How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Cucumbers
From beginners to experts, Cucumbers are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in your garden. They have many uses, and multiple varieties that make them suitable for most climates. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks through step you'll need to follow in order to plant, grow, and care for Cucumbers.
Nothing quite says summer like a crisp juicy cucumber in the heat of the day. These refreshing, nutritious vines are an essential addition to any garden, yielding an abundance of oblong fruits for salads, pickling, juicing, snacking, or even facials.
This annual warm-weather crop is rewarding for beginner and advanced growers alike. Trailing behind tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers are among most gardeners’ favorites because they are easy to grow and produce continuously all summer long.
Growing cucumbers (organic or not) requires a little bit of practice, but they tend to be very forgiving. With the right growing conditions and care, cucumbers could be your most prolific garden crop this season!
Cucumber Plant Overview
Plant Type Annual
Species Cucumis sativus
Hardiness Zone USDA 3-10
Planting Season Summer
Plant Height 6+ foot Vines
Fertility Needs High
Plant With Marigolds, Sunflowers, Beans, Corn
Don’t Plant With Potatoes, Melons, Sage
Soil Type Well-draining Loam
Plant Spacing 12 inches x 6 feet
Watering Needs Moderate
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Days to Maturity 48-60 Days
Pests Beetles and Squash Bugs
Diseases Powdery Mildew
All About Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family along with pumpkins, gourds, winter squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, and zucchini. This family is most recognizable by their large flat palmate leaves that shade out weedy competition and protect their fruits. They have hairy stems and yellow or white flowers that usually enlist the help of bees to facilitate pollination.
Like its cucurbit cousins, cucumbers are warm-weather annuals. They cannot tolerate frosts of any kind and grow best at temperatures between 75° and 85°F. Cucumbers come in many unique flavors, shapes, and varieties that can be grown on a range of different trellises or allowed to vine along the ground.
Health Benefits of Cucumbers
I don’t know about you, but I got into gardening as part of my broader mission to live a healthier life more in tune with nature (while simultaneously cutting down on my grocery bills). Cucumbers fit the bill as one of the healthiest garden crops you can grow. Since they tend to be pretty expensive in stores, growing cucumbers yourself also benefits your wallet.
Cucumbers are 95% water, but their benefits extend far beyond hydration. Despite all that water weight, cucumbers contain vitamins B, C, and K, as well as copper, potassium, and manganese. They contain anti-inflammatory flavonoids that protect brain health and improve memory.
They also have polyphenols that may boost your immune system and reduce your risk of cancer. A cucumber a day to keep the doctor away? Well, that will be a whole lot easier once you have a garden full of these delicious fruits!
Propagation and Planting
The most important thing to know when planting cucumbers is that they have sensitive roots which prefer to be disturbed as little as possible. If you can, it is best to direct seed cucumbers right into the garden. In colder climates, this may mean later harvests or the potential risk of pesky rodents eating the cucumber seeds. Don’t worry, you have a few remedies for these issues described below.
When to Plant Cucumbers
Cucumbers should be seeded indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost date for your region. Plant in a high-quality potting mix ½” to 1” deep, or about twice as deep as the seed dimensions. Be sure they are seeded in a large enough pot (I typically use 3-4” square nursery pots) so that they don’t get rootbound while waiting for the weather to warm.
The nursery should be kept at a minimum of 60°F ambient temperature. For quicker, more even germination, use a heating pad beneath your cucumber trays. Remember, these babies like it warm.
Cucumber seedlings can be transplanted outside 1-2 weeks after the last frost date. Make sure their roots have fully filled out their containers to avoid unneeded stress. Move them outside at least 5 days before transplanting to “harden off” and let them adjust to nighttime temperatures without the comfort of your windowsill or greenhouse.
If you don’t have access to a greenhouse or grow light setup, it is best to wait until 3-4 weeks after the last frost date to direct sow cucumbers in the garden. Use a soil thermometer to check that soil temperatures are at least 70°F for optimal germination. Cucumbers won’t germinate in soils below 50-60°F.
How to Prepare Soil for Planting
Cucumbers prefer a well-drained rich garden soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 6.8. To prepare the soil, add 2-3” of rich high-quality organic compost. Use a broad fork to loosen the lower layers of soil and a rake to smooth out the surface. Cucumbers thrive in raised beds with lots of organic matter and aeration.
How to Direct Seed Cucumbers
When direct seeding cucumbers, plant them about ½” to 1” deep. It is highly recommended to protect newly seeded cucumbers with a row cover over the surface of the bed. This will keep out rodents and also add extra warmth to facilitate germination.
Cucumber seeds really need warmth to come up, so soil temperatures should ideally be about 70°F at the time of seeding. Germination will be erratic in colder soils and seeds won’t germinate at soil temperatures below 50°F.
Sow seeds about 6” apart in rows 4-6’ apart, depending on the type of trellis you are using. Remember, it is always better to over-seed than under-seed; cucumber seeds are a popular snack amongst rodents and can be finicky with germination depending on the variety and temperatures.
Cucumbers need plenty of space so you should be sure to thin them later to at least 10-12” between plants.
How to Transplant Cucumbers
Once the soil has sufficiently warmed and 2-3 weeks have passed since the last frost, cucumber seedlings can be transplanted into your garden. Whether you grew your own starts or bought seedlings from a nursery, be sure that cucumber starts are thoroughly rooted in their pots and they have been hardened off outside for 5-7 days.
When it comes to transplanting, be as delicate as possible. Remember, cucumbers hate root disturbance.
Use a garden trowel or hori-hori planting knife to make a furrow a little bit larger than the root ball. Grasp your cucumber seedling carefully at the base and gently wiggle the pot off of the root ball. Be very careful to avoid damaging or disrupting the roots!
Place the baby cucumber in the hole and backfill with soil, keeping the soil level at the base of the stem with just enough to cover the roots. Do not tamper or press down the soil.
Unlike tomatoes, cucumbers need to be planted directly in line with the soil surface. Do not plant the stems deep or they will be susceptible to damping off (a disease that kills cucurbit seedlings by basically rotting them at the base).
Thoroughly water-in your cucumber starts with diluted kelp and fish emulsion in a watering can. The kelp will give the cucumbers an extra micronutrient boost to help with the stress of transplanting. The fish is a nice nitrogen boost to promote early growth.
How to Protect Young Cucumbers
Cucumbers can be quite sensitive when young, which is why I always use a row cover. Whether you direct seed or transplant cucumbers, this lightweight crop blanket will make a world of difference.
It creates an extra warm microclimate beneath the fabric while also physically excluding any pests from landing on the leaves.
You can use a row cover directly laying over the top of plants or over wire hoops. Row cover is best secured with sandbags, bricks, or landscape staples on the sides.
Most cucumber varieties prefer a lot of space: at least 12” between plants and 4-6 feet between rows. If you are letting them vine along the ground, they could take up even more space.
If you are trying to save space in your garden, it is best to trellis your cucumbers. When trellising upward, plants can be spaced 12” apart in rows 24-36” apart. We discuss different types of easy trellis systems below.
Companion planting is an old-time garden technique for maximizing biodiversity and bringing mutual benefits to multiple plants in the gardens. Some companion plants repel pests, while others attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
Beneficial insects like ladybugs are important for aphid prevention. Preventing apids will also prevent other cucumber pests, like ants. Let’s look at some other crops that may grow well with cucumbers.
- Marigolds (attract beneficials and pollinators)
- Corn (stalks grow upward and support smaller cucumbers)
- Pole Beans (fix nitrogen and vine alongside cucumbers on a trellis)
- Dill (attract parasitic wasps and pollinators, plus it tastes great with pickles)
- Lettuce (enjoys slight shade next to a cucumber trellis)
Avoid planting cucumbers with:
- Melons (the same diseases and pests feast on melons and cucumbers)
- Potatoes (may make cucumbers more susceptible to blight and compete with them for nutrients)
Plant breeders are developing new cucumber varieties all the time. Traditional plant breeding means making crosses between flowers and developing new types from the best seeds, similar to the way one would breed best-in-show Golden Retrievers. Some varieties are specifically adapted to certain conditions or seasons, while others just have unique tastes and flavors.
There are four main types of cucumbers:
- Slicing Cucumbers: standard, thick skin, commonly found in grocery stores
- Persian Cucumbers: shorter, smooth-skinned, juicy mild flavor
- English Cucumbers: longer, thin-skinned, seedless and spineless
- Pickling Cucumbers: small, short, bumpy skin, often called “kirby” or “gherkin” cucumbers
- Armenian Cucumbers: extra long and curled shape, ribbed, crunchy, technically melons
Slicers are the classic American grocery store cucumber with thicker skin that usually needs peeling. They are spineless and not exceptionally flavorful or juicy, but they tend to bear fruit longer through the season.
The earliest and most productive slicer variety grown on organic farms around the country: this hybrid is dependable and vigorous. It is parthenocarpic, meaning it doesn’t need pollinators to set fruit (this was developed through traditional organic non-GMO plant breeding to make these cucumbers suitable for greenhouse production).
‘Corinto’ has intermediate resistance to powdery mildew and cucumber viruses. The skin is thick enough to be roughly handled, but not as thick as grocery store varieties. It is spineless. These cucumbers have a mild flavor, small seeds, and will produce in spite of weather stress from cold or extra hot temperatures.
This is a very popular open-pollinated garden variety that produces long, slender, deep green fruits. It starts producing later in the spring but goes longer than other varieties in late summer. The slightly spiny skin is still thin enough to enjoy, plus they are seedless! ‘Marketmore’ is resistant to most cucurbit diseases and grows excellently under cover or outside.
Classic, blocky fruits that grow 4-5” long. ‘Excelsior’ has American-style spines, a dark green color, and excellent flavor. This cucumber is vigorous and consistent throughout the season. It is resistant to scab and target spot, as well as cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew.
This thin-skinned cuke is seedless, smooth, uniform, and high-yielding. ‘Katrina’ is specially adapted to southern climates because it produces fruit even under heat stress. The fruits are best harvested between 5.5-6.5” long. They are resistant to major cucumber diseases and parthenocarpic (can fruit without pollination).
Another flavorful and seedless garden superstar, ‘Socrates’ is bred for colder conditions from 50 to 82°F. They produce all-female flowers for an abundance of fruits that are 7-8” long, dark green, sweet-flavored, and thin-skinned. This variety is very disease-resistant and vigorous.
This extra long European cuke has exceptional disease resistance and really high yields. They are completely bitter-free and grow 12-13” straight fruits, best when trellised. The skin is deep green, thin, and beautifully ribbed.
An elegant, long, slender European cucumber with thin skin and bitter-free fruits. This award-winning cucumber is crisp and sweet with very few seeds. Very high yielding and self-pollinating.
‘H-19 Little Leaf’
A short blocky variety, these cukes are great for fresh eating or pickling. They are resistant to many diseases and very tolerant of weather or water stress. The skin is slightly spiney with a bright emerald green color. The vines are compact and multi-branching with half-sized leaves, making them ideal for smaller gardens.
One of the best European pickler varieties, these gherkins have high yields and uniform fruits. The skin has tiny spikes and a crisp texture. They grow great in greenhouses or outdoors, with some resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew, and scab. These are the true ‘cornichon’ style European picklers that preserve excellently.
With fuzzy skin and long curly fruits, Armenians are unique cucumbers with amazing flavor. The skin is slightly ribbed and alternates dark green and yellow stripes. These are not technically cucumbers (more closely related to melons), but we threw them in anyways because of their common name and delicious flavor.
How to Trellis and Prune Cucumbers
Cucumbers can be grown on a trellis or allowed to vine along the ground. The highest yields and cleanest fruits will come from trellised cucumbers because they can maximize garden space by growing upwards rather than outwards.
In the right conditions, cucumbers are very vigorous plants that constantly send out new flowers, runners (side shoots), and tendrils (little appendages that help them grab onto things). A trellis helps support this abundant growth.
Wild Vining Ancestors
The wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpa) is a bitter gourd relative that grows in shady forest undergrowth throughout North America and enjoys vining up trees and woody supports. Though they are far removed, garden cucumbers seem most happy when we mimic this environment. Since we don’t typically have trees or other supports in the garden, constructing a simple trellis will allow them to vine freely upward and outward for maximum yields.
Best Trellises for Cucumbers
You can buy a premade cucumber trellis or construct a DIY version. Cucumber trellises don’t need to be complicated or expensive, they just need to support the vines and keep fruit up off the ground.
The common A-frame trellis allows you to grow multiple cucumber plants on both sides with plenty of airflow in between. You can buy premade A-frames like this one or this one, or you can make your own using cattle panels, wooden pallets, or even sticks from your yard. Get creative, just be sure your trellis is reinforced to support all that abundant cucumber growth!
Cattle Panel Arch Trellis
Cattle panels are simple metal fence pieces that can be arched into a half circle to create a sort of cucumber tunnel. This fun and cheap trellis can be as high or low as you’d like, depending on the support posts. We recommend using T-posts or rebar woven throw each corner to hold the cattle panel in place. You can also staple or nail it to a wooden raised bed.
Wood Framed Trellis
Some gardeners prefer a simple wooden trellis that can be put together using scrap wood, tree branches, or whatever you have laying around. These trellises can go upward in a rectangle shape, round in a teepee shape, or diagonal like an A-frame. Use pieces of twine or smaller sticks through the middle to allow cucumber vines to grab on and vine up.
Hortonova Trellis Netting and T-Posts
This resilient netting is commonly used in pea and floral production on commercial farms. It can be reused year after year and is surprisingly durable for how thin it is. To use hortonova as a cucumber trellis, you will need to construct a frame. The easiest way to do this is with T-posts that are pounded a foot or so into the ground. Hortonova netting can be hung tightly between the posts using zip ties or baling twine.
When and How to Prune Cucumbers
Pruning cucumbers is optional but is recommended when you’re growing in closer spacing to encourage airflow and prevent disease. Extra vines can also make your trellis pretty messy and tangled if you let them go wild.
Once they are 2-3 feet tall, trellised cucumbers should be pruned every few weeks to encourage the most fruit production. You do this by cutting and removing the “suckers” (sometimes called “runners”) that grow from the “elbows” of the main stem and leaves. These “suckers” suck energy away from the plant and put it into more vegetative growth rather than promoting more flower and fruit production.
If you want to grow the best cucumbers, maintain a single central stem and remove side shoots and older lower leaves. Cut as close to the main stem as possible and take the prunings to the compost or throw them away if they are diseased.
Cucumbers are warm-weather crops that really resent cold weather, “wet feet” (a saturated root zone), and sudden changes in temperatures. The best thing you can do for high-quality cucumbers is keep them happy throughout the main growing season by minimizing plant stress and buffering against extreme temperatures.
Never overhead irrigate cucumbers, as this promotes disease and may not adequately water the root zone. It is best to use soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or a watering can to keep your cucumbers adequately moist, but never saturated.
The best test for soil moisture in a cucumber bed is to stick your finger 4-6” in the soil. If it comes out completely clean, the soil is too dry and needs to be watered right away. If it comes out muddy, the soil is too saturated and should be allowed to dry out until the next watering.
The ideal moisture level for cucumbers is somewhere in between that spectrum: a nice thorough watering once or twice a week should keep cucumbers happy in most climates. Cucumbers need consistent moisture to fruit. Young plants will need to be checked on more regularly because their root zones are smaller and still being established. If your soil isn’t well-drained, avoid any pooling of water at the base of cucumber plants.
Soil and Fertility
Cucumbers are fairly heavy feeders that enjoy plenty of nutrition throughout their growing cycle. It is best to water-in cucumber transplants or seedlings with diluted kelp and fish emulsion fertilizer to give them a robust start to life. After that, amend with an all-purpose cucumber fertilizer to promote well-rounded growth throughout the 12-16 weeks of harvest.
As with all vegetables, cucumbers thrive in gardens with high organic matter and lots of compost. A slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is ideal for cucumbers, so it is fine to mulch with leaves, straw, or decomposed woody compost.
The ideal temperature for cucumbers is 75° to 85°F. But of course, nothing is ever ideal in our gardens! To buffer temperature extremes, use row cover while plants are small. Use mulches to insulate the soil and avoid planting cucumbers too early or too late. Trellised cucumbers are an excellent use of greenhouse space if you have one.
Cucumbers need full sunlight (6-8 hours per day) and are best grown in south-facing areas of the garden. Notice how the sun moves over your garden during different seasons and avoid planting cucumbers in shady areas, as it may result in low flower and fruit production.
The most important thing for growing cucumbers is adequate airflow. Like most cucurbits, cucumbers are very sensitive to excess humidity and moisture, making them susceptible to pathogens such as powdery mildew and damping off. There are also a few cucumber pests to be on the lookout for.
Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that looks like irregularly shaped powdery white or grey spots on the leaf surface. As it progresses, it leads to yellowing dead leaves. Prevention is key because once it takes hold it’s hard to stop.
Choose powdery mildew-resistant varieties and provide plenty of airflow. Pruning and trellising are the best options. If growing in a greenhouse or high tunnel, use fans and ventilation.
Damping-off is caused by fungus-like organisms called Pythium and Fusarium. In excessively wet conditions, it essentially causes the newly germinated seedling to rot at the soil surface and fail at fully germinating and growing. This is most common in cool, humid conditions.
To prevent damping off, provide plenty of circulation and airflow. Avoid overwatering cucumber seedlings or planting them too deep. Maintain well-aerated and well-drained garden soil. After the seedling phase, damping-off should no longer be a threat.
Cucumber beetles feed on cucumber leaves and can really wipe out a cucumber crop. They are also a vector for a plant disease called bacterial wilt. They can be yellow and black striped or spotted. Their damage looks like lots of holes in the leaves and flowers of cucurbit plants, ultimately stunting growth and reducing plant strength.
To keep cucumber beetles out, use a floating row cover when plants are young. Once they begin vining, you can hang yellow sticky traps around the cucumber trellis to trap the beetles. You can also hand-pick them and drown them in soapy water.
Crop rotation and diversification are the best long-term strategies for preventing cucumber beetle infestations. Move cucurbit family crops around the garden every season and maintain biodiversity.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
Cucumbers are typically ready to harvest anywhere from 40 to 60 days from planting, depending on variety, seeding/transplanting date, and weather. Once fruiting begins, it is best to harvest cucumbers every day or every other day. Check the ideal size of your cucumber variety and pick them before they get too large. If cucumbers are harvested oversized, they may end up seedy or bitter.
Use pruners or scissors to cut cucumbers right off the stem and gently place them in your harvest container. Some varieties can also easily twist off from the vine. They can be washed and eaten right away or stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Worst case scenario, they can always be frozen.
Cucumbers are easy to grow and happy to yield all summer long! They are a joy to have in the garden thanks to their pretty vibrant vining leaves and curly-Q tendrils. They are excellent vegetables for beginners and are a great crop for organic gardeners. Plant some cucumbers this season, enjoy their crisp refreshing taste, and be sure to preserve some for the winter.