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Cucumbers are a delicious sign of summer, and growing them in your garden can bring a bounty that you can use for pickling, sprucing up salads and making refreshing ice-cold beverages throughout the warmest months of the year. Armed with a few tips on how to grow cucumbers, gardeners can harvest pounds of fresh-from-the-vine cukes throughout the season.
This vegetable, which is actually in the gourd family, is easy to grow and can be a prolific plant in your garden when you understand the best ways to plant and care for them. When you know how to grow cucumbers, you can enjoy a plentiful crop in just a couple of months.
Before learning how to grow cucumbers, choosing the variety that you want to plant is essential. There are two basic types of cucumbers.
Slicing cucumbers are the ones you most commonly find in the produce department of the grocery store. Typically 6 to 9 inches long, slicing cucumbers have glossy, dark green skin (often waxed to prolong shelf life at the store) with tapered ends. This type is ideal for slicing for use in salads, recipes or snacking.
The second type, pickling cucumbers, are small and thick. Although you might find them at the supermarket, they are more commonly available at farmers’ markets or specialty stores. As the name suggests, this type of cucumber is perfect for making all sorts of pickles.
Within those types are nearly 100 varieties of cucumber. Rebecca Sears, chief gardening guru for Green Garden Products, which owns Ferry-Morse Home Gardening, says the process for growing cucumbers is similar for all varieties, and they’re all almost effortless to grow. The key is selecting one that suits you.
“My favorite variety to grow are Burpless Supreme cucumber plantlings from Ferry-Morse, which are very smooth, with a sweeter and thinner skin that is not bitter, when comparing to other cucumber varieties,” Sears says. “And, well, they’re burpless! They grow to be 3-5 inches in length too, making them perfect to slice for salads and dipping.”
How To Grow Cucumbers
You actually have a few options for planting cucumbers. You can purchase seeds to plant directly in the ground; you can start your seeds indoors; or you can purchase small plants to add to your garden.
The first factor to consider is your climate. Don’t plant them any earlier than two weeks after the last frost date. The soil has to be at least 70F for the seeds to germinate.
“Cucumbers crave the heat, so it’s important the soil is warm enough for seeds to germinate,” Sears says. “If the soil in your area is not yet 60 degrees, you can start your seeds indoors. Cucumbers grow fast and don’t like their roots disturbed, so start the seeds in large peat pellets, like those from Jiffy, to minimize root disturbance when transplanting. If the ground has warmed up to 60 degrees, you can sow seed directly into the garden.”
To jumpstart your garden, plant live baby plants nurtured by a professional nursery, she says. These will give you fresh cucumbers sooner than if you’d started with seeds.
Choosing the best spot to plant is key for how to grow cucumbers that are healthy, beautiful and delicious.
“For success, all you need is full sun, moist, fertile soil and plenty of space for the vines to grow, and the plant will handle the rest,” Sears explains.
Cucumbers need well-drained soil, though loose, sandy loam soil is ideal. The plants’ roots reach up to 48 inches deep, so avoid planting them near tree roots that could strip water and nutrients from them. If you are planting seeds, push two or three together an inch deep into the soil — space seed plantings 18 to 36 inches apart.
Cultivating Cucumbers, Protecting And Troubleshooting
Along with full sunlight, Sears says that cucumbers need lots of water and moist soil. Aim to provide at least an inch of water per week, but keep an eye on the soil if you live in a warm, dry climate. Inconsistent watering will result in bitter cucumbers. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests testing the soil with your finger. If you bury your finger into the soil and it feels dry past the first joint, it’s time to water.
Thin plants to at least 1 1/2 feet apart once the seedlings reach 4 inches tall. And though you will want to attract bees for pollination, other insects can be harmful. Watch for signs of cucumber beetles, aphids and spider mites and take steps to eradicate them promptly. Most cucumbers have been cultivated to tolerate disease, but keep an eye out for symptoms of fungus or bacteria. Spots, discolored leaves and damaged fruit are indications of pests or disease.
“Watch the weeds, making sure you’re keeping them to a minimum with continual maintenance using your hands or adding straw or grass cutting mulch,” Sears says.
If you plant bush cucumbers, mulch will provide nutrients, help the soil retain water and keep the fruit clean. If you choose vining cucumbers, trellising the plants will save space and keep the cukes clean. Before you know it, you will be harvesting your own nutritious, delicious cucumbers.
“Within 10 days, you should start to see sprouts,” Sears says. “In 50 to 75 days, the plant will reach full maturity and provide a harvest of fresh, crisp cukes.”