Whether you call them cucumbers, cukes or gherkins, cucumbers are one of the most popular home garden vegetables. A few years ago, cucumbers weren’t so easy to grow. Older varieties were prone to disease and insect pests and often failed to set fruit. The fruit was often bitter, mushy or prickly.
But agricultural researchers have solved these problems. Today’s cucumbers are more disease resistant. You’ll find seedless, burp less and thin-skinned varieties that taste better. New “gynoecious” species contain more female flowers so more fruit sets and you get a bigger yield.
In fact, cucumber plants give such large yields that one plant is probably all you’ll need, unless you plan to do a lot of pickling. And once you taste a homegrown cucumber, you won’t be satisfied with the wax-coated, tasteless store-bought variety. So, save a corner in your garden this year for cucumbers. Below, you’ll find everything you need to get started.
Soil and Location
Cucumbers are native to the sub-tropics so they like warmth and even moisture. Even a little frost can kill them, while dry, scorching heat shrivels the leaves and turns the fruit bitter. Choose a spot in your garden that gets full sun.
Cucumbers are members of the melon family and they grow on long, trailing vines. You’ll need at least 9 square feet of garden space for one plant. If you’re lacking in space, try training cucumbers to climb the garden fence or install a strong trellis. Another option is to select a compact, upright variety, such as ‘Bush Champion,’ ‘Spacemaster,’ or ‘Potluck.’ Some varieties can even be grown in containers.
Cucumbers tolerate a variety of soil types. They’ll produce heavier yields in clay soils, but they’ll produce an earlier crop in sandy soils. They prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Regardless of your soil type, cucumbers will perform best if you give them some compost and manure. Dig 1 to 2 inches of compost or manure into the garden before planting cucumbers. Amend the soil with lime if the pH falls below 5.5.
Plant cucumbers in rows or hills after the last frost. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep and space them 6 inches apart. Thin the plants when they stand 3 inches tall. Space plants in rows 12 inches apart or grow 3 plants in each hill.
Cucumbers mature in 50 to 70 days, depending on the species, so even if you have a short growing season, you can succeed with cucumbers. However, if you’d rather, you can start cucumbers indoors two to three weeks before the last frost. Cukes don’t like their roots disturbed so plant them in peat pots. Store the pots in a warm location like on top of the refrigerator and spray them daily with a mister.
Transplant them outdoors once the plants stand 3 inches high and all chance of frost is passed.
Care and Harvest
Cucumbers, with their large leaves, flowers and fruit, are hungry plants that benefit from some fertilizer during the growing season. Give them a little nitrogen fertilizer about one week after blooming and again three weeks later. Don’t overdo it, though, or you’ll end up with lots of lush greenery and few fruits.
Additionally, cucumbers need a steady supply of moisture, especially during hot weather. Stressed plants produce fewer fruits and the fruit often tastes bitter. Use a soaker hose to keep the leaves dry, and water every other day or so to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy.
Cucumbers don’t compete well with weeds, yet their shallow, fine roots are easily damaged by cultivation. The solution? Begin mulching them when they stand about 6 inches tall. Spread untreated grass clippings evenly around the plant weekly for a free, biodegradable mulch that adds nitrogen to the soil. Never apply more than 1 inch of grass clippings at a time, though, or the grass mats together in a smelly mess.
Alternatively, install black plastic over the soil at planting time. Secure it with clips and cut holes in it for the seeds. One caveat about black plastic mulch: Black plastic heats up quickly in the summer sun and can burn plants. Time your planting so the plants stand at least 12 inches high when the heat of summer arrives. These large plants will shade the plastic so it doesn’t become as hot.
Cucumber Diseases and Pests
The cucumber beetle is the number one enemy of cucumber plants. This hungry insect chews leaves and vines, damaging the plants. More importantly, it can spread several diseases, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic. These two diseases are often fatal to the plants.
Inspect your garden daily for cucumber beetles, looking in the cucumber flowers and under leaves. Hand pick any that you find and drop them in a bucket of soap. Severe infestations may require rotenone spraying, or spread netting over the plants when they are small.
Cucumbers may also develop powdery mildew, anthracnose or leaf spot. These diseases are hard to control and your best bet is to plant disease-resistant varieties if you live in an area prone to one of them.
Start picking cucumbers when they reach 4 to 6 inches long, depending on the variety. Cucumbers taste better when they’re young and become dry and bitter if allowed to age on the vine. Cut them off with a knife to avoid damaging the plant. Once your cucumbers start bearing fruit, you must keep picking them whether you need cucumbers or not. If you stop picking, they stop producing and the harvest is over. Store them in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Recommended Varieties of Cucumbers
Slicing (fresh eating)
Wisconsin SMR 18
West India Gherkin
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Cucumber
Can you eat prickly cucumbers?
Prickly cucumbers can be eaten, but there are some measures that should be taken to reduce their prickliness before consumption to avoid the unpleasant texture. Scrubbing cucumbers with a vegetable brush before eating will remove all but the most stubborn prickles. If your cucumbers have exceptionally large spines, you should peel them before consumption. All cucumbers have some prickles. They have been removed from the smooth-skinned cucumbers you find in the produce aisle at the grocery store.
Can you overwater cucumbers?
Like any plant, it is possible to overwater a cucumber plant, resulting in negative effects for the plant. Do not water cucumbers until the top inch of the soil has dried out. You can test the moisture level of the soil by sticking a finger into it near where your cucumber plants are growing. If the dirt clings to your skin, the soil is still wet and you do not need to water your plants again just yet. Check the soil this way two or three times a week to make sure your cucumber plants stay hydrated without getting too much water.
Do cucumbers need a lot of sun?
Cucumbers thrive in full sunlight and do best when they receive at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Without sufficient sunlight, cucumbers are likely to set fruit poorly and have less substantial harvests.
Do cucumbers need to be refrigerated?
Many of us store cucumbers in the refrigerator, but they can be stored at room temperature on the counter or in the pantry for up to two weeks, and they actually stay better for longer without refrigeration.
Do you remove flowers from cucumber plants?
Do not remove the flowers from cucumber plants, as the female flowers are where the cucumber fruits develop from.
How deep do cucumber roots go?
Cucumbers have a root system that is thickest at eight inches below the soil and extends downward to a tap root, which grows three to four feet under the soil’s surface.
How deep should soil be for cucumbers?
Cucumbers need 18 to 24 inches of soil to provide plenty of room for their root system. Raised beds should be built to this depth, and for direct planting, soil should be tilled or loosened to this depth.
How do you get cucumbers to climb a trellis?
Make sure that if you want your cucumbers to climb, you choose vining plant varieties instead of bush types. When planted next to a trellis, the vining types of cucumber plant will naturally climb the trellis and move upward as they grow.
How do you keep cucumbers fresh after cutting?
Wrap the cut end of the cucumber in plastic wrap, if part of it remains whole. Keep whole parts of cucumbers dry by wrapping them in a dry paper towel after cutting, then seal them along with any sliced cucumbers into an airtight plastic container and refrigerate.
How do you self pollinate cucumber plants?
Use a soft-bristled paintbrush to move pollen from the stamens of male flowers to the stigma at the center of the female flowers. You can tell male and female flowers apart in several ways. Male flowers open first and grow in groups of three to five blossoms on thinner, shorter stems. Female flowers will appear about 10 days later, and they grow alone, with a miniature undeveloped cucumber behind their petals. Your plant will produce about one female flower for every 10 or 20 male flowers.
How do you stake cucumbers in your garden?
Staking cucumbers is simple, and it helps prevent damage to the fruits, promotes larger harvests for cucumber plants grown in containers, and makes it easier to pick ripened fruit. Push wooden stakes at least 20 inches tall six inches into the ground near your cucumber plants, spacing them three or four feet apart in rows. Start a length of twine tied about halfway up the first stake and stretch it to reach the next stake, tying it tight halfway up the stake, and continuing until the twine reaches all the stakes you’ve placed. Repeat this process to run another length of twine along the top of your stakes. Once your cucumber vine has grown long enough to climb the stake, use panty hose cut into eight-inch strips to gently tie the vine to the stake. From that point, the vines should naturally climb the stake and the plant will continue upward as it grows.
How do you train a cucumber to climb?
For a vertical setup where cucumber plants are climbing, make sure to use the vining type of cucumber plants instead of the bush type. When planted next to a trellis, vining type cucumber plants will naturally grow upwards and climb on the support. To learn more about growing cucumbers in this setup, refer to our article “How to Grow Cucumbers Vertically.”
How long after cucumber flowers do you get cucumbers?
The time between flowers and cucumbers depends not on when the flower opens but on when it is fertilized through pollination. Male flowers will appear on the plant 35 to 55 days after germination, with female flowers appearing 10 days later. Once the female flower has been fertilized, it takes 10 to 12 days to produce a cucumber.
How many cucumbers can you get from one plant?
It’s impossible to tell exactly how many cucumbers any one plant will produce, but you can get a good estimate of what healthy plants should produce to help you plan ahead. Pickling cucumber plant varieties have an output of about five quarts of cucumbers per plant. If you’ll be making pickles, you’ll need three or four plants for each quart of pickles you’ll produce. For slicing cucumber plant varieties, plan on getting about 10 six-ounce fruits from each healthy plant. For eating them fresh, you’ll want two or three plants for each person in your family. Heirloom plants have smaller harvests, bringing in about two to three pounds of cucumbers per healthy plant. Remember to harvest cucumbers as soon as they have ripened. If you leave the ripe cucumbers on the plant, it won’t begin producing the next batch of fruits.
How much room do cucumber roots need?
The root system of a cucumber plant consists of one main tap root, positioned three to four feet under the surface of the soil, surrounded by a network of shallower roots about two feet deep. The top eight inches of ground are thickly tangled with the cucumber plant’s shallowest roots, but some of the surface roots reach as low as four feet underground. Impressive as their root system may sound, cucumber plants are classified as needing a moderate depth of soil to house their roots, and 18 to 24 inches will suffice in a raised bed or tilled and loosened for a direct planting.
You’ll also need to consider how much room your plants will need laterally, in the distance between them. When grown on hills, you can position one or two plants on each hill, leaving an area of empty space around the hill that measures between 24 inches by 36 inches to 48 inches by 72 inches. Cucumbers planted in rows need a little less space between them and can thrive spaced from a minimum of eight to 12 inches apart to a maximum of 48 to 72 inches apart.
How much space do cucumbers need?
Cucumber plants growing on hills need more room than those growing in a row formation, but it’s OK to double up and place two plants on each hill. Around the hill, you need empty room, ranging from an area 24 inches by 36 inches to one 48 inches by 72 inches. Cucumber plants should be positioned with at least eight to 12 inches of space between plants in order for them to get the nutrients they need and perform well. The distance between cucumber plants should not exceed a maximum of 48 to 72 inches to ensure pollinators notice the group of flowering plants and each one gets visited.
How much water does a cucumber plant need per day?
How frequently you’ll need to water your plants depends on circumstances such as your climate, amount of recent rainfall, and soil type. To thrive, cucumber plants normally need one or two inches of water per week. (An inch of water is enough to moisten the top six inches of the soil.) The cucumbers should be watered whenever the top inch of soil has dried out. To test the moisture level of the soil, the easiest method is sticking a finger into the soil near where the plants are growing. If earth sticks to your skin, the soil is still moist and it’s not yet time to water your plants. Perform this check two or three times per week to keep your plants well hydrated.
How often should cucumber plants be watered?
The watering schedule for cucumber plants varies due to a variety of conditions, including soil type, recent rainfall, and climate. However, cucumber plants perform best when they get one to two inches of water each week. (One inch of water is enough to hydrate the top six inches of soil.) When the top inch of soil has dried out, it’s time to water the cucumber plants again. You can test the moisture level in the soil by sticking your finger into the ground near where your cucumber plants are growing. If soil sticks to your skin, the ground is still wet and you don’t need to water your plants again yet. You should test the soil this way two or three times a week to make sure your plants have enough water.
How should you store cucumbers?
Cucumbers are often stored in the refrigerator, but they actually keep for up to two weeks at room temperature and stay good longer on the counter or in the pantry than they do when refrigerated. However you choose to store your cucumbers, do not wash them before storage, and dry them if they are at all moist. Cucumbers should not be frozen.
How tall should a cucumber trellis be?
At maturity, cucumber vines measure between four and six feet tall, so four to six feet is the ideal height for a cucumber trellis.
Is tomato feed OK for cucumbers?
Because cucumbers have low nitrogen requirements, they do best when simply fertilized with compost. Other types of fertilizer can result in an excess of nitrogen for cucumber plants, causing them to grow lots of foliage and no cucumbers and produce blooms that don’t open or blooms that open and fail to fruit.
Should I prune cucumber plants?
Cucumber plants perform best when they’re pruned regularly throughout the growing season. Pruning helps to keep the ratio of foliage production and fruiting production in balance. Without pruning, cucumbers tend to use lots of precious energy on creating leaves, vines, and shoots, but when pruned properly, much of that energy can be focused on producing cucumbers instead. Always use clean, sterilized gardening tools when you’re pruning to prevent the spread of disease in your garden.
All throughout the growing season, clip away dead or damaged foliage as it appears. Also remove older leaves whenever they’re blocking light from a growing cucumber or as needed to let air circulate around the rest of the plant. Trimming off the first four or five lateral runners that appear near the base of the plant will maximize your cucumber harvest later in the season. You should also take off all branches that grow off of the main stem, cutting as close to the stem as you can. Also prune away any lateral shoots as well as flowers and fruit that grow from the lowest five to seven leaf nodes of the plant. If you’re growing a seedless greenhouse variety of cucumbers, these types can support only one cucumber per leaf node, so if more than one appears, prune it off. Seeded varieties of cucumbers that produce smaller fruits can support more than one cucumber per node, so you can leave the additional fruits on those plant types.
Should you wash cucumbers before storing?
Do not wash your cucumbers before storing them, whether you will refrigerate them or store them at room temperature. (Cucumbers keep for up to two weeks at room temperature, and they store better outside the refrigerator than they do in it.) However you plan to store them, make sure cucumbers are as dry as possible before storage to maximize their shelf life.
Should you water cucumbers every day?
You should water your cucumbers when the top inch of soil has dried out from the last watering. The exact time between waterings will depend on factors like how much rainfall you’ve had lately, what time of year it is, and what kind of soil you have. Check the soil two or three times a week to make sure it stays moist and keeps plenty of water available for your plants. To test the soil, just stick a finger into it near where the plants are growing. If soil sticks to your finger, it’s still wet, and it’s not yet time to water your cucumber plants.
What is the best fertilizer for cucumbers?
Cucumbers don’t require much nitrogen to thrive, so the all-purpose fertilizers that work so well for most of the plants in your garden are actually not the right choice for your cucumber plants. Compost is the best fertilizer to give cucumber plants. You can make your own compost or purchase it bagged at a nursery or garden center.
All-purpose fertilizers provide too much nitrogen for cucumber plants. When cucumbers get too much nitrogen, they’ll begin producing lots of foliage—vines, leaves, and shoots—but they won’t be producing many of the fruits you’re looking for. On cucumber plants that get too much nitrogen, flowers may appear but fail to open, and the blooms that do open may not set fruit. To feed your cucumber plants, apply compost each year as a mulch or work it into the soil as an amendment.
When should cucumbers be pruned?
Prune your cucumber vines throughout the growing season on an as-needed basis to maximize the harvest you get from your cucumber plants. You’ll want to prune to remove dead or damaged foliage as it appears, and clip off older leaves as necessary to ensure air circulation for the plant and allow light to reach developing cucumbers. You should also prune the plant throughout the season, because the balance between foliage and fruit production needs pruning to be maintained. Cucumbers tend to grow foliage overzealously, which can use up energy that, when the plants are properly pruned, can be redirected toward fruiting.
Remove all branches that come off of the main stem of the vine, making your cut as close to the stem as you can. Also trim off any lateral shoots, fruit, or flowers that appear on the lowest five to seven leaf nodes. Pruning away the first four or five lateral runners the plant produces near its base will result in higher yields later in the season. Seedless greenhouse plant varieties can only support one cucumber per leaf node, so if additional fruits develop on a node, they should be pruned away. The smaller seeded cucumber varieties can produce more than one fruit per node without a problem. Always use clean, sterilized pruning shears to avoid spreading disease in the garden.
Why are my cucumbers flowering but not fruiting?
If your cucumbers produce lots of foliage but not many actual fruits, your plants may be positioned too closely together or too far apart. A distance of eight to 12 inches between plants is the sweet spot for cucumbers to create the conditions necessary for successful pollination. Another possibility if female flowers are appearing on the plant but not developing into fruits is that your area may simply be low on pollinators.
There are a variety of ways to encourage more pollinators to visit your plants, which you can learn about in our article “Attract Pollinators to Your Garden.” In the meantime, you can take matters into your own hands and pollinate your cucumber plant’s flowers yourself. To do so, use a small paintbrush with soft bristles to collect the pollen from the stamens of male flowers each morning, then apply it to the stigma in the center of the female flowers. If you leave a few female flowers untouched, you’ll know if pollinators have returned to your area because those cucumbers will begin to develop without your intervention.
You can tell the flowers apart because male blooms grow on thinner, shorter stems in clusters of three to five blossoms, and they tend to open about 10 days before the female flowers, which appear alone instead of in groups, open. If you check behind the petals of the flower, females will have a tiny immature cucumber behind the blossom, whereas males will not. Most cucumber plants have more male flowers than female flowers—one female flower for every 10 or 20 male blooms.
Why are my cucumbers not maturing?
If your cucumber plants produce cucumbers but they stay small and underdeveloped, it may be due to lack of water or nutrients. Another possibility if your cucumber produced fruit at first but then stopped may be that you simply need to harvest the cucumbers that are on the plant so it will continue producing. Cucumbers may also be misshapen or deformed and underdeveloped if they were improperly pollinated, plants have been overfertilized and received too much nitrogen, or temperatures have been excessively hot.
Why are my cucumbers prickly?
Other than the varieties that are bred to avoid prickles (also called spines), all cucumbers have some degree of prickles. The smooth surface of store bought cucumbers is because the prickles are removed before they are made available to consumers. Cucumbers plants have naturally developed spines on the fruit as a deterrent to predators. Slicing varieties tend to have fewer spines than pickling varieties. Washing your cucumbers well and scrubbing them with a vegetable brush will normally remove the hairy prickles to make the cucumbers ready to eat. If your cucumbers have large spines, you will probably need to peel the cucumbers to remove the spines before you eat them to avoid an unpleasant texture.
Why do cucumber leaves dry up?
The leaves of a cucumber plant can dry up and wither for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being lack of water. When cucumber plants don’t get enough water, in addition to drying up, their leaves may turn brown or yellow. Make sure when watering cucumber plants that you provide enough water for the top six inches of soil to be hydrated. If retaining moisture is a problem in your garden, adding a layer of mulch around cucumber plants can help. Other reasons the leaves of your cucumber plant could dry up include the plant diseases angular leaf spot and verticillium wilt.
Why do cucumbers turn yellow in the garden?
Cucumbers turn yellow when they are too ripe because they have been left on the plant too long. This discoloration happens because the chlorophyll that gives cucumbers their green hue fades when they are left on the plant after they should have been harvested. Cucumbers that have turned yellow are usually too large to be tasty and have become bitter as they grew too ripe. While overripeness is the most common cause of yellow cucumbers, they can also turn yellow due to a virus, nutrient imbalance, or excess water. There are also some varieties of cucumber that are meant to have yellow flesh, such as the lemon cucumber.
Will one cucumber plant produce cucumbers?
Cucumber plants have both male and female flowers on a single plant, so you do not need more than one plant in order to produce cucumbers. As long as the pollen is transferred from male to female flowers by pollinators, a single cucumber plant can produce cucumbers.
Want to learn more about growing cucumbers?
See these helpful resources:
Cornell University Vegetable MD: Cucumber Slicers Disease Resistance
The Ohio State University: Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden