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Cucumbers (How to Plant, Grow & Care for) – GIY Plants

Cucumber growing on vine with flower

After tomatoes, cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are the second most popular vegetable grown by home gardeners.

Cucumbers are annual plants (they do not regenerate after harvesting) belonging to the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Which includes familiar relatives such as the squash, pumpkin, zucchini, calabash, and watermelon.

Native to Africa and South Asia, cucumbers may have been first cultivated in India over 3,000 years ago. And introduced to Europe via the Romans.

Cucumber Plant Care

If you have a garden space with lots of sunshine and water, then growing cucumbers will be relatively easy.

There are actually hundreds of varieties of cucumbers to choose from. Including vining vs. more compact bush types. Or slicing vs. pickling types, and even seedless or burpless cultivars.

Cucumbers also range in sizes, from dwarf types a few inches long to some reaching over a foot long.

Regardless of their size, cucumbers are nutritious, delicious, and fast-growing. They also grow well with many other common vegetables.

Discover all about how to grow cucumbers below.

Soil

Cucumbers prefer warm, moisture retaining yet well-draining, loamy, slightly acidic (pH 6.0-6.8) soils with lots of organic matter.

Avoid composting with manure, as this manure may contain harmful bacteria and increase weeds. If drainage is an issue, grow on raised beds.

Watering

For optimal growth and better tasting fruit, cucumbers (which have shallow roots) should be watered frequently. Once a week in loamy soils, and up to twice a week in sandy soils.

Keep soils moist (though not waterlogged) by watering with about 1 inch of water every week.

Water from the bottom, and consider drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid getting leaves wet, which invites diseases.

Lighting

Cucumbers are tropical plants, so plant in an area with maximum sun, ideally shade-free.

Humidity & Temperature

As tropical plants, cucumbers grow well in high humidity (60-70%). Though humidities above 70% and lack of air flow make them susceptible to diseases. [1]

A warm-season vegetable, cucumbers grow best at temperatures between 75-85°F (24-29°C).

Fertilizing

Cucumbers are heavy feeders, and benefit from fertilization at planting. One week after blooming, and every three weeks. Apply mulch after fertilization to lock in moisture.

Fertilize cucumbers with an organic (which leads to better yields) N-P-K liquid fertilizer. That is lower in nitrogen, but high in potassium and phosphorus (e.g. 4-8-8 ratio). Excess nitrogen will cause excessive vine growth and reduce fruit production.

Avoid over fertilizing, especially cucumbers grown in pots. As this can cause stunted growth and root burn.

Propagation

Cucumbers can be grown from seeds, seedlings, or by stem cuttings.

The most common way to grow cucumbers is by seeds. It’s possible to also clone cucumbers via stem (or sucker) cuttings.

To propagate by cuttings, find a healthy sucker stem and cut the top 3-5 inches (8-12 cm) below the second set of leaves. Pinch off the second set of leaves at the node to encourage rooting.

Place stems in water (replacing water daily) or in rooting mix until roots grow. Keep area moist and warm for roots to grow.

Transplant when roots grow (after ~3 weeks) to potting soil. The best time to cut suckers is in the morning, when stems are well hydrated.

Diseases & Pests

Cucumbers are prone to a few diseases. Including bacteria wilt, powdery mildew, downy mildew, gummy stem blight, anthracnose, fusarium wilt, alternaria leaf spot, cucumber mosaic virus, and blossom end rot.

  • Bacterial wilt is the most common cucumber disease and causes severe wilting of vines, followed by death.

There is no chemical control for bacterial wilt once plants become infected. Bacterial wilt is carried by cucumber beetles, so keep an eye out for signs of these bugs.

Insecticides such as bifenthrin, cyhalothrin, or cypermethrin will kill cucumber beetles, but will also kill beneficial insects. Spray in the late afternoon to avoid killing helpful bees.

  • Powdery mildew can be identified by baby powder-like substances on the undersides of leaves. Followed by yellowing of the upper sides of leaves.

Powdery mildew is caused by high humidity, shade, and poor air circulation. Spores winter in crop debris, so prevent by removing plant debris after harvest.

Growing cucumber on trellises will improve air circulation. Placing them in full sun, along with crop rotation and sanitation, will go a long way in preventing powdery mildew.

Treatment for other fungal diseases can be done with fungicides and horticultural oil. Although it makes sense to test on a single leaf before applying broadly. [2]

Diseases can be prevented by using certified disease-free cultivars. Or keeping the planting area weed, debris, and pest free, and planting on trellises.

Cucumbers are also prone to pests such as leaf miners, aphids, cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, spider mites, pickleworms, and whiteflies.

  • Leaf miners are the larva of small yellow and black flies, whose eggs love to settle on the surface of cucumber leaves. Larva will burrow through leaves, leaving semicircular holes on the undersides of leaves.
  • Aphids affect most plants and will suck at the sap of the plants. While secreting a sticky honeydew substance which attracts ants and fungi.
  • Cucumber beetles are the most serious threat to cucumbers, as they carry bacterial wilt disease. Cucumber beetles will feed on fruits, flowers, stems, roots, and leaves.
  • Squash vine borers seldom affect cucumbers, but may if squash is planted nearby. Evidence of infestations are wilting vines and sawdust-like insect waste coming from holes in stems.
  • Pickleworms tunnel in flowers, buds, and stems, but mostly prefer fruit. They create sawdust-like white insect waste, which protrudes from holes in damaged fruits.
  • Whiteflies are found on the undersides of leaves and may cause silverleaf disorder. Whiteflies also weaken plant by feeding on their sap and excrete ant-attracting honeydew. [3]

Control insects with specified mild insecticides. Like (e.g. pyrethrin) and neem oil extract. Or other insecticidal soaps for less chemically-heavy methods. Kaolin clay is said to be highly effective in repelling cucumber beetles and other pests. See section “Cucumber companion plants” for natural herbal insect repellants.

Full-contact broad spectrum insecticides may harm beneficial insects. Such as bees and kill other plants, so avoid them when possible.

Pruning

Vining cucumbers should be pruned throughout the growing season. Like tomatoes, they will grow uncontrollable if left to their own devices.

Prioritize the pruning diseased and browning offshoots (vines and leaves) coming from the main leader stem.

If vines are getting particularly bushy, remove new offshoots. This ensures circulation and energy is directed towards making fruit and not excess foliage.

An umbrella system is commonly employed. Where a leader stem is allowed to reach the top of the trellis before 2-3 buds are allowed to develop and trail down. The vines from these secondary buds will increase yields.

Harvesting Cucumbers

Basket full of harvested cucumbers

Depending on the variety planted, cucumbers can take anywhere from 50-70 days from planting to harvest.

Cucumbers should be harvested when they reach the appropriate size for that particular variety. Well before they start to turn bitter and yellow.

Slightly immature green cucumbers of appropriate size are the best tasting.

Look for hidden ripened cucumbers, and be sure to pick them. As ripened fruits on vines will cause stems to stop producing new fruit.

Do not allow cucumbers to get too big, as they will become more bitter tasting. Harvesting cucumbers as soon as they’re ready will also encourage more fruiting.

Is cucumber a fruit?

Yes, cucumbers are technically considered a fruit. Botanically, anything that contains the seed of the plant is a fruit. Including items usually categorized as vegetables. Such as tomatoes, peppers, avocados, squash, and cucumbers.

Culinarily, cucumber is treated like a vegetable. Yet, it does grow from flowers and contain seeds, so it is technically a fruit.

How to plant cucumber

Learning how to grow cucumbers is quite easy.Most plants will yield on average 10 large cucumbers or up to 15 smaller cucumbers per plant.

Cucumbers can be grown directly from seeds or from transplants.

If you live in a cold climate, consider growing seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost. Then plant 1-2 weeks after the last frost to get a head start. A second sowing can be done 5 weeks later to ensure a late summer or early fall harvest.

Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold, so check to see if soil temperatures are at least 65°F (18°C) before planting.

Plant cucumbers 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart in a single row in an area with plenty of sun and without shade. Cover seedlings with netting materials to keep them from being dug up and eaten by bugs.

As seedlings grow, steer the cucumber vines on trellises. Which should keep cucumbers clean, prevent diseases, and save space.

Cucumber Benefits

Cucumbers are a good source of water, vitamins A, C, K, fiber, folates, minerals (magnesium, potassium, manganese, molybdenum, etc.), and beneficial phytonutrients.

The nutrients found in cucumbers are great for the skin. They have been used as a cosmetic, either sliced or as a paste.

The ascorbic and caffeic acids found in cucumbers can also reduce water retention. Helping to reduce puffiness and swelling under the eyes. Cucumber skin is also a great ointment for sunburn.

Placing cucumber slices in water also helps release antioxidants. Which lowers blood pressure and supports healthy skin.

Below, we’ve summarized some of main nutrients and key benefits of cucumbers:

Key Nutrients Purported Benefits
Water Hydration and body temperature regulation.
Ascorbic (Vitamin C) and caffeic acid Reduces puffiness and swelling under eyes. Promotes healing.
Phytonutrients such as flavonoids, lignanes, cucurbitacins, and triterpenes Strong history of research with connection to reduced risk of several cancers. Including prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. Fights bad breath bacteria.
Minerals (magnesium, potassium, manganese, molybdenum, etc.) Helpful for regulating blood pressure. Promotes heart health.
Fiber Aids in digestion and beneficial for teeth and gums.
Silica Promotes joint health by strengthening connective tissues. Promotes good nail health.
Vitamin K Helps blood clot and keeps bones healthy.
Vitamin A Benefits vision and immune systems.
Vitamin B Improves metabolism, create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin, brain, and body cells.
Beta-carotene Antioxidants help fight free radicals, and prevent cellular damage.

For exact amounts present in a cucumber, see USDA FoodData Central

Types of Cucumbers

There are hundreds of varieties of cucumbers. Which are often classified into slicing, pickling, and seedless/burpless types. They are also further divided by vining vs. bushing types. Of course, there is also overlap, as seedless types can also be pickling types.

Below, we’ll go over each category, and recommend a few popular varieties:

  • Slicers – These are usually long and straight and are meant for eating fresh. They are sometimes also referred to as English, Telegraph, greenhouse, hot house, or European cucumbers.

Some popular vining slicers include Muncher, Marketmore 76, Tendergreen Burpless, and Straight Eight, Greensleeves, Dasher II, Raider, Sweet Success, Slice Master, among many others.

  • Picklers – Picklers usually grow to about 4 inches (10 cm) in length. And are bred specifically for their quality as pickles.

Popular pickling cucumber varieties include Boston Pickling, Calypso, Eureka, Jackson, Sassy, Homemade Pickles, Northern Pickling, Adam Gherkins, Picklebush, Salt & Pepper, Supremo, Ace Pickling, Chicago Pickling, County Fair, Supremo, Wautoma, Double Yield, Excelsior, Endeavor, among many others.

  • Seedless/burpless – These cucumbers have been bred to have low levels of cucurbitacins. And will have fewer seeds and thinner skins.

Popular seedless types include Sweet Success, Diva, Tyria, Socrates, Katrina, Picolino, Iznik, H-19 Little Leaf, and Excelsior.

  • Vining vs. Bush – Cucumbers are typically vining crops. Though a few bushing varieties are available. Bush varieties tend to be more compact, though they are also less productive. If space is an issue, grow on a raised bed with trellises for support. Cucumbers grown on trellises will also grow straighter.

Cucumber vs Zucchini

Cucumbers are easily distinguished from zucchinis by their coolness, crunchiness, taste, and texture. Cucumbers feel hard, waxy, and bumpy, depending on the variety.

Zucchinis will feel more warm and gritty. Also taste less crunchy and more starchy than cucumbers. Visually, cucumbers hang from stems, while zucchinis protrude from them.

Both cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) and zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) are long and green and come from the same gourd family.

Zucchinis are a type of summer squash. And more closely related to squash, pumpkin, and gourd, and belong to the genus Cucurbita. Cucumbers belong to the same genus (Cucumis) as muskmelons (i.e. honeydew and cantaloupe).

Cucumber vs Pickle

Cucumber vs pickle, fresh made pickles in a jar

Cucumbers are raw. While pickles are cucumbers (usually the pickling variety) that have been fermented. Or preserved in vinegar or brine.

Pickling introduces new ingredients into the cucumber. Including probiotics and salt. But also destroys water-soluble vitamins A and C, among other nutrients, over time.

Cucumber companion plants

Cucumbers are said to repel ants and raccoons themselves. They also make great companion crops with several types of plants:

  • Corn and sunflowers provide natural trellises for cucumbers to grow on. The natural canopy they form with cucumbers also suppress weeds. Sunflowers also brighten up any garden.
  • Legumes (e.g. peas, beans, peanuts, clovers, and lentils) are nitrogen-fixing and increase soil organic matter. Plus great companion plants for nutrient-demanding cucumbers.
  • Herbs such as catnip, chives (which help deter cucumber beetles), dill (perfect for pickling), and oregano (an aromatic exception that’s great for pest control) go perfectly with cucumbers. Avoid most other aromatic herbs. As they compete with cucumbers for space and nutrients. Which stunt cucumber growth.
  • Root vegetables such as radishes, beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and onions are great with cucumbers. As they grow underground, do not compete for space, and are ready to harvest before cucumbers. These root vegetables also repel pests and loosen soils.
  • Lettuce are also great companion crops, as they grow compact and low to the ground. And benefit from the shading provided by cucumbers.

Avoid planting cucumbers with brassicas (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). As these are heavy-feeding crops that compete for nutrients and attract similar pests.

Melons, zucchinis, potatoes, and squash should be avoided or rotated. Because they also invite similar pests which can then spread.

Cucumbers are yellow

Yellow cucumbers are usually signs of over ripening. And will result in increased seeds, which cause the fruit to turn bitter.

If you discover yellowing, wilting, or holes on leaves, then this is a sign of pests such as cucumber beetles.

Water-stressed and nutrient-deficient cucumber vines will also cause yellowing leaves and fruit.

Harvesting cucumber seeds

Yellow cucumbers can also have their seeds harvested for the next season. To do so:

  • Take yellow cucumbers indoors to ripen out of direct sunlight for another couple of weeks.
  • Scoop seeds and mix with warm water in a plastic cup.
  • Leave for 5 days. Some mold may develop.
  • Swirl the mixture a bit and bad seeds will float while good ones will sink. Throw away mold.
  • Rinse good seeds thoroughly and store in a dry place away from sunlight. Seeds may become dehydrated, but are great for planting next year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do cucumbers take to grow?

Cucumbers can take anywhere from 50-70 days from planting to harvest. Depending on the variety. Cucumber plant stages involve a germination stage (3-10 days in warm temperatures), seedling stage (10-14 days after germination), flowering stage (35-50 days), fruit setting stage (10-12 days after flowering), and harvesting stage.

Should I peel cucumber?

Cucumber peels are rich in nutrients such as vitamin A, C, K, minerals, and fiber. So, it’s not necessary to peel cucumbers. However, be sure to wash the waxy skin thoroughly. Partially peel the cucumber skins to reduce the natural bitterness found in cucumber skins if desired. 

Is cucumber good for weight loss?

Cucumbers are hydrating, very low in calories, sugar, and fat, and rich in soluble fiber and minerals. This makes them great for promoting weight loss. Cucumbers also boost metabolism and promote the feeling of being full. Helping you eat less.

References:

[1] Blanchard, C., Pickens, J., & Wells, D. (2022, September 14). Greenhouse Cucumber Production. Alabama Cooperative Extension System. https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/ crop-production/greenhouse-cucumber-production/.

[2] Doubrava, N., Blake, J. H., & Keinath, A. (1999, September). Cucumber, squash, melon, & other cucurbit diseases. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cucumber-squash-melon-other-cucurbit-diseases/.

 [3] Griffin, R., & Williamson, J. (1999, March). Cucumber, squash, melon & other Cucurbit Insect Pests. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cucumber-squash-melon-other-cucurbit-insect-pests/

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