Growing your own crunchy, just-the-right-size cucumbers is a cinch. Choose from dozens of varieties to grow at home. They will thrive in the garden, raised beds, or even large containers. They thrive in hot summer weather and, as with many types of produce, the more you harvest, the more the plants will produce. Whether you grow pickling cucumbers or slicing cucumbers, you’ll have a bounty to share with friends.
Getting the Right Variety
From long heirloom Chinese cucumbers to thumb-size pickling cucumbers, a wide range of cucumber varieties abound. When selecting a variety to fulfill your culinary wishes, look for one that has good resistance to mosaic virus and downy mildew, two of the most common cucumber diseases. Also, consider the growth habit of the variety you select. Look for "bush" varieties if you garden in a small space. Instead of producing 6- to 8-foot-long vines, "bush" varieties grow in a 2-foot-wide clump.
Cucumber Care Must-Knows
Because cucumbers are warm-season plants, they're very sensitive to frost. Plant seeds or transplants in the garden after the last chance of frost passes. Seeds can be started indoors but the benefit is minimal, as plants grow best when the night temperature is consistently above 55 degrees.
Plant cucumbers in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter in an area that receives at least 8 hours of bright sun a day. Improve garden soil, if needed, by incorporating a 2-inch-thick layer of well-decomposed manure or compost into it before planting. Sow seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in slightly mounded hills that are 3 feet apart, sowing 4 to 5 seeds in each hill. After seedlings emerge, remove all but the 3 strongest ones in each hill so the plants have room to grow and mature.
You can also sow cucumber seeds in large containers. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and at least 4 inches from the edge of the container. When plants are 4 inches tall carefully thin to the strongest seedlings. Rule of thumb: Leave one cucumber plant in a pot that's 12 inches deep and 12 inches across, or 2 plants in a larger container. Water containers every day to ensure the soil does not dry out.
Harvesting the Right Way
Plan to harvest your first cucumbers about 55 days after planting seeds in the garden. Harvest picklers when they are 2-4 inches long. Start picking slicers when they become 6-9 inches long. Make sure you check cucumber vines at least every other day for fruit that is ready to harvest. Protect tender vines by using scissors or pruning shears to cut off the fruit rather than pulling it off. Pick all mature cucumbers, because when fruits are left on a vine they signal the plant to stop producing. Plus, oversize cucumbers can be seedy or bitter. Eat or preserve cucumbers within a day or two for best taste.
Related: How to Prepare Cucumbers