Can You Grow Strawberries and Cucumbers Together?
Are you thinking of growing cucumbers with your strawberries this season? Companion planting has many benefits, but some companion plants can also create more problems. In this article, homesteader and gardening expert Meredith Cohrs examines if planting strawberries with your cucumbers is a good idea or not.
As someone who gardens in a small area, I love companion planting. Companion planting is when you plant certain fruits, vegetables, and herbs together in the same space because they benefit each other. Benefits include pollinator attraction (which helps increase yield), pest and disease management, flavor enhancement, weed suppression, and more.
There are certain companion pairings that are almost like gardening cannon. Think tomatoes and basil and the three sisters (corn, beans, and gourds). Then there are others that are big mistakes, like tomatoes and corn or onions and beans.
But there are a lot of fruits and vegetables that fall into a somewhat nebulous middle ground. They’re not considered companion plants in the traditional sense, but they also aren’t on any avoidance lists either. Cucumbers and strawberries fall into this no man’s land. So let’s see if we can (or should) plant these together.
The Short Answer
The biggest hurdle to successfully planting these two plants together is access to sunlight. In many cases, sprawling cucumber vines will effectively shade your strawberry plants resulting in poor growth and low fruit yield.
The good news is that if you are very deliberate with trellising, plant placement, and sun exposure, it’s possible to successfully plant strawberries and cucumbers together.
The Long Answer
As with many things in gardening, the devil is in the details. The nuances of where your gardening beds or containers are located, the amount of light they receive (and the exposure of that light), and how much space you have all play a role in answering this question for your specific situation.
When it comes to questions about whether certain plants can be planted near each other, it’s helpful to look at a few key things: sun, soil, and water requirements. If these things line up, it’s likely that two plants – even if they’re not considered companion plants – should do just fine together as long as they aren’t competing for nutrients.
Both of these plants have “better” companions, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be planted together. You can see ideal strawberry companions here, and ideal cucumber companions here. But these two plants can be paired together as long as certain requirements for each plant are met.
Fruiting plants like strawberries and 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. As with most warm season crops, southern exposure is ideal where plants receive light during the majority of the day but are protected from the strongest afternoon sun.
The biggest concern with growing strawberries and cucumbers together is that tall, vining cucumbers will eventually provide too much shade for your strawberries to receive adequate sunlight.
The one way to potentially get around this is to strategically place your plants in such a way that the strawberries will be on the sunward side of the cucumbers.
This is going to be the most successful with southern exposure since you will have the most direct sun to work with during the day. You will need to aggressively trellis your cucumbers to ensure the vines don’t cover the strawberry plants, but it is possible.
June-bearing strawberry bushes will be the most successful with this setup. They will have flowered and produced fruit before your cucumber vines have become too large. However, other things happen with the plants after they produce berries.
Perennating buds are produced (which turn into next year’s strawberry flowers) and runners are created. This process should still happen even without full sun, but both will be somewhat diminished. If you don’t want your strawberries sending off runners anyway due to space, simply snip them off or transplant them elsewhere.
Both of these garden plants are heavy feeders and require an organically rich, fertile, well draining soil to thrive. Whether you are planting in the ground, in a raised bed, or in containers, aim for a rich, loamy outdoor potting soil.
About a month prior to planting, amend the soil with compost by gently digging it in. If you have existing strawberry plants in place, lightly dig in compost around the base of the plants.
I like to make my own compost using my worm bin (vermiculture is amazing), but you can use any store-bought compost for this. Look for an organic compost with worm castings for best results.
Both plants also like slightly acidic soil. Cucumbers are happiest with a pH between 5.5 and 7, while strawberries prefer a pH between 5.4 and 6.5. It’s a good idea to test your soil before planting to see where things are. If you find that the soil is too alkaline, add a soil acidifier at the same time as your compost. If you are planting the two together, aim for a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
Fertilizing will be important throughout the growing season since the plants will be competing for key nutrients in the soil. If you have added an organically rich compost to your soil at the beginning of the season, you can probably skip the addition of fertilizer at the time of planting. If you didn’t do that or simply don’t have compost available, you’ll need to turn to a fertilizer.
Strawberry plants need quite a bit of nitrogen in early spring and again in late fall as the plants are growing and sending out runners. Once the plants start flowering and setting fruit, a balanced fertilizer suits their needs fine.
Cucumbers, on the other hand, need only moderate levels of nitrogen along with 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.
The timing of plant maturation may be our saving grace here, and once again, the June-bearing strawberry may be the solution to the mismatched fertilizing problem. Since June-bearing plants bear fruit early in the summer, you actually want to avoid an additional influx of nitrogen in the spring since it will promote leaf growth over fruit production.
Even if you don’t plant June-bearing plants, you’ll probably be ok as long as you use a good compost rather than fertilizer early in the season. Once both plants have grown and are setting flowers and fruit, their nutrition needs are more closely aligned.
The good news is that both plants need about the same amount of water per week – about 1-2 inches. For cucumbers and strawberries planted in raised beds or containers, you’ll have to pay more attention to soil moisture than you do when planting in the ground since the soil dries out more quickly.
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.
The most important consideration to watering these two plants together is how you do it. You’ll want to use a drip system or soaker hose if at all possible and avoid overhead sprinklers. If neither of those is an option, a slow-flow hose should work fine as well. Strawberries are susceptible to rot in overly soggy conditions and this is more of a risk if the leaves are wet after every watering.
Watering Tips For Strawberries and Cucumbers
Water slowly and deeply. Most plants don’t like a deluge of water and these plants 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.
Water the roots, not the leaves. 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 yourplants 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. Remember to always water your cucumbers in the morning and not during the heat of the day!
The most common reason I see for people planting strawberries with cucumbers is gardening in a small space and the desire to use strawberries as a ground cover in the garden.
If you have a small space and want to plant them together, I say go for it. If you can manage the sun exposure correctly, both of your plants will probably grow and produce fruit just fine. Even if your strawberries do wind up somewhat shaded from your growing cukes, you’ll still be able to enjoy some of that sweetness even if the yield isn’t as high as it could have been.
If your thought was to use strawberries as ground cover around your other vegetables, I would recommend using something else. Trailing nasturtiums or marigolds make great ground cover and appreciate the shade thrown by your vining cucumbers. They will also provide additional companion plant benefits like pollinator attraction and pest reduction.
If you have plenty of space in your garden, I would recommend keeping the two plants apart. Strawberries grow great in containers and hanging baskets, or can thrive growing on a hillside in your yard that’s too steep for anything else.
The bottom line is that if you want to enjoy maximum yield from both your strawberry and cucumber plants, your strawberries will be more productive if set apart.
Strawberries and cucumbers are both hallmarks of summer gardening. While they can certainly be grown together if space is an issue, you’ll enjoy more of that summer strawberry sweetness if your plants enjoy uninterrupted sunshine. But no matter what, you’ll get to enjoy the fruits of your own garden this year. Happy planting!