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How to Grow Cucumber Plants: Planting, Caring, Soil, Sun & More

What exactly does it take to grow cucumber plants? There are a lot of different questions you could be asking in the process that we’ll try to cover here. Besides just this article, we also have a bunch of articles on everything from rototilling to creating loam soil or simply just straight up gardening tips.

If you’re serious about getting your garden started, we encourage you to read all of them at your convenience, or coming back to them as time permits.

Getting that perfect garden you’ve always been wanting takes time and effort, and you simply won’t grow a sprouting vegetable garden overnight, but going with this crop is easy and will yield you deliciously tasting food relatively fast in comparison to other alternatives.

cucumbers hanging on a plant

Let’s Get This Out Of The Way First – Is a Cucumber a Fruit or a Vegetable?

You might already know the answer, or you simply might not care because you simply want to plant it and enjoy consuming it, but since the question seems to pop up on a regular basis, we thought we’d take the time to answer it here before we get started.

The answer is quite complex, surprisingly. You probably use it as a vegetable when you’re making food, but reality is that it fits the definition of being a fruit, given that when fertilized, the flower will produce the cucumber.

There’s a general misconception that fruits are always sweet, but sweetness isn’t actually what determines if it’s one or the other, and it’s the botanical definition that matters.

Other plants that people commonly confuse are beans, tomatoes and avocados. Yes, those things are in fact also fruit.

But Legally, Something Interesting Happened at One Point

Did you know that the Supreme Court once had a say with regards to  how a cucumber should be defined, where they came to the conclusion that it actually was a vegetable. As with so many other things in life, it came down to money, because Edward Hedden was told to pay a 10% import tax on tomatoes, what the customs official said was a vegetable, and the Supreme Court ended up deeming it to be a vegetable, and the definition was expanded to also include cucumbers.

Benefits of the Plant

Cucumbers are a great addition to any healthy diet as they can even help you stay hydrated because they contain so much water. Given that they’re 95% water, a 6-ounce serving would equal 5.7 ounces of water.

They’re also rich in potassium, which has a positive effect on your blood pressure and they contain fisetin, which is anti-inflammatory. By boosting your mouth’s production of saliva, you’re also helping keeping bad breath away, and their vitamin K is good for your bones too.

It also contains a lot of antioxidants, which reduces the risk of a wide range of undesirable things. It’s probably not the first time you hear you should be consuming antioxidants.

Given these different benefits to consuming it, it’s no wonder so many people are trying to see if they’re able to grow it themselves in the backyard.

Where do They Naturally Grow?

Our friends living Connecticut, Ohio and other northern states may be sad when they realize that this fruit prefers hot weather and access to lots of water (not surprising when you remember the fact that it contains so much of it). However, if you live in Texas or Georgia on the other hand where the weather’s significantly warmer, it should also be remembered that water is very important for them, and that you would first have to amend the soil if its too sandy. While having deep roots, most plant roots are subject to decay if the soil doesn’t drain reasonably well, and loam soil is what it will grow the easiest in and therefore the best type for cucumbers, which will also be rich in nutrients. If you have clay soil where you live, you really should revisit our article on making loam soil to make up for it. You can also always opt to have the earth tested, but adding organic matter is really the solution to it.

These plants are in fact so afraid of the cold, that they’ll ideally have 70-degree soil before you start planting them. The further north you are trying to plant them, the more sandy the soil should be because of its ability to heat up quickly, but do keep in mind that it will also require more frequent watering because it drains so much faster.

What’s The Best Time to Plant Them?

Given how they don’t handle frost well at all it’s imperative that you’re aware of frost dates in your area and that you well surpass the last expected frost so that you don’t end up planting them in vain.

How to Grow Cucumber Plants

These plants will generally tolerate a pretty wide pH-range, all the way from 6.0 to 7.6 even if they prefer it more neutral, on the slightly acidic side with the maximum pH value around 6.8. Different things can be done to help adjust the pH value, and properly preparing the soil is an important first step when it comes to growing cucumber. If you have a compost pile, this can be used to fertilize the soil, and composted manure is also a great option. If you don’t have a compost pile yet, you should start one. This compost should be worked into the soil to make it easier for those microorganisms to do their magic.

How Much Space Do They Need?

Seedlings should be planted in rows 36 to 72 inches apart to make sure that the roots have enough space, and the exact distance will be determined by variety that you get, which is why you should make sure to see what the recommendations are for that specific one. The individual seeds should be spread 8 to 12 inches from each other, again depending on the variety you’re going with.

seeds

Picture courtesy of Savvy Gardening

Can They Grow on a Trellis?

Yes, they in fact can, and when they’re planted like that, they’ll simply need to be placed a foot apart. There are in fact good reasons to grow them on a trellis, which additionally requires less space and will give you more clean fruit too. Requiring less space is by no means the only benefit to going about it this way, and it comes with the advantage that watering them becomes easier to, as well as harvesting. When the fruit rests on the ground, it’s also likely to develop different colors, and by planting them vertically with this method, you won’t be experiencing that the same way.

As they’re growing, they should be wrapped around the fence or other vertical objects. It’s easy to do, doesn’t take long and it helps teach the plant in which direction it should be heading. Of course, you will need to make sure your trellis is strong enough to support the weight from it.

While you might have seen grocery stores and other places where vegetables are watered in the store, it in fact does nothing good for the vegetable, and the same is the case when you’re watering plants. You don’t actually want to be watering the leaves, you want to water the stems, which lowers the risk of disease. By growing them on a trellis instead of growing them on the ground, you’re also making watering easier.

Having the fruit lie on the ground is also where they are more likely to be getting their damage from.

Growing them on a trellis is a good idea, but by having the trellis set up before planting them, the seedlings won’t get damaged from the installation of the trellis.

Hardiness Zones They Generally Grow in

They can generally grow in hardiness zones 4 through 11, which is indicative of the weather temperatures that are ideal for them. The hardiness is indicative of the average annual extreme minimum temperature, where they’ll typically have a hard time growing in most parts of Colorado but can start growing once you go South of that. If you want to see which hardiness zone you live in, you can use this link or see the photo below. Using the link will allow you to more easily zoom into the image.

hardiness zones

As you can see, Texas is not even in zone 11 despite being a generally  very warm place. They should, however ideally be planted so that they aren’t exposed to weather warmer than 90 degrees, which could be an issue in places like Texas. For them to germinate, soil temperatures cannot be below 60-70 degrees, and although not liking frost, they have a hard time if exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees for longer periods of time, which is an issue in the northern states.

Do Cucumbers Need Full Sun?

Its broad leaves require a lot of sun and this plant will definitely grow the best if given full sun. Another advantage with the trellis is that it gives them better exposure to sun too. When they get 8 hours of sun per day, that’s when they’ll fare best, but the most important aspect is still that they should avoid frost at all cost.

Installing an Irrigation System

Given the amount of water that they require, a lot of homeowners choose to get irrigation systems installed to help make sure they get the 1-2 inches of water per week that they require. Watering should also be done in the morning, which is generally the best time to water your garden by avoiding runoff, and it doesn’t simply let the water stay overnight which would be increasing the risk of diseases.

Types

If you’re planning on growing these vertically, you will need to choose the right type as there’s both bush cucumbers and vining ones, but the typical one you’re able to buy at the grocery store has large leaves and is grown on vines because of its many advantages.

When you ensure that they have the right conditions, they can give large amounts of crop, and it can even give continued harvest for you to enjoy in delicious salads, sandwiches or however you choose to consume it. The variety that you choose will also affect how long it takes for them to ripen, but it can be as little as 6 weeks.

How Long Does it Take For Them to Grow?

The least amount of time you can expect for the cucumber to grow is about 6 weeks, but it will go up to about 10 weeks depending on the variety. One trick is to continuously plant them which in turn will continue to give you grow – planting them two weeks apart.

Want to Get Started Early?

So your outside soil might not be 70 degrees yet, so what do you do about it? Well, one thing is to take those ceramic planters (or another container for that matter) and planting them inside of it to start off with with the intention of moving them outside 3 weeks later, where they’ll need to be replanted. There are other steps that can be taken too to help keep the soil both warm and help it retain moisture, which includes covering the row with black plastic or another type of covering. Since the sun helps heat up the ground, it should, however, only be done as it reaches the desired temperature as it will otherwise simply act as insulation, thereby keeping the soil cooler for longer.

Caring For Them

Mulch, the same way as plastic, will help keep the soil moist, although it is penetrable and will also keep the heat trapped in the ground, the way the plants like it. Some animals or garden pests may initially find the seeds very interesting to eat, and to discourage it you can cover them with netting right after seeding. As the plant grows, it will also be requiring more and more water.

By the time they grow about 5 inches, you will want to make sure that only the healthiest ones are kept for space purposes, and some of them should be removed, so there’s about 1½ feet between the remaining ones.

When to Fertilize?

The fertilizer will help ensure there are enough nutrients in the ground as the plant keeps using it for growing. High potassium and low nitrogen solutions are the ones you will want to seek out. Fertilizing is a thing that will ideally need to be done every 3 weeks starting about a week after they bloom. It should be applied to the ground immediately surrounding the stems. Be wary of the amount that you add to them since adding too much will have undesired consequences.

While you may not appreciate carpenter bees because of the damage they can cause to cedar siding, bees and other animals will help in pollinating and growing more cucumbers. One trick to attract them is with the use of sugar water.

Why are my Cucumbers Not Growing and Making Fruit Despite Having Flowers

You could be in a position where you get flowers but without getting any actual fruit, despite having both male and female flowers. Simply having the two flowers present isn’t enough to actually get cucumbers out of it, because there are certain conditions that must be present before you get fruit. The lack of fruit is usually caused by poor pollination if both genders of plants are present. The bees will help pollinate the female plants, but a lack of bees or especially cold or wet weather could be discouraging them from doing their duty.

One solution to this situation is hand-pollination. The pollen comes from the center of the male flowers and a cotton swab can be used to gather it. This now needs to be transferred to the center of the female flower and is a simple process that will help you in growing more cucumbers, when the pollination otherwise seems to not be happening. It’s a process that doesn’t only work with cucumbers but a lot of other plants too.

Cucumbers Not Growing

If nothing seems to be growing, there are other problems that could be present causing the situation. If for example you didn’t plant them in nutrition-rich soil, they don’t have proper access to enough water, or another planting problem is present, this could be causing slow growth with them because it doesn’t have the ideal conditions for growth. Planting them too closely will also affect their growth rate, or if they’re planted when the soil is still too cold. Additionally, it could be a problem with the overall temperatures being too low for the plant, which is why it’s often planted in a green house. On the other hand, we also mentioned the possibility that it could in fact be because they’re experiencing too much heat, if the temperature often exceeds and stays above 90 degrees.

Several types of diseases could also be slowing their rate of growth, and if you notice either pests or disease, measures should be taken to rectify the situation. You will also want to get rid of weeds that help attract insects as well as drain the soil of nutrients. The measure you use for getting rid of them should naturally be adjusted to the fact that you’re growing an edible plant, and you will therefore want to prevent using anything that could be absorbed by the cucumber plant.

General Growing Tips

In order to lessen the maintenance you will need to do and to decrease the risk of an infectious disease, you can choose a variety that stands up better against diseases.

If you’re planning on growing them on hills, you can take 5 seeds and plant them in a circle, with 5 feet of distance to the next circle. The same principle applies that you will need to remove the ones with less potential once they start growing.

When you have applied the fertilizer to the soil, follow that by spreading a layer of mulch too.

You will also want to continuously visit the fruit since it will grow fast and increasing to too large a size will make it taste more bitter too. Follow the harvesting recommendations for the specific type in terms of what size they should be having. Cucumbers meant for pickling are best harvested when they’re 2 inches, while other varieties can get as long as 10 inches or more before being ready for harvest. A yellow color will show that it is no longer at its best and has waited for too long. You will want to look out for a strong, green color as that is when they’re at their best. Leaving them for too long, and you will find a fruit that’s less nice to bite into given its toughness with harder seeds too.

How were you planning on harvesting them? Avoid simply pulling the fruit off since damage may be caused to the plant by doing so. Using a knife will cause less stress to the plant.

Since their water content is so high, they’ll also need to be stored the right way to keep their freshness. You’ve probably tried cutting a cucumber and leaving it without any wrap on, and you’ll soon find that the end becomes very dry. With 95% water, they’ll need to be properly wrapped so that the moisture doesn’t simply leave the fruit.

How Much Fruit will each Cucumber Produce?

You can usually expect 10 fruits per plant when the conditions are right, meaning you’re getting up to three pounds for a properly cared for plant, although that includes both fertilizing and  planting it correctly. By harvesting the fruits continuously, you’ll also see that it encourages the plant to continue its growth of fruit, and a lack of harvesting will cause the plant to decrease its growth of cucumbers.

How Deep Should You Go With the Seeds?

For the best results, you will want to plant the seeds somewhere between .5 – 1 inch deep. In loose, loam soil you can simply put the seed on top of the soil and press it in and make sure it’s covered afterwards.

sliced cucumber