Nothing says summer like cool, fat cucumbers growing in the garden. Whether you're looking for a tasty complement to homemade hummus or a nearly calorie-free snacking veggie, growing cucumbers is a great way to get more green in your diet.
Soil Conditions for Growing Cucumbers
While growing cucumbers (Cucumis sativus / Cucurbitaceae) is by no means hard, they are nutrient-needy vegetables that have particular soil requirements. So, if you want to make sure your garden produces plenty wannabe gherkins this year, remember to follow these tips:
- Keep soil germination temperatures well above 70° F during the day (preferably around 85° F) and at least 60° F at night. If you live in a cooler region, using row covers and cloches can help to keep growing cucumber seedlings warm during critical germination stages.
- Plant cucumbers 18 – 36" apart in full sun, with nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. (Cucumbers being grown on a trellis can be planted at the shorter end of the range, while cucumbers being grown on the ground should be spaced at the longer end.)
- Cucumbers don't particularly like to be transplanted. So, if you can, sow cucumber seeds directly in the soil in which they will grow. If that's not possible (due to your climate), trying sowing cucumber seeds in peat pots, newspaper pots or some other type of soil-safe seedling pot that can be put directly in your garden soil. (That way sensitive root systems aren't disturbed and there's less stress on your seedlings).
Tips for Growing Cucumbers
While not particularly nutrient-dense vegetables, cucumbers are definitely nutrient needy. To make sure your carefully-sowed seeds don't go to waste, try these tips for growing cucumbers:
- Rotate crops annually. Because cucumbers have such high soil nutrient demands, they can quickly sap soils of key nutrients (particularly potassium and phosphorus). To help keep your cucumber plants (and other garden vegetables) well fed, use a yearly crop rotation pattern that helps reduce stress on your soil.
- To stave off garden pests like cucumber beetles, grow bitter-free cucumber cultivars. (Yes, you read that right: bitter-free.) Bitter varieties of cucumbers actually attract cucumber beetles; it's the bitterless varieties (like Wautoma and Burpless Beauty) that help discourage them from infesting your garden.
- Harvest early and often. Like zucchinis, cucumbers benefit from frequent picking, so start harvesting cucumbers when the first fruits are only slightly over half-mature, and continue harvesting cucumbers whenever they are ready to use (and definitely well before they begin to look swollen or yellow).
- Find the right cucumber for your space. Cucumbers can be sprawlers, climbers or patio plants—it all depends on which variety you choose to grow. So, find the cultivar that best suits the space you have available. Have a big, suburban garden with room to sprawl? Use a trellis to grow big, slicing cucumbers (like Raider and Asian varieties). Enjoying life in the big city but have a compact, urban garden to work with? Try growing bush cucumbers since they take up half the space that vining varieties do and can be grown in containers.
Looking for more in-depth information on growing cucumbers (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates)? Check out the Gardening Guides page for all the cucumber-growing specifications your geeky gardening heart desires!
Images thanks to dydydada, Hell-N and sanjivsut!