Most of us think of cucumbers as green, seed-filled slices on a salad. Long, green cucumbers are by far the most popular for home gardens, but there are hundreds of cucumber varieties, including round, yellow cucs, skinny English cucs and exotic, ridged Armenian cucumbers. Most Americans have never tasted a crunchy cucumber, fresh from the garden and beautiful without a coat of wax to shine it up.
Cucumbers are in the same family as squash and melons. A popular way to categorize cucumbers is as either slicers or picklers. Pickling cucumbers can be eaten fresh, but they also hold their texture well in processing.
Leaves: Cucumber leaves are somewhat triangular in shape, with pointed lobes. The texture of the whole plant is rough and prickly.
Flowers: Yellow and usually monoecious, requiring both male and female blossoms to produce fruits. Newer hybrids are being bred to be parthenocarpic, with only female blossoms that don’t require pollination.
Fruits: Fruits can vary from an inch or two long to over a foot. There are even round cucumbers. The outer skin is usually green or yellow and can be tender or tough. Most varieties are sprinkled with spines, which wipe off easily. Parhenocarpic varieties are seedless.
Varies greatly with variety. Vining cucumbers can easily cover 4-6' of ground. Bush varieties don’t travel as far, but they can spread out 4' in every direction.
Days to Harvest:
Varies with variety, but most begin producing within 48 to 70 days, from seed.
When and How to Harvest:
Cucumbers are best harvested slightly immature. Mature cucumbers yellow and start to decline and become bitter. Seeded varieties will become develop more of the seed pulp, the longer you leave them on the vine. Check your seed package or label for the recommended harvesting size for your variety.
Since cucumber vines are scratchy and unpleasant to touch, cucumbers are usually cut from the vine. You can twist the stem and snap the cucumbers off the vines, but pulling them off can bring the whole vine with you.
- Marketmore - One of the most prolific, easy growing varieties.
- Lemon - A round, pale yellow heirloom. They have a generous amount of seeds, but they're nice scooped out and used as an edible serving bowl.
- Armenian - Thin skinned and crunchy. Can be stripped or ridged.
- English or Hot House Cucumbers - Thin skinned and mild taste. Require a long growing season.
- Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Bushmaster... - Anything with "bush" in its name is great for growing in containers.
Pests & Diseases:
- Squash vine borers bore into the base of the plant and cut off its circulation
- Squash bugs feed on the plants, especially young seedlings.
- Cucumber beetles feed on the plants and carry and transmit bacterial wilt.
- Bacterial wilt, carried in by cucumber beetles, will kill a cucumber plant.
- Powdery mildew is unslightly and weakens plants, but they can survive it.
Soil: Cucumbers like a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH of about 5.5 to 7.0.
Planting: Cucumbers are easily direct-seeded in the garden. You can find cucumber seedlings, but they transplant best when still young.
Cucumbers are heat lovers. Plants both seeds and plants after all danger of frost. Allow the soil to warm and dry out some.
If you are starting seeds indoors, seed them about 3-4 weeks before you plan to transplant. Sowing in peat or paper pots will lessen transplant shock.
Plant seeds about ½" deep. You can plants cucumbers in long rows, “hills” or clusters of 3-4 seeds sown within inches of each other.
- Rows: Final spacing should be about 8-12" apart, but can be sown slightly closer and thinned, once you see how many have germinated. If you plan to trellis your vines, you can leave them a few inches closer.
- Hills: Space vining cucumbers in hills 5 - 6' apart. Bush types can be spaced 2-3' apart.
Water: Cucumbers are mostly water. Give the vines at least an inch of water per week, especially when fruits are present. Don’t let them sit in wet soil.
Feeding: Vine crops tend to be heavy feeders and cucumbers are no exception. Start with a rich soil and side dress with compost once the plants start blooming. Give them another dressing or dose of fertilizer about 3-4 weeks later, in mid-season.
Common Problems Growing Cucumbers
Not Setting Fruit: Poor pollination could be caused by bad weather, lack of pollinators or a lack of female blossoms. Female blossoms tent to start flowering later in the season than male blossoms.
Bitterness: Some people say cucumbers are more bitter near the skin and toward the blossom end. Breeders have developed varieties that aren't bitter, so trying a different variety can make all the difference.