Edibles

Cucumbers: Sow and Grow Guide

Cucumbers: Sow and Grow Guide

Get ready, salads—home-grown cukes are on the way! Home-grown cucumbers have thin, tender skin that you won’t need to peel. Cucumbers plants are fast-growing. It is best to train the vines up a trellis; the fruits will grow straighter and will be easier to find among the leaves, and a trellis frees up valuable garden space. This cool, summer, salad-must is very easy to grow, and there is a cucumber variety to fit everyone’s preference.

General information
Cucumbers can be classified into two categories:

  • Pickling types are usually stouter and have drier skins that are ideal for absorbing pickle brine.
  • Slicing cucumbers have thinner, less bitter skins and longer fruit. Pickling cucumbers can be eaten like slicers, and slicers can be pickled when young.

MONOECIOUS cucumbers have both male and female flowers on any given plant, while GYNOECIOUS has only female flowers, therefore, a pollinator plant with male flowers is required for fruit production. Because gynoecious plants put energy into only female, fruit-bearing flowers these varieties are generally very productive and fast to mature. In the absence of male pollen, some varieties (parthenocarpic) produce seedless fruit. Often parthenocarpic varieties are gynoecious or have a high percent of female flowers.

Cucumbers produce a chemical called cucurbitacin, which produces a slight bitter flavor mainly concentrated in the skin that causes minor indigestion in some people. Varieties with less of this chemical are referred to as “burpless”.

Take a look at our Cucumber Comparison Chart here!

When to start cucumbers
Direct-sow outdoors 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost, and when soil temperature is at least 60°F, ideally 70°–90°F. If starting indoors, sow 2 to 4 weeks before average last frost. Cucumbers are sensitive to root disturbance; sow in biodegradable pots that can be directly planted in the ground without disturbing roots.

Soil
Soil should be light, well-drained and fertile; rich in organic matter.

Exposure
Full sun; at least 6 hours

Fertilizer
Apply a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer to soil before sowing. Since root system is extensive, fertilize the entire growing area evenly, as cucumber root are susceptible to fertilizer burn when fertilizer is applied too densely around the base of the plant.

Special Care
When cultivating for weeds, be careful; roots are shallow. If planting in containers, a minimum of 10" soil depth and 14" diameter container is recommended. Cucumbers are heat sensitive. Several days of temperatures in mid 90s or more can prevent fruit set. Consider providing afternoon shade using other crops or a shade cloth if heat is a concern. Non-parthenocarpic varieties are dependant on pollination by bees. Sowing bee-attracting flowers in the area can attract bees and therefore increase yield. Otherwise, hand pollination of these varieties will be needed. To hand pollinate, transfer pollen from one male flower to several female flowers using a paintbrush or similar tool. Female flowers have a miniature fruit at the base of the flower, while male flowers do not.

Harvesting
Do not let cucumbers get too big; plants stop producing if there are overly mature cucumbers on the vine. Pick regularly before fruits are bigger than optimal size for the particular variety. Cut the stem rather than pulling at the fruit to break off. Once picked, immediately immerse in cold water to disperse “field heat”, which increases the quality and life of picked fruit.

Storage
Store dry fruit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week, but for best quality, pickle or eat fresh as soon after harvesting as possible.

Variety suggestions
Fresh, garden cucumbers have tender skin, eliminating the need to peel them. ‘Spacemaster’ is great for containers or small gardens, with short, 2’–3’ vines. ‘English Telegraph Improved’ is the long (12”–18”), thin-skinned beauty with few, tiny seeds, and a snappy crunch. Are you a pickler? ‘Homemade Pickles’ is arguably the best variety available for pickling. An unusual cucumber showing up in farmer’s markets in recent years is ‘Lemon’. Not often found in grocery stores, this delightful, round, yellow fruit resembles a lemon, but eats like an apple! Mild, sweet and crisp, you won’t be able to resist enjoying them right in the garden.

Dare to try something really different! ‘Armenian Burpless’ is huge (18”–36”), and nearly seedless. Not a true cucumber, it is more closely related to the muskmelon, but tastes a lot like cucumber, and plants are more tolerant of heat than most cucumbers.

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