How To Grow Cucumbers

Nothing says summertime like the refreshing crunch of a garden fresh cucumber. Growing cucumbers is easy in a sunny, warm spot, and you’ll be harvesting them fast.

This popular garden staple is easy to plant and super productive, plus everyone, including picky eaters, enjoys munching on them.

Cucumbers are always on my must-grow list when planning out my garden. My kids can eat through baskets and baskets of these, plus we love pickles. So I make sure to plant a lot of them. It’s so easy to do. Get started by following the quick cucumber growing guide below.

basket  of cucumbers  harvested.

At a Glance

  • Determine which type of cucumbers you want to grow. Would you prefer bush or vining plants? Do you want to harvest pickling or slicing cucumbers?
  • Figure out your planting date. Cucumbers need soil to be sufficiently warm (at least 65ºF), shoot for 2 weeks after your last frost date, but check soil temps too.
  • Prepare your garden soil by adding 2 inches of fresh compost to the bed and work it in about 7 inches deep.
  • Sow seeds 1 inch deep and space plants about 3 feet apart in rows, with rows spaced at least 6 feet apart for vining varieties. If sowing in hills, mound up a 12-inch diameter hill, space hills 3 feet apart, and plant 3-5 seeds in each hill. If planting along a trellis, space seeds 1 foot apart. Once plants emerge, thin to 1 strong and healthy plant per hill.
  • Water after planting and keep the soil consistently moist, but not water-logged. When you press your finger a couple of inches into the soil, it should feel moist but not soggy.
  • Side-dress plants with compost or apply fertilizer about 1 week after the plants begin to flower
  • Harvest cucumbers when they reach the desired size, for pickling varieties around 3 inches, for slicers between 6 to 8 inches.
  • Store covered in a container or wrapped in plastic for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Picking Your Variety

When determining which type of cucumbers to grow you’ll want to consider two factors, the type of growing habitat, and the kind of cucumbers you want to eat. There are two main types in each category.

Bush vs Vining cucumbers

Cucumbers grow in either a bush or vining habitat. Vining varieties sprawl out their long vines in all different directions and can reach up to 8 feet long. These types are best for gardeners who have a large space to work with, or for those who plan to trellis the plants vertically.

Bush variety cucumbers have much more compact vines. Some varieties will only grow as long as 18 inches, while others may sprawl to around 3 feet. These types of cucumbers require much less space and are therefore better suited for gardeners growing in small spaces, raised beds, or even containers.

Pickling vs Slicing cucumbers

What type of traits are you looking for in a cucumber? Do you want to turn them into pickles? Or are you looking for a fresh eating slicer to have for snacking and salads?

Pickling varieties will produce shorter and thicker-shaped cukes with prickly bumps on the skin. These types of cucumbers are bred for their pickle-making properties and need to be harvested at a nice small size.

Slicer cucumbers are bred to have a nice mild flavor for eating fresh. They can be grown to a longer size before being harvested. These are the cucumbers you use to slice up into snacking rounds, or for dicing up and tossing into salads. They are super versatile in the kitchen and can be used for juicing or in smoothies. You can also pickle some slicing cucumbers as long as they are harvested at a small size.

Planting Your Cucumbers

Now comes the fun part… getting them in the ground!

Sowing cucumbers indoors or direct sowing?

Another consideration to make before tearing open those seed packets is whether you will start your seedlings indoors and transplant them into the garden later, or if you will sow the seeds directly into the ground outside.

From my own experience and according to gardening experts, direct-sown cucumbers perform better than transplants. Cucumbers are one of those plants that do not appreciate their roots being disturbed.

Directly sowing seeds into the ground typically results in a much more robust and hearty plant. I’ve experimented with this by planting both transplants and direct sown plants side by side and watching to see which plants do better. More often than not, the direct sown plants end up catching up to the older transplants and vigorously outperforming them in growth and production by the end of the season.

Gardeners living in colder growing zones with shorter seasons may need to start their cucumbers indoors to give them enough time to reach maturity and start producing fruit before their first frost comes. In these cases, you’ll want to start your cucumbers indoors in individual pots.

How many cucumber plants should I sow?

If you want fresh eating cucumbers for your family all season long. You’ll want to succession sow 2 to 3 plants per person every two weeks up until late summer.

If you are growing cucumbers for canning, plant 6 plants in addition to the fresh-eating ones.

When to plant cucumbers

Wait at least 2 weeks after your last frost before direct sowing cucumbers outdoors. Cucumbers are heat-loving plants that grow much better during the warmest part of the growing season. The best gauge for determining when to plant is to check the soil temperature. Wait until the soil temperature warms up to at least 65 degrees F.

growing seedlings in soil.

Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold weather. Seeds will not germinate in soils colder than 50 degrees F, and seedlings or transplants will stunt easily in cold temperatures. This can dramatically reduce yields and can even prevent the cucumbers from producing any fruit at all. Don’t rush the season!

If you live in a cold climate or are dealing with a late spring, you can still plant your cucumbers and cover them with a container like a milk carton with the lid off, or protective garden fabric. This will keep them warm enough to protect them from stunting.

Soil considerations

Cucumbers need rich and fertile soil. If you have compacted soil that is heavy with clay, you’ll need to work a lot of organic material like compost or aged manure into the soil before planting.

The best method for amending problematic soil is layering a couple of inches of compost onto the bed and then loosening the soil using a broad fork. This allows the compost to fall into the cracks and begins the process of propagating those good soil microbes deep down in the root zones.

Another crucial tip for improving soil conditions is to always have the soil covered, either with living plants, cover crops, or mulch.

Caring for them as they grow

You’ve planted them and now it’s time to w athc them grow. This happens fast, and it’s fun to watch.

How to care for cucumber plants

Once your seedlings have emerged it is important to keep them thoroughly watered. Cucumbers drink a lot but take care not to over water. Press your finger down into the soil about 2 inches deep near the base of a plant and feel for moisture. If the soil feels dry and dusty near the tip of your finger, water more. The soil should feel moist but not soggy. Aim for about an inch or two of water per week, more if the weather is very hot and less if temperatures are moderate.

watering cucumbers

Mulching around the base of each plant is another great way to lock in moisture and prevent weeds from popping up and stealing nutrients from the cucumber plants. Straw, or weed-free hay makes excellent mulch that can be left in the garden to break down overwinter into rich compost.

The mulch also serves to help keep the plants up off the moist soil. This helps in preventing fungal diseases and mitigating pest problems.

Troubleshooting cucumber plant problems:

Don’t worry too much about this section! Cucumbers are generally easy-care. But you want to be aware of these potential problems in case they pop up.

Common pests and diseases

While cucumbers are a very easy plant to grow, they are also prone to certain pests such as cucumber beetles, and squash vine borer.

Cucumber beetles can be picked off by hand and thrown into a soapy water bucket. Squash vine borers can be carefully cut out of the vines and disposed of.

Some diseases such as powdery mildew can plague cucumber plants. An easy way to combat this is by trellising the plants which increases the airflow and ventilation around the foliage, greatly reducing the chance of bacterial and fungal growth.

When and how to harvest cucumbers

You’ll know your cucumbers are ready to harvest when they reach the desired size. For pickling cucumbers, this is around 3 inches long. For slicing cucumbers allow them to reach 6 to 8 inches in length before harvesting.

You can simply twist and pull the cucumbers off the vines, or use a pair of pruning shears or scissors to cut the cucumbers from the vine.

How to store freshly harvested garden cucumbers

Cucumbers are high-water fruits, so they are best stored wrapped tightly in plastic, and kept in the refrigerator for fresh eating later.

If you are harvesting pickling cucumbers for processing and you don’t have enough volume of cukes to do a full batch yet, you can place them in a container, cover them with ice water, and store them in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days as you continue to accumulate more cucumbers from the garden. This helps the pickles to stay crisp and crunchy for that wonderful pickle texture.

Tips

  • Once cucumbers reach peak production, the plants will quickly begin to die off. You’ll notice this when the plants start turning yellow and the fruit production declines. A great way to stretch out the harvest is to succession sow new plants every two weeks until late summer. When one plant peaks and dies, you’ll have young productive plants just coming into fruit.
  • The more often you pick the cucumbers, the more productive the plants will be. Increase your harvest by keeping the plants completely picked every 1 to 3 days. If you leave even one cucumber on the plant and it begins to mature to a big and yellow color, this can signal to the plant that the season is over and it’s time to produce seeds instead of fruit. The plant will stop flowering, and the vines will begin to die down as it puts its energy into growing the seeds inside the cucumber to maturity.
  • If you do want to save cucumber seeds for next year’s planting, allow the cucumber fruits to grow large and turn a deep yellow/orange color. Then you can crack open the fruits and scoop out the seeds for drying and storing for future planting.

I love cucumbers more than the average person and actually have an entire post dedicated to my favorite cucumber types.

Pickling:

  • “Homemade Pickles Cucumber”, a great compact variety suited for small spaces.
  • “Boston Pickling Cucumber”, a tried and true pickling cucumber that’s been popular since the 1800s.

Slicing:

  • “Muncher Cucumber”, is one of our family favorites and a great cuke for fresh eating and salads.
  • “Spacemaster 80 Cucumber”, is a compact variety that produces 7-8 inch long dark green slicer cucumbers, perfect for small raised beds or even containers.

More Growing Guides:

Every plant has its own needs. Read more about the different flowers and veggies you can grow right in your backyard.

Cucumbers are easy to grow and while I hope these tips help you, don’t overthink it. Nice soil, plenty of sun, and regular watering is all they need.

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