruit are the result of water stress. To stem moisture evaporation, cover the soil with black plastic or thick compost mulch after planting.

• Feeding. Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Add plenty of aged compost or manure to the planting bed in advance of sowing. Before you plant, place aged compost or manure at the bottom of each planting hole and throw in a buffer inch or two of native soil. (An all-purpose organic fertilizer, 10-30-10 can be used–follow the label directions.) This will get plants off to a strong start. Apply compost tea or manure tea at transplanting or two weeks after seedlings emerge. Feed again with compost tea in three weeks or when the first flowers appear. When the first fruits set, water each plant with compost tea or side-dress each plant with a shovel full of compost. If leaves are pale, give plants a dose of fish emulsion. But be careful not to give squashes too much nitrogen; nitrogen will increase leafy growth but cut fruit yield.

• Prune. Cucumbers easily grow on trellises, cages, fences, or poles. A 4-foot-high wire cage is about the right size. When vines reach the top of the cage, trellis or fence, pinch out the fuzzy growing tip. This will allow plants to spread laterally. Fruits that grow curved on the ground will grow straight when hanging from supports.

• Problems. Cucumbers are susceptible to diseases and pests. Squash beetles and striped cucumber beetles can be regular visitors–feeding at night. (Cucumber beetles are attracted to the bitter compound in the skin of many cucumber varieties.) Handpick these pests in the early morning or plant varieties that don’t have the bitter compound–‘Holland’, ‘Aria’, and ‘Lemon’ are good choices. Cucumbers can also be plagued by wilts and powdery mildew. Plant disease resistant varieties: look for letter codes indicating diseases resistant, leaf spot (LS), anthracnose (A), wilt (BW), mosaic (M), scab (S), and mildew (DM).

• Harvest. Harvest cucumbers when they are green, firm, and moderate size. Harvest slicing cucumbers when 6-10 inches long, pickling (sweet pr baby dills when 1-6 inches long, regular dills when 3-4 inches long. The best rule is pick cucumbers as soon as they reach useable size. Cucumbers left on the vine too long will become seedy and bitter. Cucumbers that are dull, puffy, and yellowing are past their prime. A prompt harvest will allow plants to set new fruit. Fruit left to mature on the plant will completely stop the set of new fruit.

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16 Comments

    • Small immature fruit dropping from the cucumber plant is likely a sign of insufficient pollination. Plant bee and insect attracting flowering plants around the garden to encourage more pollinators to visit often; plant asters, fennel, borage, oregano, sunflowers, salvia, and lavender. You can hand pollinate cucumber flowers by removing a male flower (the ones with no tiny fruit at the base), remove the petals, and rub the pollen producing stamen against the stigma of the female flower (the female flower has a tiny immature fruit at the base of its stem). The best time to hand pollinate is in the morning. One more possible cause of blossom and fruit drop is cold nights or dips in the daytime temperature.

      • Thanks to your amazing website, I now understand the many, many reasons why my first attempt at cukes, squash, and melons was such a magnificent failure last year. Being a novice gardener, I freaked out considerably when the male blossoms dropped long before the females had even arrived. It might be a silly question, but will these types of plants flower again? Assuming weather conditions improve and the plant remains healthy, will Mother Nature give it a second chance to produce male/female blossoms? (They didn’t thrive long enough for me to figure that out, then powdery mildew set in and nothing I tried helped. Any tips on that would be helpful, too.) THANK YOU!

        • Yes, your cucumber plant will flower throughout the season. It will produce male and female flowers until the first frost comes. Stagger the planting of cucumbers if you are growing more than one plant. Plant one today and another in two weeks and another in two more weeks. Staggered planting will ensure that one of the plants is producing female flowers at the same time that male flowers are blooming. And the bees and other pollinators will do the rest.

  1. As a novice gardener, I planted two bush crop cucumber plants too close together (about 8inches apart). It has been a week and am wondering if I should try to transplant them further apart or just deal with the crowding. I read that cucumber roots are very sensitive so I am hesitant to move them. Thanks

    • If you want to re-plant the cucumbers do it soon, before the feeder roots are established. A week is not too long to replant. If you decide to leave the plants in place, side-dress them with compost throughout the season so that both have adequate nutrients.

    • Cucumber blossom drop is commonly caused by poor weather conditions–too hot or too cold or rain–or by lack of pollination. Male flowers appear on the plant first followed by female flowers–with a very small fruit at the stem end of the blossom. You can hand pollinate by rubbing a male flower against a female flower. If the weather has been very hot, simply wait for temperatures to moderate.

    • Female flowers, when pollinated, will develop fruit. At 4 inches the plant is still young. You can nip the bloom off, let the plant grow larger, and more blooms will come later. It’s early in the season; allow the plant to mature further; it will then support blooms and fruit.

  2. I want to plant cucumbers that will grow inside a fully enclosed breezeway (and therefore not be amenable to pollination by insects). What cucumber variety can I plant under these conditions that has short to medium (3-4 feet) vines?

    • Plant a parthenocarpic cucumber variety such as ‘Sweet Success’, ‘Euro-American’, ‘Socrates’, ‘Tyria’, ‘Diva’, ‘Tasty Jade’, and ‘Suyo Long’. Be sure to order a bush (not pole) cultivar.

    • If you still have two to three months of the growing season where you are then nipping off flowers and young fruit will allow the plant to grow stronger. An alternative to nipping off all of the flowers and fruit is nipping off half; this too would allow the plant to gain strength. Place a tomato cage around the plant or stake it to support the main stem and lateral branches if you allow the fruit to grow on.

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