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. 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.
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 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 cucumber. Other than that, it is best to be a little on the light side with feeding. High nitrogen fertilizers 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 marvelous 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. Gherkins are 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.
The main problem that cucumbers encounter is fungal diseases. 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 also has its benefits.
If you pick up problems with downy mildew, early spraying and preventative spraying of healthy growth might help you. Ask your local co-op or garden center for a fungicide that has been registered for use on cucumbers.
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, 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?
Give your cucumbers a little pinch! “Pinching out” is a term that just means removing wee bits of the plants to encourage better growth and fruiting. Pinch out growing tips when they have formed about five to seven leaves. Also pinch out the laterals (side shoots) that have produced a number of leaves (about eight to ten) but no female flowers (the ones with the miniature cucumber where the petals start).