Cucumbers: How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest

Cucumbers are a warm season annual vegetable that will grow easily in most home gardens. Regardless of the chosen variety, the growing conditions are similar. The biggest decision will be whether to stake, trellis, or allow plants to sprawl, if not growing compact plants.

A bunch of cucumbers

Cucumbers cannot tolerate even a light frost. If planting by seed, plant well past the last frost date for your area. Plants can also be started indoors three weeks before the last frost date and then transplanted outside. Make sure to transplant before the plants get too big, because cucumbers do not transplant well once they start vining. Seeds should be planted -1 inch deep and 1 foot apart in rows 5-6 foot apart. Seeds may also be planted three seeds to a hill with 3 feet between each hill.

Cucumbers prefer a well drained soil with a high amount of organic matter. When planting seeds or plants add a handful of compost or manure and after planting add a fertilizer as a side dressing. Add fertilizer again when plants begin to vine.

Compact varieties grow like a bush and do not require trellising. Standard varieties can be grown as a sprawling plant but the fruit will often have yellow spots on it from lying on the ground. Straw can be placed under the fruit. Frequent turning will also prevent spots. Small gardens benefit from staking or trellising cucumbers to keep them from taking over the garden. To train a cucumber on a trellis, weave the plant through the trellis as soon as it starts to vine and continue to weave it through to support the weight of the fruit. Plants can also be tied to a stake with soft cloth ties.

Cucumbers can be harvested at any size before maturity when the seeds turn hard. Pickling varieties are picked at about two inches for sweet pickles and between four and six inches for dill pickles. Slicing pickles are picked at about eight inches long except for Armenian cucumbers which are picked when the skin turns from green to light yellow.

While cucumbers are easy to grow, they are susceptible to several pests and diseases. The most common pest is the cucumber beetle, a small striped or spotted yellow and black beetle that attacks all parts of the plant. The beetles chew holes in the leaves and the surface of the fruit and can also chew through entire stems, killing the plant. Cucumbers are also susceptible to bacterial wilt, which is spread by cucumber beetles. Plants affected by bacterial wilt usually wilt and die when the cucumbers are about half grown. By the time the plant shows signs of wilt it is too late to save it.

Other than pickling, cucumbers cannot be preserved and should be used right away. Store the cucumbers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days before slicing, cooking, or pickling.

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University of Illinois Extension: Cucumber
Ohio State University Extension Office: Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden

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