Cucumbers are one of the easiest plants to grow and are very low maintenance, making them perfect for beginner gardeners. They’re perfect for any garden, especially if you need to fill empty space. And they’re ready to eat as soon as they’re picked, give you a lovely treat to snack on while you are out working in your garden. Let’s talk about how to grow cucumbers for beginners so you can fill your garden this growing season!
This guide to growing cucumbers for beginners will teach you everything you need to know to start planting and growing cucumbers in your garden.
Growing Cucumbers – What to Know
Cucumbers are a favorite addition to salads and dips, providing flavor and crunch. And while you’ll most likely find cucumbers in the vegetable area of your local grocery store, cucumbers are actually a fruit. I was a bit surprised when I first learned this, but it makes complete sense with their sweet delicious flavor. They’re part of the Cucurbitaceae family which also includes melons and squash.
Cucumbers grow best in warm weather, making them the perfect addition to your summer garden. When they first start to grow, you’ll notice that they produce flowers first. No flowers mean no cucumbers. They’ll produce both male and female flowers and you’ll soon start to see the bees busily moving pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. While it’s possible for a female flower to produce a cucumber without being pollinated, it will have far fewer seeds than your average cucumber.
There are several varieties of cucumbers to choose from. The two most common ones are English cucumbers, also known as hothouse cucumbers, and garden cucumbers. These are the two most commonly seen in your grocery store’s produce area.
English cucumbers have a thin skin and a minimal number of seeds. They’re best enjoyed raw, sliced in a salad or on a sandwich. In many cases, garden cucumbers that you find at your local store have a wax coating. This helps the fruit retain moisture. Waxed or unwaxed, this variety has a thicker skin that can sometimes be bitter so it’s best to peel these cucumbers before enjoying.
Other cucumber varieties include Armenian (similar to English cucumbers), Gherkins (very small and best for pickling), Kirby (short and bumpy, best enjoyed raw but can be pickled), Persian (also very similar to English), and Lemon (yellow and round, the size of a fist, and look like a lemon, great raw and pickled).
All varieties are easy to grow and are very flavorful. Some are best enjoyed raw while others are better for pickling so which variety you choose to grow depends on how you plan to enjoy them.
What You Need to Grow Cucumbers
Before you grab that shovel there are a few things to consider first. If you have plenty of space, a vining variety of cucumber will work best for you. If you are short on space, you may want to choose a bush as their vies are much shorter. If you choose vining no matter how much space you have a trellis can be a good option. This will help to keep the vines up off the ground limiting damage to your other plants. If you choose to use a trellis such as this one though, be mindful of the placement so that you don’t block the sun from the rest of your garden.
Depending on the current temperatures in your area, you may want to start your cucumber plants indoors and move them outside later once the last frost has passed. Cucumbers do not like cold weather. For this reason, if you live in a colder area you can jump-start your growing season by starting seeds indoors and planting outside once the temperatures are consistently over 65 degrees.
Cucumber plants require full sun and regular watering to grow healthily and produce a good harvest. They will also need drainage to deter root rot with your plants. If you live in a very wet area, raised beds may be a good option.
Seeds or Plants
Starting your plants indoors can help to extend the growing season. The seeds won’t be exposed to outdoor elements while they’re germinating and you can control the soil temperature. The plants are also less susceptible to cucumber beetles than seeds are. It’s best to give your plants three to four weeks of growing time indoors before replanting them outside. Double check for the last frost before taking them outside.
You can sew plant seeds directly into the soil, but keep in mind it will take some time for those seeds to germinate. This means you will be harvesting a few weeks later with seeds so keep that in mind. Another thing to watch for is some seeds may also fall prey to pests during the germination process so your harvest may not be as big.
Outdoor and soil temperatures should both be above 65 degrees before planting. Cucumbers do not like cold weather and lower temperatures can stunt the growth of your harvest and keep seeds from sprouting.
Cucumbers love early morning sun so plant them where they’ll get the best morning light. Look to plant in an area that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight per day to ensure a healthy crop.
Cucumbers need rich, fertile soil to thrive and the soil should be light and airy for good drainage. When planting be sure not to pack the soil down over the seeds. To ensure your soil is at its best you can add in about 6 to 9 cups of compost (a few shovels worth) to each planting area. The compost will add the necessary nutrients for the cucumber plants. Another bonus is as you work the compost into the soil you will, in turn, loosen things up promoting good drainage.
The soil should have a pH of 6.8 or higher for the healthiest growth. Remember, the soil needs to be above 65 degrees. If you need to warm the soil, you can place a black plastic sheet over it. If you are not sure of your soil’s pH you can use an inexpensive pH soil test kit.
Consistent watering is key to growing a healthy harvest. Cucumber plants need at least one inch of water a week, more if the temperatures in your area are high. Use this simple test to see if your plants need more water. Put your finger in the soil up to your first joint and test the soil for dryness. If it’s dry, water. Remember, inconsistent watering will create bitter fruit.
When in doubt, remember this watering tip. The best time to water is in the morning or early afternoon. Water slowly, allowing the water to soak into the soil, and avoid the leaves. Getting the leaves wet can increase the risk of disease.
SLCG PRO TIP: When watering your plants try to avoid watering at night. The reason for this is because you do not want the water that may hit the plant to remain wet as it will attract pests and fungus or disease. When watering in the day the sun will help to dry the leaves out and keep them from becoming vulnerable to issues later on.
Adding mulch can help the soil absorb and retain moisture as well as deter weeds. Finally, water seedlings more frequently and increase watering to a gallon per week once the fruit starts to form.
Once the plants start to sprout, you may want to side-dress them with compost for more nutrients. You can also use a liquid fertilizer with low nitrogen, high potassium, and a phosphorus formula. Apply it at planting, a week after blooming, and every 3 weeks after that. You can apply it directly to the soil around the plants.
Be careful not to over fertilize or the plants will become stunted.
How Many Seeds to Plant
When planting cucumbers, plan on2-3 plants per person for eating fresh cucumbers and slicing them into salads. If you plan to pickle them, plan on 3-4 plants for each quart of pickles.
Planting and Growing Cucumbers for Beginners
Cucumber plants need to be planted at least 6 feet apart in the ground with 6-8 seeds or 3-4 plants per mound. Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep lightly covering with soil.
Cucumber plants are susceptible to rot so “raising” the plant a little will help to keep the stem out of sitting water in a heavy rain or watering. It’s best to plant cucumber plants in mounds or hills to protect the stems. To do this, create a tapered mound of soil in your garden for each plant that is about 18” in diameter and about 3”-4” high in the middle.
You can plant two plants per mound which will allow them to intertwine during growth and provide additional support for each other.
Mulch between mounds to keep weeds to a minimum.
Thinning Out Young Cucumber plants
Cucumber plants may need to be thinned out once they sprout to allow for plenty of room for growth. Thin them to about 3-4 plants per mound (less if your mound is smaller) if you plant seeds. If planting plants, only plant 3-4 plants per mound.
Growing Time for Cucumbers
Cucumber plants take 4-10 days to germinate and 50-70 days to fully grow and be ready to harvest. Use this as your main marker for when to plant still keeping in mind the weather and temperatures where you live.
Growing Tips for Cucumbers
Tip #1. Be careful what you plant nearby, not all plants make good companions. Avoid growing potatoes near your cucumber plants, they’ll hinder the growth.
Tip #2. Radishes are a very beneficial companion plant to cucumbers; they’ll help protect them from cucumber beetles and aphids. You can plant 5-10 radish seeds on the edges of your mounds; they’ll grow quickly and keep the beetles away.
Tip #3. Like some other plants, cucumbers will need to be rotated yearly. Soil-borne diseases can develop making the same area unusable the following year. You’ll need to rotate your crop or plant in raised beds or containers where you can remove all the soil and start fresh after the harvest. If growing in the ground, wait at least three years before planting in the same spot again.
Tip #4. After planting, mulch around the area with straw, chopped leaves, or another type of organic mulch to help keep pests away.
Tip #5. If planting seeds, cover the freshly planted seeds with netting to keep pests from digging up the seeds.
Tip #6. Gently spray the vines with sugar water to attract bees for pollinating.
When to Harvest Cucumbers
Cucumber plants need to be harvested regularly to encourage more growth. Once they begin to grow and produce, pick your cucumbers so others will grow. If the harvest becomes overloaded, it will put its energy into making the existing fruit larger instead of growing new fruit. I know this sounds good, but actually, it is not. Cucumbers left on the vine too long will become bitter and full of seeds.
Check your plants daily as cucumbers can grow from 2” to 12” in just a day or two.
How to Store Cucumbers
Cucumbers will only keep for about 10-14 days once harvested so it is best to enjoy them sooner rather than later. For best storage, store at 45-55 degrees and in humidity of 85-95%. Cucumbers are 90% water, wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap will help them retain moisture and preserve the taste.
Things to Watch for When Growing Cucumbers
Spreading a layer of mulch can help to keep pests at bay. Watch for cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and aphids as they love cucumber plants. These pests will attack both the seedlings and the vine causing problems for your cucumber plants. You can make a homemade insecticidal soap or use neem oil to keep them from damaging your plants. You can also place a floating row cover over the emerging seedlings to prevent cucumber beetles from doing too much damage.
Just be sure to remove the cover as the plants blossom to allow for pollination.
Welcoming ladybugs into your garden can also help to deter other pests. If releasing them, do so in the evening out of direct sunlight in an area that’s already been watered.
Keep in mind, if you’re cucumber plants don’t grow fruit, it’s most likely not disease but a problem with pollination. Try to attract bees to the area to resolve this issue. You can do this by planting early spring flowers near your garden.
Powdery mildew can also be a problem for cucumber plants, especially if the leaves get wet. To avoid this, water at the soil level and apply fungicides if you see any evidence of mildew.
Cucumbers are also susceptible to other vine crop diseases line bacterial wilt and anthracnose. Many hybrid plants today have a higher disease tolerance so look for a disease-resistant variety. Don’t work the garden when it’s wet as that can help spread disease.
Some animals like deer, squirrels, and chipmunks will want to enjoy your cucumber plants. You can deter them by adding garden fencing that is either temporary or permanent. This will help to deter most critters, remember to make sure it doesn’t block the sun from your garden. Once the blossoms start to grow into fruit, you can cover your cucumber plants with light netting to help prevent animals as well.
Remember, no matter what you use to keep your cucumber plants safe you will want to make sure the plant can still receive sunlight or cover only at night.
Now that you know how to grow cucumbers in a garden, you can soon be enjoying the tasty fruit on sandwiches and salads. You can also learn how to make homemade pickles to enjoy your harvest all year long.