Cucumbers: How to Grow in Australia - Seeds of Plenty

Cucumbers: How to Grow in Australia

There’s a common misconception that growing cucumbers is difficult. It certainly can be if the conditions are wrong – but that’s true of any plant. With a few simple tips and tricks, getting fresh, crunchy cucumbers from your veggie patch can be a breeze. So, this week, we’re going to take a closer look at cucumber growing basics and prime you for growing success.

Do You Grow Cucumbers in Sun or Shade?

Choosing the right spot for your cucumbers is an important step. It would be nice to say that there’s one easy answer. But this is one of those occasions when you’ll have to use your head and your knowledge of the local climate.

In cool zones, cucumbers will prefer full sun, but if you live in an area with hotter summers, light shade will help your plants no end. In this case, you can grow them in dappled shade under trees or build a temporary structure using 30 to 50 percent shade net to prevent your fruit from getting scorched in the sun. If you do choose shade net, you must be careful to select a variety of cucumber that doesn’t need insect pollinators – more on this further on.

Do You Need to Build a Trellis for Cucumbers?

Cucumbers are vines, so they need something to scramble up on. Of course, you can just let them sprawl, but the fruits might rot where they contact the soil, and they’ll take up way more space than they really need to. The good news is, you don’t need to build a trellis if you’d rather not. Find a spot near a wire fence, or grow some corn (maize) for the cucumber plants to climb up.

When to Sow Cucumbers in Australia

As a general rule of thumb, September to January sowing of cucumber seeds suits the temperate zones. For the subtropics, July to March should be the best sowing window for cucumbers. And, in the chilly regions, October to December are ideal. Your main goal is to miss the frost, so you can try playing around with this. In the subtropics, some people report success with cucumbers year round. 

How to Prepare Your Soil for Cucumbers

Good soil preparation is part of your recipe for success. Cucumbers like a well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. That means plenty of compost and you can improve draining by forming your planting stations into little mounds. Each one will take two plants. 

You can give them a further helping hand with a good layer of mulch to cool the soil and keep it moist. It will also help to keep the low-hanging fruit from contact with the soil and reduce the accompanying risk of rot.

A Little Feeding Helps Cucumbers to Grow Well

We know that a liquid feed at planting and again when the fruits begin to develop will help cucumbers. Other than that, it is best to be a little on the light side with feeding. High nitrogen fertilisers can actually make the plants grow madly and produce a lot of leaves. Having said that they actually suppress fruiting, so when you do feed, select a balanced, organic feed.

Water Wisely and Well

If you’ve heard that cucumbers are thirsty, you heard right! Despite the need for good drainage, the soil must always be moist. Drip irrigation is marvellous for the job since it puts the water where it’s most needed. Whatever method you choose, keeping the leaves dry will fend off disease. So, the alternative to drip irrigation is daily hand watering that concentrates the water at the roots without wetting the leaves.

The one thing you should NEVER do with cucumbers is to let them dry out completely. They may not die, but the quality of the fruits (supposing they survive) will be very poor indeed, and the flavour bitter.

When to Pick Cucumbers

Although there are varieties commonly grown only for gherkins, they’re really just super young cucumbers picked when they are just 5 to 10 cm long. Your alternative is to leave them on the vine until they get bigger. For most varieties, this will be when they are 15 to 20 cm long. There are also round cucumbers, and they’re usually considered good for use in salads when they’re about the size of a tennis ball.

As you can probably tell, cucumbers are fruit that’s eaten before it fully ripens, so keep checking your vines and if you’re going to err, pick them too early rather than too late. Use a secateurs or pair of scissors to cut them free from the vine without damaging the tender stems.

Cucumber Varieties - And What They’re Best For

If you thought the cucumbers you can grow in Australia are limited to English cucumbers and pickling cucumbers, think again. There are some really weird and rather wonderful varieties to choose from. Check out these examples of the coolest cucumber varieties. Already chosen which cucumbers you want to grow? Scroll down for more growing tips. 

Crystal Apple cucumbers: Crystal cucumbers are round, not elongated. But you won’t just grow them for novelty value. This cucumber variety is known for its disease resistance. 

African Horned cucumbers: Don’t be put off by this variety’s extremely strange appearance. It’s a versatile cucumber that you can enjoy fresh or pickled. Most interesting of all, it’s a true heirloom that was likely enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 

Marketmore cucumbers: You’ll be in familiar territory with this more traditional looking cucumber. Pickle young fruit or allow them to develop as salad cucumbers. When eaten fresh, they need to be peeled, but one of the top advantages this variety offers is good disease resistance and better-than average heat tolerance. 

Lebanese cucumbers: Thin-skinned Lebanese cucumbers are short and fat. Among their benefits, they’re known for a particularly sweet flavour. 

Long White cucumbers: We often think that the colour conventions we’re conditioned to expect from vegetables exclude some remarkable varieties, and Long White cucumbers prove the point. They’re thin-skinned, resistant to downy mildew, and have a pleasantly unique flavour. 

Russian Giant cucumbers: Once again proving the point that some of the more unusual-looking veggie varieties are awesome, Russian Giant cucumbers  are big, fat, and packed with flavour. Definitely not your typical cucumber and comparatively mildew-resistant too! 

Lemon cucumbers: They’re round. They look a bit like lemons. But they’re 100 percent cucumber. The top advantage? Lots and lots of fruit per vine. 

West Indian Gherkin: Another true heirloom with an interesting history and heat-resistant habits, you will have guessed that this is a pickling cucumber. 

Spacemaster cucumbers: Did you think your patch was too small for cucumbers? You can reconsider that! 

Straight Eight cucumbers: This might look like a pretty conventional cucumber variety but disease resistance is the secret to its success. Despite its 8 inch long, perfectly straight fruits, it’s not your average cucumber.

German Pickling cucumbers: It’s a classic. For authentic German pickles, it’s the natural choice - and you can let the fruits develop and eat it fresh too. 

National Pickling cucumbers: Pickle away or peel them and eat them fresh. Extra advantages include early fruiting and a long harvest season. 

Richmond Green cucumbers: They look like tiny watermelons and they’re a good cucumber variety for Australian gardens. They taste like… cucumbers! The only surprise is their shape. 

Armenian cucumbers: We admit it! It’s not really a cucumber, but it tastes like one. As a plant more closely related to melons, this is your choice for growing in hot conditions. 

Green Gem cucumbers: Rounding off our list, we have yet another heat and disease resistant cucumber variety. And yes, this time it really is a cucumber!

Cucumber Hassles

The main problem that cucumbers encounter is fungal diseases, especially mildew. You can stave them off by keeping irrigation water at ground level and ensuring that the plants are properly spaced for good air movement. As previously mentioned, mulch to keep the roots cool also has its benefits.

If you pick up problems with  mildew, early spraying and preventative spraying of healthy growth might help you. Ask your local co-op or garden centre for a fungicide that has been registered for use on cucumbers. If you’d like to try a home recipe for mildew on cucumbers, this one might work for you:

  • 3 parts milk to 10 of water
  • One tablespoon baking soda
  • One litre of water
  • A drop or two of dish soap

In built-up areas, and where cucumbers are grown under netting, a lack of bee activity can mean that pollination doesn’t occur. You can combat this in open growing by planting plenty of flowering plants to attract bees or pollinating by hand using male flowers to brush across the tips of female blooms. The female flowers have a little swelling at the base, so look closely and you’ll soon see which are which.

When growing under a net, choose a cucumber variety like Beit Alpha which is suited for greenhouse production and doesn’t need to be pollinated to produce fruits. It’s a popular Lebanese cucumber variety and well worth trying – just don’t expect fruits as big as those of English cucumbers.

Get More From Each Plant With Pinching

Bushy plants with plenty of shoots produce more cucumbers. You can encourage this by pinching out the growing tips from the time your plants have formed five to seven true leaves. You’ll get side shoots, and when they start stretching, they can be pinched too. 

Pinching encourages bushy growth and that means you get more cucumbers. But do it before flowering time. At flowering, apical dominance is broken naturally, and your pinching won’t make much difference once fruiting is underway.

Didn’t Succeed First Time?

If you do fail with cucumbers, it’s only a disaster if you fail to use the opportunity to work out why you had issues. Once you know what caused any problems, you can try strategies to eliminate them next time. You may decide to pick a different spot in your garden, for example, sow your seeds earlier, or try watering differently.

Trial and error lessons apply to every individual garden and gardener. However, it’s perfectly possible to grow cucumbers at home. Some people’s garden conditions are so good for them that they can’t understand why they’re a hassle for others. Will this be you?

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