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The summer months bring with it an abundant array of fresh culinary delights that help keep us cool and going out into the garden for more.
Cucumbers are high up on that list as truly no summer garden is complete without it. Growing them requires little care, yet has a very fruitful outcome.
The different types of cucumber plants and figuring out which one is right for you
Cucumber plants are divided into two growing types: bush and vining, which are then divided between “pickling” and “slicing” varieties.
The bush variety of cucumbers stay more compact and are therefore best if you have a small garden or wish to grow them in containers. Since they stay more compact and don’t require any type of trellis, it’s also the better option if you’re new to the world of gardening.
This variety of fruiting plants tends to make its fruits all at once so you don’t need many plants for a generous picking.
In the nature of vine plants, they can either climb up a trellis (which is recommended to preserve space in your garden) or scramble across the ground and can reach 6 to 8 feet long or sometimes more.
Generally, vining fruiting plants yield more fruit throughout the growing season, but they make their fruit gradually, unlike bush types which make it all at once.
So if you’re experienced in the garden or up for the challenge, and have enough space to do so, then the vining variety might be for you.
Pickling vs. Slicing Cucumbers
In terms of the actual cucumbers, pickling cucumbers typically stay small and as the name implies – are mainly used to pickle (although they are just as tasty eaten fresh).
The slicing variety is like the type you would buy from the grocery shop and chop it into a salad or sandwich.
While there are many different types of cucumbers even within these two varieties, once you’ve gotten the basics down, it’s easy picking or being open to trying something new from what seeds are available to you.
How and when to grow cucumbers
Cucumbers need the soil to be warm and are in danger of frost, so make sure all reminiscence of the last frost has passed before you consider planting any seeds (at least two weeks after the last frost and once the temperatures stay above 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
Preparing the soil to plant cucumbers
One of the biggest make-or-break factors when it comes to growing your own vegetables depends on the quality of the soil (or potting mix) you are using.
In order to grow vibrant, healthy, and tasty vegetables, the first step is to enrich the soil we’re using and/or making a smart purchase of it.
Like other summer fruiting crops, cucumber plants are heavy feeders and demand a steady supply of water and plenty of organic matter and compost worked into the soil before planting. When growing cucumbers and other fruits, the enrichment you put into the soil before planting your seeds has to be enough to support the plant fruit for the entire season.
An important thing to note is to make sure that the organic matter or compost you’re using is meant to have vegetables grown from it. This ensures that it’s safe and that it has all the correct ratios of minerals inside it for healthy growth.
If perhaps you don’t have much or any garden space and are planning of growing your cucumbers in pots, you’re in luck. Cucumber plants do well in containers as the soil is warmest and has good drainage.
Planting your seeds
The preferred method of planting cucumbers is direct seeding in the garden or container they will stay in for the season, as cucumbers don’t like to have their roots disturbed and can be tricky to transplant when they’re seedlings, unlike you would do with other fruits.
Once you’ve found the sunniest place in your garden, where you know your cucumbers will get at least 6 hours of sun, push two or three cucumber seeds one inch into the soil.
If you’re planting more than one, plant them in rows and use a hoe or stick to make a small furrow about 1 inch deep down the center of each ridge and place your seed inside it – spacing them 18 to 36 inches apart (bush varieties will tolerate a closer spacing).
Cover the seeds with about just under half a thumb length of fine soil. Use the flat side of a hoe or your hands to firm the soil over the seeds, but do not pack it.
If you’re going to grow cucumbers in a container, place three seeds into a 24-inch pot, pushing them about a half-inch deep, and cover with fine compost.
Water your garden soil or container well and keep consistently moist until the seeds germinate and turn into seedlings.
Planting cucumbers in an area that has adequate drainage is vital to keep roots healthy and able to absorb all the nutrients the plant needs.
How much sun is the right amount
Growing cucumbers, like all other summer fruiting plants, require what’s known as “full sun” – which is 6 to 8 hours of sun a day.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t have to be continuous sun. This means that it’s totally fine for the sun to pop behind your neighbor’s tree for a couple of hours and come back again in the afternoon.
Watering your cucumbers
Since cucumbers are around 95% water, you’d think you would have to water them in bucket loads every day – well fun fact, you don’t.
Watering your cucumbers once a week is recommended, as long as you water them deeply enough for the plant to take in all that it needs and to keep the soil moist.
Keep an eye on the soil when the weather is scolding in the peak of summer as you might need to water more often. Inadequate or inconsistent moisture causes oddly shaped or poor-tasting fruit, and no one wants that.
Care tips for your cucumbers
Cucumbers will grow quickly in fertile soil with little care. Keeping a rough idea of what cucumbers need to thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful will ensure you the best tasting cucumbers in your street.
Throughout the growing season, work in plant food or vegetable fertilizer into the top few inches of soil every two weeks to keep growth consistent and the health of your fruits high. Make sure to not plow the soil deeper than about 1 inch because you may cut roots and slow the plant’s growth.
Fun fact: Cucumbers produce two kinds of flowers, male and female. Male flowers open first and always drop off. Female flowers form the cucumber and should not drop off.
To keep your fruit clean and keep slugs and beetles away from your growing cucumbers, adding a layer of straw or mulch to your soil cucumbers is something to consider.
Why do we use a trellis for vines?
We plant cucumbers in front of a trellis for the stems of our plants to climb upwards instead of sprawling across the ground, therefore saving garden space and guaranteeing enough airflow between the plant, which in turn, prevents diseases.
Whether you’re making your own or purchasing one, keep in mind that it must be strong. Growing cucumbers can quickly become quite heavy.
For regular vine cucumbers, make sure your trellis is at least 6 feet tall.
The most common cucumber diseases and how to avoid them:
Powdery mildew is a common yet easily avoidable disease where, as the name says, it appears as though there’s a white powdery dusting on the leaves. The cause of this disease is when the leaves of your cucumber plant stay damp for long periods of time.
To grow cucumbers while avoiding this disease, that can otherwise spread quite quickly and infect your entire crop, make sure there’s plenty of airflow in between your leaves and that you water your plant in the early morning as opposed to the afternoon or nighttime.
Watering your plants in the early morning, right before the sun comes, ensures that if the leaves do get wet, any droplets or dew from the night dry off thoroughly when the morning sunlight hits the leaves.
Leaf Blight is a disease that again, favors wet and warm conditions. It can be identified by irregular brown spots on the leaves—sometimes with yellow edges. This disease usually affects mature leaves. You may see small, brown spots at first – almost like it’s “drying out”.
Soon after, the leaves turn brown, wilt, and die, exposing the fruits to direct sunlight that can scald them.
The prevention for this disease is the same as above.
Most common pests and how to avoid them:
While I’m sure many of us can think of a specific someone that should be included under the “pests” category, let’s stick to mentioning the ones with more legs than two and that inhabit and harm our cucumber plants.
Striped or spotted cucumber beetles are one of the hardest pests of the cucumber plant to get rid of. Signs that your plant might be infested with cucumber beetles are that they have damaged leaves, stems, or flowers, that the strength of the plant is overall reduced, and has visible scars on the fruit.
To prevent these beetles from inhabiting your plants, a tried and tested – and quite a colorful solution is to plant marigold flowers near your cucumbers. Marigolds will repel the beetles, keeping their wings off your cucumbers.
Slugs and snails are a serious problem for gardeners no matter what they have grown. The only way to avoid slugs and snails is to keep the soil under your cucumber plants dry, allowing it to dry completely before watering again, and remove any leaf litter that might hold moisture.
Thrips can be another problem if you’re not aware of them. A big population of thrips leads to distorted, wilted leaves that might also have a silvery appearance.
The main thing you can do to avoid them is by avoiding planting your cucumbers near onions and garlic because thrips are attracted to those the most. Though for an almost full-proof plan, planting nasturtiums, whether in pots or the garden around the cucumbers, is something may gardeners opt for since they are distasteful to thrips and other insects that feed on cucumbers.
When you go to harvest a cucumber, use a knife or clippers, and cut the stem above the fruit leaving a small, half-an-inch section of stem attached to the cucumber. This prevents the stem end from rotting in storage if you won’t be using the cucumber right away.
Always use clippers or a sharp knife, because if you twist or pull on the vine, you can be left with damaged plants and cause fewer fruits to grow.
Don’t let your cucumbers be left on the vine for long or they will get oversized and be bitter to taste, and will also keep the vine from producing more.
Pickling cucumbers are generally ready for harvesting around 3 to 4 inches long, while most slicing cucumbers should be harvested when they are 7 to 9 inches long and have a dark green color.
Wear gloves when you harvest your cucumbers as some of them, particularly pickling varieties, are prickly. If the cucumbers have a lot of spines, remove them by rubbing a cloth or a soft vegetable brush along the length of the fruit.
To end off, a few gardening tips:
Planting the flowers mentioned above near your growing cucumbers, as well as sunflowers and certain herbs like oregano and dill, make good companions for cucumbers as they repel the pests that commonly frequent them – while simultaneously attracting pollinators which will ensure travel of pollen from the female flowers to the male ones on your plant and get your cucumbers growing quickly.
How do cucumbers grow best?
When growing cucumbers to their full potential, they require rich, fertile soil, regular and consistent watering, and have no less than six hours of sun a day. Once you have these basic needs down, success in growing cucumbers is almost guaranteed.
Do cucumbers need a trellis?
Not necessarily. However when you grow cucumbers of the vine varitey on a trellis, it allows plenty of airflow to get in between the leaves and prevent diseases, as well as saving you some garden space.
How do you keep cucumber plants healthy?
To keep your cucumber plants healthy, make sure it’s getting at least 6 hours of sunlight, plenty of airflow, regular watering, and mixing organic vegetable fertilizer into the top of the soil every 14 days. It’s also a good idea to have a search for any pests that are spending some time on your cucumber leaves or any diseases that might be starting up. Catching these early is vital for plant health so you can deal with the problem before it’s too late.
How long do cucumbers take to grow?
Cucumbers are very fast growers, so with germination happening between 3 – 10 days, you should be able to harvest your cucumbers in 50 days after that.