Growing Cucumbers for Salads and Pickles
Enjoy the crunch of success by growing cucumbers. Whether you use them pickled or fresh, whole or sliced, cucumbers add a delicious flavor boost to your meals. Just one cucumber plant produces plenty of fruits, especially when you keep them steadily picked.
Whether you're looking for a fresh salad topper or want to make your own jarred pickles, I think we all can agree that everything is better homegrown. Growing cucumbers in your garden is simple as long as you plant in the right location and feed the plant a considerable amount of water.
When considering where to plant cucumbers, choose a location that gets eight or more hours of sun per day. Planting cucumbers begins when the soil is at least 70 degrees F at a depth of 1 inch. Cucumber seeds can't germinate in cold soil. Add compost or a balanced 10-10-10 time-release fertilizer to the soil before planting.
Cucumbers need at least 1 inch of water or rain every week. Soak the ground completely when watering instead of watering lightly more frequently.
Starting Cucumbers from Seed
Cucumbers are easy to grow from seed. Direct-sown cucumbers do better than plants started indoors because of the risk of disturbing the taproot when transplanting.
To plant cucumbers from seed, sow 1 inch deep 2 to 4 inches apart, or plant slightly mounded hills 3 feet apart with four or five seeds in each hill. Once seeds germinate, remove the weakest two or three seedlings to allow the stronger plants to thrive. Leave enough room for the vines to sprawl, or insert a cucumber trellis, such as a section of wire fence, or tuteur into the ground at planting time for vines to climb up on.
Pickling vs. Slicing
Before you plant, decide which type you want. Some cucumbers grow on 6-foot-long vines that sprawl on the ground or are trained to climb on a cucumber trellis or other structure. Bush varieties grow 2 to 3 feet wide and are well suited for smaller gardens.
Although cucumbers are often labeled for pickling or slicing, either type suits both uses. Picklers grow short and wide with thin skins and black spines. Slicers grow long and slender with smooth skins; types grown commercially have thicker skins to survive shipping.
Some slicing cucumbers are marketed as "burpless." Burping and indigestion are caused by curcurbitacin, a natural compound found in greater amounts in the peel and stem end of a cucumber. To minimize burping, peel cucumbers and avoid using the inch closest to the stem. Wash your knife if you've used it to peel the skin, and rinse the fruit with water before slicing.
Although we think of cucumbers as having a green skin, some varieties are ripe when white or yellow. Lemon cucumbers have a yellow skin and grow even rounder than lemons—but still taste like cucumbers.
Growing Cucumbers in Pots
Choose cucumber varieties labeled as dwarf or patio types. Use a soilless potting mix; garden soil is too dense for containers. Sow seeds directly into the potting mix at least 4 inches from the edge of the pot. A 3-gallon container planted with three seeds is a good size. Pots less than 12 inches wide and deep are too small to successfully host cucumbers. Insert a trellis or cage into the pot at planting time to hold the vines. Place the pot where it receives at least 8 hours of full sun per day, and keep the soil moist but not wet.
Is Cucumber a Fruit or a Vegetable?
It's a fair question: Are cucumbers fruits or vegetables? Cucumbers technically are fruits because they develop from a flower and contain enclosed seeds. Avocados, beans, peapods, corn kernels, grains, nuts, olives, peppers, pumpkins, squashes, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes are also fruits.
Cucumber Pests and Problems
A common issue with growing cucumbers is low fruit production caused by cold or rainy weather or low numbers of pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are needed to move pollen from the male cucumber flowers to the female flowers. To attract pollinators to your yard, avoid insecticides and grow a variety of plants. You can also choose cucumber varieties that have only female flowers and don't need pollinators; these are labeled gynoecious and parthenocarpic.
If your plants suddenly die, you may have bacterial wilt disease spread by cucumber beetles. Squash vine borers can decimate the vines—remove borers by hand and destroy them. Cucumber mosaic virus can infect plants. Remove and destroy the plants, and choose varieties labeled resistant to mosaic virus. Reduce the chance of powdery mildew by watering only the soil, not the leaves, and leave plenty of room between plants to promote air circulation.
Harvest cukes at any size, but pick them before they grow to a baseball bat size. Leaving large fruits on the vines signals the plant to stop producing. Snip cucumbers instead of pulling them off the vines. Because vines often set new roots, any disruption to the vine can damage those roots.