17 Tips For Growing Cucumbers in Raised Garden Beds
If you are growing cucumbers in raised beds this season, you've joined the legions of gardeners that absolutely love growing this popular garden veggie every season. But how do you maximize your cucumber yield when growing in raised beds? In this article, gardening expert and homesteader Merideth Corhs provides her top tips for a bountiful cucumber harvest from your raised garden beds!
After tomatoes, cucumbers are one of the most popular vegetables to plant in the home garden. It’s no wonder really. Cucumber plants are prolific fruiters. Even if you plant them later in the spring, you can be knee deep in delicious fruit by mid-summer! But what about growing cucumbers in raised garden beds? Will they grow better there, versus other places they can be planted? Is there even a difference?
While you can certainly grow cucumbers directly in the ground or even in containers, they do really well in raised beds. But, like growing any type of veggie in raised beds, there’s a few tricks of the trade you need to know for a truly bountiful harvest.
So, if you’ve decided to grow cucumbers in your raised beds this year, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve put together some of my top tips for a successful raised bed cucumber harvest to help you along the way this season. Let’s jump in!
- 1 Why Cucumbers Love Raised Beds
- 2 Tips For Raised Garden Bed Cucumbers
- 2.1 Start With a Quality Raised Bed
- 2.2 Choose The Right Variety
- 2.3 Choose Disease Resistant Varieties
- 2.4 Invest in High Quality Soil
- 2.5 Don’t Plant Too Early
- 2.6 Practice Consistent Crop Rotation
- 2.7 Sow Seeds Directly in Your Raised Bed
- 2.8 Plant in Full Sun
- 2.9 Water Regularly
- 2.10 Mulch Your Soil
- 2.11 Weed Early and Often
- 2.12 Fertilize Throughout the Season
- 2.13 Grow Vertically
- 2.14 Monitor Pollination
- 2.15 Check for Pests and Diseases Daily
- 2.16 Take Advantage of Companion Planting
- 2.17 Harvest Early and Often
- 3 Final Thoughts
Why Cucumbers Love Raised Beds
Raised beds can be a gardener’s best friend in many cases. In general, raised beds are often more productive than planting directly in the ground because the soil is less compacted, it has better drainage, and it warms earlier in the spring. You will also deal with fewer weeds and soil-borne diseases. Raised beds also look really beautiful and can add a nice touch of landscaping to your yard.
There are many different ways of building a raised bed in your garden. You can purchase pre-made solutions that you put together, build them yourself, or hire someone local to build a custom solution for your space.
Since I garden in a very small space, raised beds have been a lifesaver for me and have allowed me to grow much more than I would have been able to do in containers alone.
Tips For Raised Garden Bed Cucumbers
Now that you understand a bit about why I feel cucumbers are the perfect raised bed vegetable, let’s take a deeper look at some of my top tips for ensuring you have a bountiful harvest this season!
There are quite a few options when it comes to raised beds. I have used raised beds placed directly over existing soil as well as elevated wooden beds on my deck. The most important consideration is the type of material you choose to use.
Untreated wood is usually the first choice. Cedar wood can do exceptionally well because it won’t degrade in wet conditions. You can also use galvanized metal garden beds that have drainage holes in the bottom.
You want to avoid materials that can leach toxins into your soil. Remember, your cucumbers will uptake whatever is in the soil and water of your bed. Avoid DIY solutions that call for using railroad ties, treated wood, pallets, concrete blocks, tires, or any kind of painted wood. I am all for recycling and upcycling, but in this case, it’s a bad idea.
Raised Bed Size
A good rule of thumb is to not make your raised bed wider than 4 feet. One of the benefits of raised beds is loose, well aerated soil. If you step in the bed to reach your cucumbers, you will compact the soil around your foot. You definitely don’t want this to happen.
Most people can reach about 2’ from either side of a raised bed, which is why we encourage a 4’ maximum width. If you are placing your bed near a fence, make your bed 2-3’ for the same reason.
Raised Bed Depth
Most raised beds provide you with enough room for a soil depth of 12 inches. Cucumbers will do fine in this soil depth, but they really thrive with 18 inches of room to grow. If you can make your raised bed a little deeper, your cucumbers will thank you for it!
Choose The Right Variety
Your first choice when it comes to cucumbers this year is what to plant. Do you want to focus on slicing cucumbers that are amazing in salads and sandwiches? Or do you prefer making pickles? How about both?
Personally I grow slicing cucumbers in one of my raised beds each year, and buy batches of pickling cucumbers from the farmer’s market. Since I have a small space, this helps me maximize my yield without running the risk of my pickling cucumbers sitting around until I have enough to can.
Once you have decided between slicing and pickling, you get to decide between vining and bushing!
Vining cucumbers are what we traditionally think of. These varieties send out sprawling vines from the main stem that meander up fences, trellises, and stakes. Certain types of cucumber send out shoots that can grow up to 15 feet long! This type of cucumber is great if you have a lot of space or if your raised bed is strategically placed up against a fence.
Bushing varieties, on the other hand, grow compactly and grow their fruit upright. Because of this, bushing cucumbers tend to be a popular choice for smaller raised or elevated beds since they are easy to plan for and control.
There are so many cucumbers to choose from that it really comes down to personal preference. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out the Spacemaster Bush Pickle (you can use young cucumbers for pickling or let them grow for slicing), the Straight Eight (for slicing), or the Boston Pickling Cucumber (a pickling heirloom variety).
Choose Disease Resistant Varieties
If you have dealt with cucumber diseases in previous years, you may want to choose a variety bred to be disease resistant. Bacterial wilt, spread by cucumber beetles, is probably the most common cucumber-specific disease, but plants can also be susceptible to mosaic virus downy mildew, and powdery mildew.
You can do a search on most seed sites for disease resistant cucumbers and choose the types of disease that are most common in your area. If you’re looking for a few recommendations, check out the Salad Bush (slicing), Fresh Pickles Hybrid (pickling), or the Lemon Heirloom (small yellow and great for slicing).
Invest in High Quality Soil
Cucumbers are heavy feeders and require an organically rich, fertile, well draining soil to thrive. To help prepare your raised bed, start with a rich, loamy outdoor potting soil. About a month prior to planting, amend your soil with compost, gently digging it in.
I like to make my own compost with my worm bin, but you can also use store-bought compost for this. Look for an organic compost with worm castings for best results.
Cucumbers like a slightly acidic soil – ideally with a pH between 5.5 and 7. It’s a good idea to test your soil before planting to see where things are. If you find your soil is too alkaline, add a soil acidifier at the same time as your compost.
Don’t Plant Too Early
Cucumbers are a warm season crop, meaning they shouldn’t be planted while there is any chance of frost. Like tomatoes and bell peppers, it’s better to wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees (they actually thrive in soil temps above 70 degrees). This will ensure that soil temperatures are warm enough to keep your cucumbers happy.
The good news is that the soil in raised beds is typically warmer than soil in the ground. This means that you can likely plant your cucumbers a little earlier in the season. If you do plant early, install a floating row cover on your raised bed to keep your young seedlings protected.
Practice Consistent Crop Rotation
Even in a home garden, crop rotation is important. This can help reduce soil-borne diseases from attacking plants year after year. This is especially important if you have dealt with disease in the past. The same is true with certain pests that like to overwinter in your soil.
Ideally, you should avoid planting cucumber plants in soil that was used to grow other cucurbits (the gourd family) for 1-2 years. You can plant other types of vegetables there and relocate your cucumbers.
If you have a single raised bed, this may be a challenge for you. I recommend using a large container with a trellis to plant your cucumbers in the off years. If you have multiple beds, planning a simple crop rotation should work fine.
Although you can technically purchase cucumber starts from a nursery, they tend to do a lot better when sowed directly in your raised bed. Like other cucurbits, cucumbers don’t like to have their roots disturbed, which makes them tricky to transplant. Luckily, they are extremely easy to grow from seed and you will likely see germination within 5-10 days depending on the variety.
Plant 2-3 cucumber seeds about 1 inch below the surface of the soil, spacing the plantings 18-36” apart (bush varieties will tolerate closer spacing). Cover the seeds with soil, and press down lightly with your fingers. Lightly mist the top of the soil with a spray bottle or a very low flow hose.
You don’t want to pour water over the top or use a hard spray attachment over newly placed seeds since it can wash them away or force them too far under the soil. Place seed markers at the plant sites so you don’t forget what you planted!
When the seedlings are about 3” tall and have 2 sets of true leaves, thin out extra plants, leaving only one per hole. To do this, snip them off at the soil level with a pair of scissors or shears (do not pull them out). Thinning your seedlings allows the strongest plant to grow without competition.
Cucumbers need to be planted in an area that receives full sun, meaning at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. They really prefer 8-10 hours of sun for maximum fruit production.
Southern exposure is ideal for most sun-loving vegetables like cucumbers where they receive light the majority of the day but are protected from the strongest afternoon sun. Cucumbers will also do well with an eastern facing exposure. Without enough sun, expect stunted growth, and other problems.
If your raised bed location offers you these planting options, you’re in great shape. If you only have western exposure like I do, your cucumbers may suffer in the hottest part of the afternoon. To help mitigate this, try to introduce a little shade with your plantings.
You can do this by planting a taller plant like dill or sunflowers near your cucumbers, or by installing a floating row cover in your bed. This will allow plenty of light to reach your plants while protecting them from the harshest rays.
Cucumber fruits have a fairly high water content, so it is no wonder that cucumber plants are pretty thirsty. A general rule of thumb is to give the plants about 1-2 inches of water every week. In a raised bed, you have to pay more attention to soil moisture than you do when planting in the ground.
You want the soil to be moist but not wet. The best way to determine if your cucumbers need water is to stick your finger in the dirt about 2-3 inches. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water. If it’s still moist, give it another day.
Remember, a general rule is that you will need to water your raised beds more frequently than you would if plants were directly in the ground. Remember to always water your cucumbers in the morning and not during the heat of the day!
Most plants don’t like a deluge of water and cucumbers are no different. Think about the difference between taking a nice sip of water from a glass vs someone opening a fire hydrant for you. In an ideal situation, you can set up a drip system before planting.
This will deliver water to your plants in a consistent and manageable way. If you don’t have a drip installed, don’t worry. You can simply turn your hose on the lowest setting and just let it slowly stream into the soil. It may take a little longer than you want it to, but you’ll be happy about the end results.
Where to Water
A common mistake with new gardeners is to water the top of the plant rather than the soil underneath. This can actually cause a lot of problems with your cucumbers including the spread of fungal disease (caused from wet soil splashing on the underside of the lower leaves), powdery mildew, leaf burn, and attracting pests.
Always aim to slowly water the soil either with a drip system or low flow hose. Add mulch to the base of your plant to maximize water retention, keep your soil at a consistent temperature, and minimize water splash back.
Mulch Your Soil
Mulch is incredibly important in your garden. It’s especially important in and around cucumber plants. Mulch provides protection against excessive heat, helps soil retain moisture, prevents water splash back (which can spread fungal disease), and discourages weeds.
You can use a lot of organic materials as mulch. Straw, grass clippings, wood chips, and crushed up leaves are all things you can repurpose from your yard (if it hasn’t been treated with herbicide/pesticide).
Cucumbers, like most vegetables, are sensitive to weed overgrowth. Weeds can cause overcrowding and airflow issues, steal vital nutrients from your plants, and attract certain pests like the dreaded cucumber beetle.
Keeping your garden clear from weeds can seem like a never ending task. The good news is that you can companion plant certain flowers and herbs with your cucumbers to take some of the work off your plate. Trailing nasturtiums, marigolds, chives, and basil all make excellent weed barriers around your cucumbers and have the added benefit of pest control as well!
As we mentioned previously, mulch will also have the added benefit of weed control in your garden. Anything you can do early in the season to make your life easier in the hot summer months is a win!
If your cucumber vines are pale green or yellow, especially the older leaves, they may need a nutritional boost. We already know that cucumbers are heavy feeders. We help our plants out early by adding rich compost to our soil.
But your plants may need a little extra help as the season progresses. This can be especially true in raised beds where we often have more plants per square foot competing for the same resources.
Cucumbers need moderate nitrogen and higher levels of phosphorus and potassium to optimize fruit production. Look for an organic plant food with the first number lower than the last two (like 3-4-6).
A fertilizer with too much nitrogen will result in a plant with too many leaves and not enough flowers or fruit. If it looks like your plant is struggling, feed your cucumbers with a liquid fertilizer once a month.
Cucumbers are a vegetable (tomatoes are another) that will happily grow on the ground if you let it. Unfortunately, this natural tendency won’t do you any favors this season. Growing cucumber vines on the ground encourages pests, disease, and will dramatically limit the fruit production of the plant.
Instead, prepare to grow your cucumbers vertically. If your raised bed is placed against a fence, you’re in luck – you have a built in trellis already installed! If your beds are located anywhere other than against a fence, you’ll need to look into installing a trellis for your cucumbers.
Simply put, a trellis is a frame that helps cucumber plants grow vertically. You can use a lot of things as a trellis, but ideally, you want a material thin enough that the feelers cucumbers send out can naturally wrap around it. You can purchase premade trellis systems from your local garden center, or you can make your own.
If you do a search, you’ll find dozens of DIY trellis solutions. A common idea is to use wood or PVC pipe as your frame and fill the space with chicken wire. This provides a sturdy base while offering plenty of places for vine feelers to attach.
Not only will growing your cucumbers vertically help the plant stay healthy and produce more fruit, it will make it easier for you to find that fruit!
A lot of garden plants are self-pollinating, meaning that the flowers have both male and female parts. Tomatoes and peppers are great examples of this. Cucumbers, on the other hand, have distinctly male and female flowers.
For the plant to set fruit, a pollinator has to take pollen from the male flower and place it inside a female flower. The fruit then develops from the female flower (the male flower will close and fall off after a few days).
Cucumber plants tend to produce a LOT of male flowers days before the first female flower appears. This happens by design. The flowers are meant to attract a lot of pollinators so they are already in the area once the first female flowers open up.
Unfortunately, the abundance of flowers without fruit can sometimes lead the home gardener to fear there is a problem when there really isn’t. Just remember that female flowers will typically start to show up a week or two after the first male flowers.
Male and female flowers are easy to tell apart. Male flowers bloom in clusters of 3-5, and fall off the plant after pollination. Female flowers bloom by themselves, one per stem, have an ovary at the center, and will develop a small fruit at the base of the stem after pollination.
How to Tell if Your Flowers Have Been Pollinated
After a flower has been pollinated, it will begin to wilt. If it’s a male flower, it will dry up and fall off the plant. However, if it’s female, the flower will dry up as the fruit behind it begins to form.
If you notice that your flowers aren’t wilting, it means they aren’t being pollinated and may need a little help. This can happen when not enough pollinators are visiting your plants. If your raised beds are set apart from other flowering plants, this could be the cause.
If you’ve noticed female flowers that are not setting fruit, you may need to consider hand pollination. To hand pollinate, find an open male flower, dip a clean paint brush into the center, and coat it with pollen.
Move to an open female flower and gently tap the pollen into the center. You can gently rub the brush against the stigma as well to maximize pollen coverage. But be gentle. Repeat this process for all female flowers that are open.
That’s it! You should see the closed female flowers start to swell and grow into a small fruit over the next couple of days.
Check for Pests and Diseases Daily
A good rule of thumb is to spend time in your garden each day, even if it’s only for a little bit. Take a look at your cucumber plants, check under the leaves for small pests like ants, aphids, and cucumber beetles, look for signs of stress or damage, and always be on the lookout for bigger issues like bacterial wilt that can destroy your plant.
Cucumber beetles are the most common pest you are likely to come across, although there are others that enjoy feeding on cucumber plants as well.
Depending on where you live, you will see one of two varieties of cucumber beetles: striped and spotted. The spotted looks a bit like an off-colored ladybug. Adult beetles feed on leaves and flowers, while larvae feed on the plant roots.
Most of the time, a few cucumber beetles aren’t something to worry about. They’re actually good pollinators. The biggest issue they cause is bacterial wilt, which is fatal to your cucumbers. The first sign of infection is wilted and drying leaves seemingly overnight. It’s extremely frustrating to see a healthy vibrant plant one day followed by wilted, dead vines the next.
An easy way to confirm bacterial wilt is to cut off an affected stem at the base and touch the cut with your finger. If a white, thread-like strand comes out of the cut when you pull your finger away, wilt is the issue.
Like most garden plants, cucumbers are susceptible to many diseases. Diseases like powdery mildew, downy mildew, and mosaic virus, are probably the most common you will come across (in addition to bacterial wilt).
Like most problems, prevention is far easier to manage than trying to treat a disease that has progressed through your plant. Some diseases are completely reversible if caught early, but can be fatal to a plant if left unchecked.
Companion planting, which we’ll talk about in a bit, can be an excellent way of helping to stave off disease in your cucumber plants. Keeping leaves dry (note proper watering techniques above) will also help your cucumbers avoid fungal diseases.
If you do notice fungal diseases like powdery or downy mildew, you can treat your plants with organic fungicides. Make sure to carefully read the directions and apply as directed.
Take Advantage of Companion Planting
Companion planting is one of my favorite things to write about. As an organic gardener, companion planting is critically important to pollinator attraction, pest management, disease prevention, and flavor enhancement of the core crop.
Here are some great examples of herbs, veggies, and flowers to companion plant with cucumbers:
Planting corn and sunflowers with your cucumbers can be incredibly beneficial. Not only do these tall plants provide a natural trellis for your cucumbers to climb up, they offer shade protection in the hottest parts of the day.
Sunflowers are a popular home garden addition to a raised bed with cucumbers for exactly this reason. I have also anecdotally heard gardners claim that these large flowers make their cucumbers exceptionally sweet and flavorful.
Peas, beans, and lentils all contribute critical nitrogen to your raised bed. This directly benefits nearby plants – especially heavy feeding cucumbers – by providing them with vital nutrients. Legumes have a symbiotic relationship with certain soil-dwelling bacteria.
The bacteria takes nitrogen from the air in the soil and feeds it to the roots of the legumes. In exchange, the plant provides carbohydrates to the bacteria. Any of the nitrogen not used by the legume is released into the nearby soil. This is how legumes ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil.
Most fragrant herbs – peppermint, dill, oregano, parsley – help deter pests from your cucumber plants. It’s helpful to choose only one or two of these, however, since the flavor of your cucumbers can be altered if too many different varieties are planted close together. Here are some of my favorite herbs to plant near cucumbers.
This is one of my all time favorites although it’s not often found at local nurseries (I have to order seeds). Borage is a flowering herb that pollinators and predatory insects swarm to. This will go a long way toward both natural pest control and natural pollination once your cucumber flowers start to bloom.
A strong smelling herb that repels pests like cucumber and flea beetles. Dill is another great herb to have in your garden if you plan to make pickles this year!
Another one of my favorites, the sulfur compounds deter aphids and come back year after year. These are also great to add to your cooking wherever a light onion flavor is needed.
This is a strong smelling herb with an established reputation for repelling pests. Keep in mind that you will need to cut back your oregano in a raised bed since the plant is a fast growing perennial.
Flowers are incredibly important to encourage pollinators to check out your cucumber plants. Planting flowers natural to your area can really help this as well. But if you’re looking for some tried and true flower helpers, check out marigolds and nasturtiums.
French marigolds especially act as a trap plant and will attract pests like whiteflies and aphids away from your cucumbers. You’ll need to plant these several weeks ahead of your cucumbers for them to be large enough to make a difference.
If you’d like to read about 11 reasons why you should plant nasturtiums in your garden this year, check out this article. Nasturtiums attract pollinators, predatory insects, and act as a trap plant specifically for aphids. When planted near your cucumbers, they can also help enhance the vegetable’s flavor, vigor, and growth rate.
Harvest Early and Often
Now that you’ve grown healthy, vibrant, and prolifically fruiting cucumber plants, it’s time to harvest! Like with most vegetables, you’ll be able to increase your harvest by picking early and often. Plants are always more productive if they are harvested frequently.
Pick your slicing cucumbers when they are roughly six inches long; harvest your pickling cukes when they are about 3 inches. Don’t let your cucumbers get too big because the plant will think it has finished its work! Large cucumbers can also be fairly bitter so from a taste perspective, smaller is better.
Harvesting is an area where raised beds really help out. Seeing cucumber fruit is much easier when they are at eye level! If your skin is sensitive, wear gloves while harvesting. I find the little spiny points irritate my fingers when I pick more than a few at a time. To remove those, simply rub them under cold water.
Get ready to enjoy a bounty of sweet, delicious cucumbers!
Growing cucumbers in raised beds doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, they are one of the most rewarding vegetables that you can plant, if you grow them properly. By sticking to some of the tips I’ve outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to a bountiful home grown cucumber harvest this season and beyond!