Cucumber Growing Tips
Pick Cucumbers At The Right Time – Harvesting cucumbers on time is an extremely important part of cucumber care. When cucumbers reach full maturity they will signal to the plant that it can stop producing fruit and the plant will start to produce less.
Generally cucumbers that have a diameter greater than 2″ or start to yellow are past their prime picking time. Check out this article for more on picking cucumbers at the right time.
Use a Trellis – Using a trellis can save a lot of room in a garden and allow you to grow whatever variety you want in a tight space. You can combine a trellis with a potted cucumber if you don’t have a garden plot or raised bed to grow in.
You normally need to leave 4-6 feet in between cucumber rows but with a trellis you can cut that down to around 2′ between rows. Putting the trellis in at the time of planting is good gardening practice to not disturb roots later on and so it’s there ready to train the cucumbers up it when they’re ready.
Trellising will increase sunshine the foliage receives and increase air circulation which will lead to healthier and disease free plants.
By keeping the cukes off the ground they will grow into straighter shaped cucumbers. It also provides a better view of the plant and fruit as they come along so you can pick at the right time.
Whatever you decide to use as the trellis it should have holes large enough to pull a cuke through from either side.
Row Covers – You can increase the soil temperature by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit and protect young plants with row covers. Row covers protect young plants from harsh weather conditions and keep the cucumber beetles off of them.
A black plastic tarp or a layer of mulch can also increase the soil temperature slightly less but slightly less than a clear row cover. These two options will keep weeds from growing around the cucumber plants but will not create the physical barrier around the plants that prevent frost or pests from landing on the plants.
Watering Cucumbers – Cucumbers like less frequent deep waterings of about 1-2″ per week. Check out this article for more on how to water cucumbers.
Monoecious Cucumbers vs. Gynoecious Cucumbers –
Most cucumber varieties are monoecious with cucumber plants that have both male and female flowers on the same plant. These varieties will have more male than female flowers at a ratio aournd 10-1.
Gynoecious varieties are bred to produce only female flowers. Many new hybrid varieties created and now planted commercially are gynoecious because more female flowers means more cucumbers.
If you buy a gynoecious cucumber seed packet there will most likely be a few monoecious seeds included that are marked by color with a marker or dye.
These are needed because you need some male flowers to pollinate the female flowers and produce fruit. Make sure to mark these plants if you practice thinning down after planting to leave the monoecious plants.
Cow Pots & Heating Pads – Cucumbers have root systems that are sensitive to transplanting. If you do start them inside use Cow Pots or peat pots or another starter system where you can transplant the whole pod into the ground and mostly avoid handling the bare roots.
I first saw Cow Pots on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Cow pots are made by a third generation American dairy farmer out of cow manure but they are clean and stink free and a great starter system and addition to the soil.
By starting inside you can get a head start on the season. Plant 2 seeds per pot and thin down to one when the plant reaches 4-6 inches.
A heating pad is not necessary but can be used to create a warmer soil temperature for seedlings that will speed up the germination process. This creates a stable and uniform heat that placing the seedlings on an appliance or a water heater will not give.
If you do use a heating pad make sure to remove it once the seeds have sprouted. The ideal soil temperature for cucumber seeds to sprout is around 80 degrees while the ideal temperatures for a cucumber seedling indoors is around 65 degrees.
Choosing a Cucumber Starter Plant From a Nursery – When purchasing cucumber starts from the store take note of how much outside conditions the plants are exposed to and look towards the top rack for cucumber plants that are used to the full sun.
Look for evenly distributed growth, not too spindly and and not too compact. Any flowers or fruit is generally a negative on starter plants as the plant will take time and energy to revert back completely to a vegetative growth phase.
Proper Spacing – A tighter plant density usually leads to better use of gardening space and higher cucumber yields but it also has its drawbacks. A problem with overcrowding is the lack of air circulation.
Powdery mildew can creep in with high humidity levels and foliage on top of each other. Good air circulation and watering from below is easily achieved when the cucumbers are growing on a trellis. If powdery mildew is a common problem for you year after year look for resistant varieties or spray the plants with neem oil.
If cucumbers are growing on the ground adequate spacing, irrigation hoses or watering early in the day to give foliage time to dry before night is good practice. Keep weeds out and clear space around the cucumbers to provide more air circulation.
Check out “How Many Cucumbers Do You Get Per Plant” for more ideas on increasing cucumber yields.
Hardening Off Cucumber Starter Plants – Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold so wait for temperatures of 65 degrees and above to start hardening them off. When hardening off transplants start them for a few hours a day in mostly shade and not much wind and progressively get up to 8 hours outside with full sun and wind.
Hand Pollinate Cucumbers – To hand pollinate use a paint brush and swirl it around a male flower and then a female flower. This video shows the difference between male and female cucumber flowers and shows how to hand pollinate the female flowers.
Do Cucumbers Like Sun or Shade?
Cucumbers grow best in full sun. Choose a place where the cukes will receive 6-8 hours of full sun a day. By planting on a trellis you can increase the amount of sunshine the plant will receive and the increase in sunshine will pay off in greater yields. Here’s an article that tells all about the benefits of growing cucumbers with a trellis.
When to Pinch Off Cucumber Flowers
Pinching off cucumber flowers can be beneficial at two times, once at the start of production and again towards the end of production.
You need be able to tell the difference between male and female flowers to know which ones to pinch off but it’s also important because after you see a female flower open you know that harvest time is coming and you can know you’ll need to be harvesting soon.
A female flower will have a cylindrical growth behind the flower that looks like a miniature cucumber whereas the male will not. Also the stem will be thicker going to the female flower than the male flower.
After a female flower opens it can be pollinated and once that happens it can produce a cucumber ready to harvest in 7-21 days. Pickling cucumbers produce cucumbers ready for harvest quicker than slicing cucumber varieties.
The first time you might want to pinch off flowers on the cucumber plant is as soon as the plant is producing female flowers. The first flowers to appear are always male and then 1-2 weeks later female flowers appear on the plant.
If you pinch off the first few female flowers or starts of cucumbers as they begin to grow this will send a signal to the plant that it needs to bear more female flowers which will lead to more cucumbers.
The second time it makes sense to pinch flowers off cucumber plants is if you know that cold weather is coming and the season is coming to an end. In this case by pinching off around 25-40% of the female flowers you can ensure the plant puts its’ energy into the remaining flowers and hopefully bears fruit before cold weather shuts down production.
Can Cucumbers Survive Frost?
Cucumbers are warm weather plants and are extremely sensitive to cold. The planting date for cucumbers is at least two weeks after the last frost and erring on the cautious side and planting when soil and air temperatures have warmed is a good idea. Cucumbers will not survive a frost and if you plant too early you may end up having to plant twice. If you plant too late you may not get a harvest.
Using row covers can increase soil temperatures by 5-10 degrees, help protect young plants from light frosts and heavy rains, and help keep pests and rabbits from getting to them.
Please comment below with your own growing tips for cucumbers!