by Jim Aldwin
Growing plants upwards instead of outwards can save you considerable space, and cucumbers, with their natural instinct for climbing, are perfect candidates for this method.
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are a favorite among home gardeners due to their ease of growth, versatility in the kitchen, and their refreshing flavor. These warm-season crops thrive in USDA hardiness zones 4-11, and with the right conditions — full sun, warm temperatures, and consistent watering — they can produce a bountiful harvest.
Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow, making them an excellent choice for both novice and experienced gardeners. They come in a variety of types, suitable for both slicing and pickling. One of the most enticing aspects of growing cucumbers is their proclivity for climbing. With the right support system, such as a trellis, cucumber plants can be trained to grow vertically, providing a space-efficient method to maximize your yield.
What You’ll Learn
- The benefits of vertical gardening and the use of trellises for cucumber plants.
- The unique characteristics and care instructions for several popular cucumber varieties: Japanese, Chinese, and Armenian.
- Tips for preparing your garden bed for optimal cucumber growth, including fertilization and soil prep.
- Methods for effectively transplanting cucumber plants, debunking common misconceptions.
- How to provide your cucumber plants with necessary nutrients throughout the growing season.
- Tips for dealing with common plant health concerns such as powdery mildew.
- Different trellis options, from bamboo frames to ready-made nets, and their pros and cons.
Why Choose Vertical Cucumbers?
Vertical gardening is an efficient way to use your garden’s real estate. Cucumbers, in particular, are climbers by nature and will happily coil around a trellis, making them ideal for vertical gardening. By growing them upwards, you can also prevent potential issues with rot that can occur when cucumbers rest on the ground. Additionally, harvesting becomes a breeze as the fruits are in plain sight.
Selecting Your Cucumber Varieties
There are lots of good cucumber varieties available to home gardeners, many of which are naturally inclined to climb. In this section, we’ll discuss three of my favorites that have proven to be excellent performers in vertical gardens.
- Japanese Cucumbers: These long, slender cucumbers, known for their thin, pale green skin and few spines, are a delight. They reach optimal flavor when harvested before they grow to 24 inches. A nutrient-rich compost can prevent potential thinning along the upper two-thirds of the fruit.
- Chinese Cucumbers: Don’t be put off by the rough skin and sharp spines of this variety; the sweet, mild interior more than makes up for it. These cucumbers typically grow to 10-12 inches long, maintaining a pleasing shape as they grow.
- Armenian Cucumbers: With their ribbed skin and unusual appearance, they might look more like gourds than cucumbers. Nevertheless, these cucumbers are crisp, mild, and grow to about 20 inches long.
Cultivating Diversity: Mixing Cucumber Varieties
Don’t limit yourself to just one type of cucumber. Mixing different varieties on a single trellis not only adds visual interest to your garden, but it also keeps your table supplied with an assortment of flavors throughout the summer. Unused seeds can be saved and will remain viable for at least two more seasons.
Preparing Your Bed for Planting
Proper soil preparation is crucial for a successful cucumber harvest. Start early in the spring, mixing in well aged manure well with the soil to ensure its rapid breakdown into nutrients. If you live in a warmer climate where a winter crop may delay this process, consider starting your cucumbers in pots.
Though many gardening guides might advise against transplanting cucumbers, I’ve had consistent success with this method for over 15 years. Start your seeds in large pots, which allows for more space and gives you additional time to prepare the bed.
When preparing the bed, make sure to dig deep and distribute plant waste and manure evenly throughout the cucumber’s potential root zone. Good drainage is essential, as is ensuring that your watering method can reach all the plants.
Feeding and Caring for Your Cucumbers
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Even after transplanting them into the bed and well into the summer production, they will appreciate a second feeding. You can provide this by placing a small pile of well aged manure or an organic fertilizer along the length of the row, sufficiently distant from the roots to prevent burning but close enough to be useful as it breaks down. The water runoff from the manure will feed the plants.
Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants
The use of manure, preferably dried and pulverized from cattle, sheep, and pigs, is instrumental in nurturing robust plants. Spread roughly 100 pounds of manure in the spring along a 15-feet row. In mid-summer, distribute an additional 16 pounds on top of the ground, in the trench. This regimen will result in healthier plants that are less prone to disease and pests.
Powdery mildew can develop on the leaves and stems of the vines late in the season, around September. While spraying with a seaweed emulsion can mitigate this, I’ve found it’s often a sign of the plants’ natural aging process. By this point in the season, you’ve likely harvested plenty of cucumbers, so don’t fret too much over this late-stage issue.
Supporting Your Cucumbers: The Trellis
Before transplanting your cucumbers from pots to the bed, you’ll need to set up a trellis. I’ve found that a bamboo trellis, shaped like a long A-frame, works excellently. However, any structure that the tendrils can climb on will suffice. An alternative to consider is a net, which cucumbers grasp even better than poles. You can find these in nurseries and garden centers or online.
Exploring Other Climbing Varieties
These three cucumbers are just a starting point. There are many other climbing cucumbers out there, and some may be more suited to your climate or taste preferences. Regardless of the variety you choose, growing cucumbers vertically will provide a season-long supply of delicious, fresh cucumbers and transform your garden into a vibrant, space-efficient green space.
- Cucumbers are versatile, easy-to-grow crops that can thrive in a variety of home gardens.
- Several types of cucumbers are well-suited to vertical growth, including Japanese, Chinese, and Armenian varieties.
- These climbing cucumbers can be trellised, saving significant garden space and enhancing airflow around the plants.
- Proper soil preparation and feeding are crucial for successful cucumber growth.
- Manure application, both at the initial planting stage and midway through the growing season, can significantly boost cucumber yield.
- Disease and pests can be kept at bay with proper plant care, but late-season powdery mildew is a common issue that signals the end of the productive period.
Quick Reference Chart: Benefits of Growing Japanese, Chinese and Armenian Cucumbers Vertically
|Cucumber Variety||Description||Optimal Harvest Size||Growth Tips||Benefits of Growing Vertically|
|Japanese Cucumbers||Long, slender cucumbers with thin, pale green skin and few spines. Known for their delightful flavor.||Up to 24 inches||Use nutrient-rich compost to prevent potential thinning along the upper two-thirds of the fruit.||Growing vertically helps maintain the even shape and coloration of the cucumber. It also reduces the risk of disease and pest issues with improved airflow and ease of harvest.|
|Chinese Cucumbers||Rough skin and sharp spines, but sweet, mild interior. Maintains a pleasing shape as it grows.||10-12 inches||No specific tips, but typical good gardening practices should apply (e.g., regular watering, good soil, etc.)||Vertical growing can help protect the fruit from damage due to contact with the ground, leading to a higher yield of unblemished cucumbers. Easier harvesting.|
|Armenian Cucumbers||Crisp, mild cucumbers with ribbed skin, resembling gourds more than traditional cucumbers.||About 20 inches||No specific tips, but typical good gardening practices should apply (e.g., regular watering, good soil, etc.)||Vertical growing allows these large cucumbers to fully extend and grow without bending or curling. Reduce susceptibility to pests and diseases.|