11 Tips For Growing Cucumbers in Pots or Containers
Do you love fresh cukes? Want to make homemade pickles? If you’d like to grow cucumbers but thought you didn’t have enough space, we’ve got good news. In this article, we’ll share tips for a bounty of cucumbers, grown in containers!
Cucumbers are easy to grow, and having limited space doesn’t have to limit your harvest. Whether you’re working with a small garden or just an apartment balcony, you might be surprised to know you can grow a big crop of cucumbers in the space you have.
Supermarket cucumbers don’t match the taste of those you can grow at home. Once you learn a few care basics, you’ll never want to go back to buying cukes at the grocery store.
In this article, we’ll cover the essentials you need to grow outstanding cucumbers at home in containers. Let’s get started!
Pick the Right Container
Cucumbers are robust plants that want to grow big. While not picky about the container, you need to keep a few considerations in mind:
Cucumbers have an extensive root system. They need a container that is at least one foot deep to develop healthy roots. These are large bushy or vining plants, so plan for a 5-gallon pot or container at minimum (go as big as you want or have space for).
Your cucumber likes consistently moist, but not soggy soil. Make sure that while your soil retains enough moisture, your potential container has drainage holes that will let the water run through freely.
Will you want to move your container? If you have hot summers with scorching afternoon sun, you may want a container that’s light and easy to move to shade when needed, like these Epic Grow Bags. They’re made of breathable felt that increases air circulation to the roots and stay lightweight.
If you’d like to plant some companions for your cukes (try radish, tomatoes, dill, and nasturtiums) and have the space, check out Birdie’s Metal Raised Garden Beds. They’re made of long-lasting galvanized steel and coated in non-toxic paint.
They’ll maintain a steady soil temperature and provide plenty of room for companion plants that will bring pollinators to your cucumber.
Choose the Right Spot
The ideal growing conditions for cucumbers are:
- Full sun (minimum 6 hours)
- Temps between 75-85℉ (they’ll benefit from afternoon shade if your temps are hotter)
Moving a portable container to a sheltered spot will extend your growing season, as these guys are not tolerant of frost. Contrariwise, if you’re going for a larger, heavy container, keep a shade cloth handy for those scorching days. At 90℉ and above, they’ll start producing less fruit.
Use The Right Soil Mixture
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. They prefer nutrient-rich, consistently moist soil. Use high-quality potting soil, and top off with nitrogen-rich compost early in the growing season. Their preferred pH is between 5.5-7.
Remember that moisture retention is good, but soggy roots are not. If your soil is heavy, amend it with some perlite or sand to loosen things up and improve drainage.
Choose The Right Variety
Cucumber varieties have two distinctly different growth habits. If you want to make the most of your vertical space, add a tipi trellis or cage-style support to your pot and go with a vining variety.
Pick a bush variety if you want the plant to stay compact and don’t feel like dealing with a trellis. Bush types often only need a single stake to give them a little bit of support.
Consider what you want to use them for. Are you looking for fresh sliced cucumbers? Cukes for pickling? Keeping your goal in mind will help you pick the best type for your needs. They are widely available to pick up as starts but equally easy to grow from seed.
Here are some recommendations for each type:
This small vining cucumber produces delicious full-sized slicing cucumbers on 2-3 foot vines, working perfectly on a trellis in a container. This variety resists common diseases and produces a nice harvest.
This Japanese hybrid produces long, crispy cucumbers with thin skins and limited seeds. It’s a bigger plant with 6-7 foot vines. These work in a large container with a tall trellis. Great for snacking. Pick when they’re less than 9 inches long for the best flavor.
A dark green, heirloom variety that produces a heavy harvest when picked often. Fruits are ready at 6-8 inches long. Vines reach up to 4-6 feet. They have great flavor. A hardy classic that is great for pickles.
An All-America Selections award-winning slicing variety that produces a high yield of tasty 8-inch cucumbers on small plants. The whole plant is only 3-4 feet at maturity!
Pick a Bushel
Another award winner, this small plant produces crisp, firm fruit ideal for pickling. It only grows 2 feet tall and wide, making it the perfect container variety for a patio. These have a sweet taste. They produce early and continue through the season.
This heirloom variety has fun, totally round, pale lemon-colored fruit that grow to 3 inches in diameter. A heavy producing, vining type.
These oval-shaped, cream-colored cucumbers look like dragon or dinosaur eggs! Easy to grow and vigorously vining, these are tasty and a favorite with kids.
Seed vs. Nursery-Grown Plants
Cucumbers are super easy to grow from seed!
Steps to Grow From Seed
- Direct sow into your container after the danger of frost has passed.
- Sow seeds about ½ inch below the soil and keep them moist.
- Sprouts will appear in 7-10 days, with plants producing fruit in 50-80 days.
- Once they have at least 3 leaves, thin them out so there is at least a foot between each plant.
You can also purchase a started plant from your garden center. But no matter whether you start from seed or buy live plants, be careful to keep the roots as intact as possible when transplanting to your container. They don’t like to be disturbed.
Stick to a Watering Schedule
Cucumbers like regular watering to stay moist. This is especially important in a container, where soil tends to dry out quickly.
Test the soil before watering to see if your cucumber needs more moisture with the knuckle test. Stick your finger into the pot knuckle deep. If it’s dry at that depth, give it a thorough watering. However, remember that the cucumber fruit is made almost exclusively of water; it’s better in the long run if your soil is always consistently damp to the touch.
If your cucumber is wilting from intense heat or a forgotten watering session, you can place the container in a larger bucket of water, where it will soak up hydration from the bottom.
Monitor your cucumbers for any sickly, yellowing, or dying leaves. Prune these off throughout the season.
Let your cucumber plant grow to at least half of its mature size before you prune for anything other than disease.
Once larger varieties reach between 3-5 feet, you can prune side shoots and suckers (they grow from the base of the plant) and foliage back as needed to let the rest of the plant get more airflow and sun exposure.
Never prune back the main stem or “top” the plant. Both reduce fruiting.
Fertilize as Needed
Cucumbers get a better start when fertilized early in the season. Begin with a nitrogen-heavy addition like composted chicken manure, or purchase a slow-release granular fertilizer.
Every few weeks, feed your cucumbers with a liquid fertilizer to keep them healthy and vigorous throughout the summer.
Regularly Monitor For Pests
Cucumbers have their very own pest, the cucumber beetle! While they eat other crops, too, they strike cucumbers enough to earn them their name. They defoliate plants and damage forming fruits.
- Use netting early in the season to keep them from laying eggs on your cucumbers.
- Handpick them in the mornings or evenings when they’re sluggish.
- Companion plant with varieties that attract their natural enemies, ladybugs and lacewings.
There are several types of cucumber beetles with different ranges and appearances.
Squash vine borers and squash bugs also love cucumber plants. Monitoring, removing their eggs (look for reddish-brown oval eggs on the underside of leaves and at the base of the plant), and handpicking (pluck them off and plunge into soapy water) are the surefire way to get rid of them.
You can use Neem oil to prevent further infestation, but do it on a cloudy day in the morning, as it will damage the leaves once exposed to the sun. Follow directions carefully and avoid getting it on fruit.
Watch For Disease
Cucumbers are often victims of powdery mildew, which starts as white spots on the leaves and eventually covers the plant in a fuzzy white coating. Pick off affected leaves right away. Avoid this disease by:
- Watering at the soil level rather than overhead. Wet foliage is more susceptible to fungus.
- Spacing plants at least 1 foot apart.
- Only water when the soil starts to dry out.
Cucumber beetles and aphids are disease vectors and can spread Cucumber Mosaic virus. Yellow, mottled leaves and fruit distortion are a sign of the disease, which can also be spread by unsanitized hand tools. Prevent and control by:
- Monitoring for and removing pests promptly (try a direct spray from the hose if you’re squeamish).
- Sanitizing your pruners with a dip in rubbing alcohol between plants.
- Removing affected plant matter and disposing of it. If the whole plant is affected, remove it.
And now, the best part! Here’s how to get the best harvest from your cucumbers:
- Harvest often (generally every couple of days throughout the season).
- Protect the fragile stems by cutting them rather than pulling on the fruit.
- Pick them on the younger side, as older fruits turn bitter.
- Harvest them when the cucumbers are firm and green.
- If the fruit has started to turn yellow, you waited too long.
Cucumbers are such prolific producers that they really make you feel like an accomplished gardener, even if you’ve never had a green thumb before. Growing in containers will help you maximize your limited space while still yielding lots of tasty fruit.
Remember to select the variety best adapted to your planned use (pickling vs. snacking), give it lots of sun, and keep it moist. You’ll soon have enough to share!