Like many vegetables and fruits, cucumbers always taste better when they're home grown. Growing cucumbers in containers is easy and hugely rewarding, provided you grow the right variety, but there are a few things that are helpful to know.
As is true with growing most vegetables and fruits in containers, bigger is much better when choosing your container. Bigger containers (12, 14, 16, 18 or even 24 inches in diameter) hold more potting soil, which in turn retains water for a longer period of time. Cucumbers depend on a consistent level moisture. If a container is too small, it contains only a small amount of soil which will dry out fairly quickly. A suitable container for growing cucumbers is an Earthbox or other self-watering container. It's also possible to grow cucumbers in a straw bale garden, though you might want to read about the pros and cons of straw bale gardening before you start.
You should plant one or two cucumber plants per square foot of potting soil. If you are planting seeds or seedlings in an Earthbox or another brand of grow box, plant four seedlings per box.
Your cucumber container garden requires at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Many gardeners tend to overestimate how much sun an area gets, so it's beneficial to know exactly how much direct sun an area gets before you place your container there. Use either a sun calculator or a watch to record how many hours the sun reaches a specific area.
Always purchase a good quality potting mix or potting soil or container mix. Use an organic potting soil that does not contain fertilizer or wetting agents. If the potting soil has premixed fertilizer, don't add more. If your potting soil doesn’t have pre-mixed fertilizer, amend it with an all-purpose fertilizer before you plant your cucumbers.
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Its helpful to add a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer into the potting soil before planting and then feed the plants with a diluted, liquid fish emulsion, seaweed combination every other week during the growing season. If you are growing the cucumbers in an Earthbox, follow the directions and use the organic fertilizer that accompanies the Earthbox.
Cucumbers need warm soil to thrive, and they grow best when soil temperatures are between 70° to 95° Fahrenheit. Do not plant cucumbers until the soil temperatures are at least 70°F. Depending on how protected the containers are and the material with which the container is constructed, you might have to wait until two weeks after the last frost in your area. Some container materials heat up more rapidly than others. For instance, black plastic pots or Earthboxes, which use a soil cover, retain heat and can reach the desired temperature sooner than other materials.
Starting Cucumbers From Seeds
Cucumbers are very easy to start from seed in a container. However, if you live in a cold climate and want to get a jump-start on the season, you can start them indoors. Cucumbers have fairly large seeds so sow them 1/2 to 1” deep. To make sure the seedlings receive enough light after germination, place them under shop lights with one warm and one cool bulb. If you grow cucumbers indoors, be very careful when transplanting the seedlings. First, you must harden off your seedlings.to gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions. When transplanting them into their final container, be very delicate because cucumbers don't like their roots to be disturbed.
There are several reasons to trellis your cucumbers. First, if the vines are sprawling all over the ground - and most varieties of cucumber will sprawl like crazy - the cucumbers become dirty and are susceptible to damage by wildlife and insects. Secondly, trellised cucumbers area easier to find and harvest and their foliage receives more exposure to sunlight. Make sure you choose a sturdy trellis because once the trellis is covered with cucumber vines, it could easily topple over on a windy day. Make sure the container is located in a wind-protected spot and consider securing it to the ground with rope or cords if it's not protected.
A successful crop of cucumbers depends on consistent and ample moisture: the container soil must be moist but not wet. Check for moisture by sticking your finger up to the second knuckle into the soil. If the soil is moist at your fingertip, the container does not need water. If the soil is dry, add water very slowly until it flows out of the drainage hole at the bottom of your container. Make sure the soil is absorbing the water. If the soil is very dry, the soil can retract from the walls of the container and the water can run down the sides of the container before the soil has the chance to absorb it
Cucumbers can grow ridiculously fast, especially in warm weather. They can go from tiny to enormous in just a few days. Almost all cucumbers become bitter and seedy if left on the vine too long, so make sure to check your plants often for ripe cucumbers. Many varieties can be picked small, and some are tastiest when they are petite. Check the plant label or seed packet to determine the optimal size for harvest. Use a garden clipper or scissors to harvest the fruit. If you pull the cucumbers off the vine, you risk damaging the vine, which can easily break. Harvest often, because the more you harvest the more you will encourage production. If you find an overgrown or damaged cucumber, remove it from the vine and discard it.
There are two types of cucumbers, bush and vining, with many varieties to choose from for both types. Bush cucumbers tend to be shorter and more compact and have smaller yields. To increase yields and extend the harvesting season, plant bush varieties in succession – planting a new crop every two weeks or every month. Before you make succession plantings, be sure to determine how many days for specific varieties to be ready for harvest.
- Diva: This variety is parthenocarpic which means that it does not need to be pollinated in order to develop fruit. 'Diva' is delicious, a great producer, is disease resistant and has foliage that isn't attractive to cucumber beetles. 58 days to maturity.
- Lemon Cucumber: This cucumber is small and yellow, sweet and round. Good for eating or pickling. It has a fairly long maturity time of 65 days.
- Northern Pickling: Small sweet cucumbers that grow on compact vines. Very short time to maturity at 48 days so this is a good variety to use for late season planting.