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Growing Your Cucumbers

Updated: May 3, 2021

Planting: Plant cucumbers in a sunny spot in well-drained, rich soil. Add compost to planting beds before planting. Compost has all the nutrients cucumbers need for fast growth. Give cucumbers plenty of room to grow; trellised or caged cucumbers can be spaced about 12 inches apart. Cucumber hills should be spaced about 3 feet apart. Sow seed or set out cucumber transplants after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Frost can stress or kill cucumbers. If there is a danger of frost once cucumbers are in the garden, protect plants with covers. Cucumbers can become stressed when temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s or higher. Providing filtered afternoon shade helps cool the plant such as planting to the south of tall crops like corn.

Some Companion Plants:

  1. Herbs. Dill is an aromatic herb which attracts beneficial insects like pollinators and parasitic wasps, which can help pollinate your cucumbers and keep other garden pest levels down. Many gardeners believe that dill improves the flavor of mature cucumbers. Be careful with other aromatic herbs, however - herbs like sage and mint have a very strong scent and flavor and may affect the flavor of cucumbers.

  2. Legumes. Legumes such as peas and beans are a great choice to grow with cucumbers because they provide much-needed nitrogen in the soil.

  3. Marigolds. Marigolds are one of the most popular companion plants because they repel a wide variety of pests, including aphids, a common pest of cucumbers.

DO NOT grow cucumbers near potatoes. Potatoes are heavy feeders that take up a lot of water, so they will compete aggressively for the same nutrients.

Watering & Feeding: Keep the soil evenly moist with regular watering. Do not let the soil dry out. Cucumbers are almost all water and require water for fast, even growth. Water stress during the early stages of growth will cause bitter-tasting compounds to concentrate in the fruit. Always water at the base of plants. Moisture on cucumber leaves can result in fungal diseases such as powdery and downy mildew. If plants are wilted in the morning, the soil is too dry and needs to be watered immediately. Wilted leaves in the afternoon are a result of the roots being unable to supply the water demand of the plant during hot periods. Reduce soil moisture evaporation by mulching around the plants. Fertilize cucumbers with compost tea, worm casting tea, diluted fish emulsion, or other liquid fertilizer every 10 days to 2 weeks during the season. Feed cucumbers with a low nitrogen, high phosphorus, and potassium formula (follow label directions).

Cucurbitacins: (Pronounced Kew ker ba tā sin). Cucumbers contain organic compounds called cucurbitacins. Low levels of cucurbitacins are not detectable, but high levels make fruits taste bitter. Cucurbitacins tend to increase with plant stress during the growing season. A lack of water or extreme temperatures (hot/cold) can cause cucumbers to taste bitter. Some cucumbers naturally have a slightly bitter flavor, so try to plant varieties that have lower levels of cucurbitacins such as Lemon Cucumbers. Otherwise, provide cucumbers with optimal growing conditions.

Fruit Formation & Harvesting: Cucumbers have separate male and female flowers. The first flowers to appear are male flowers that will not produce fruit. Female flowers appear a week or so after male flowers. A female flower will have a cucumber-shaped swelling at the stem end of the flower; this is the un-pollinated fruit. The female flowers are pollinated with bees or other insects carrying pollen from the male flower to the female flower. Pick cucumbers at their optimum size and pick them regularly. When the cucumber drops its flower at the blossom end of the fruit, the fruity is ready for harvest. Cucumbers are less tasty when they grow too big, seeds are more pronounced, and the fruit may become pithy. Bitterness concentrates in the stem end and skin of the cucumber. Peel the fruit and cut off the stem ends an inch or two to reduce bitterness at serving time.

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