Growing Cucumbers

Cool, crisp cucumbers are perfect in summer salads or on their own with sour cream and fresh dill, and if you can grow this classic British vegetable in your own garden, they taste even better!

Types of Cucumbers

Standard cucumbers are often called slicers. Slicers are usually 6‐9 inches (15‐23 cm) long, but may be as short as four (10 cm) and as long as 14 (36 cm) inches. “Burpless” varieties have been bred to avoid a common side effect.

Pickling cukes are usually shorter (6 inches or 15 cm) and “blockier” than slicing cucumbers, and have a bumpy or spiny skin. They’re also crunchier, which is why they’re best for pickling. Some cucumber varieties are bred to be good for both slicing and pickling.

Gherkins are actually the fruits of the ‘West Indian Gherkin’ (Cucumis anguria), a close relative of the cucumber, which produces 1‐3 inch long (25‐76 mm) spiny fruits. Gherkins are grown just like cucumbers. Many pickles called “gherkins”, however, are made from regular pickling varieties.

Round, yellow “lemon cucumbers” are about the size of a tennis ball. Lemon cucumbers are sweet and don’t contain as much of the chemical that can make some cucumbers bitter. They also make colourful pickles.

English hothouse (also called Dutch or European) cucumbers have a ridged or smooth skin, virtually no seeds, and do not require peeling. As the name implies, they are usually grown in greenhouses. Japanese cucumbers, which are also long, slender, thin‐skinned, and virtually seedless, are a good substitute.

Armenian cucumbers (Cucumis melo) are long and light green with thin, ridged skins that also don’t need peeling. Asian cucumbers come in a wide variety of lengths, colours, and flavours.

Cucumber varieties include:

  • ‘Marketmore 76’ (slicer, 70 days)
  • ‘Straight Eight’ (slicer, 55‐65 days)
  • ‘Bush Champion’ (compact bush, 60‐70 days)
  • ‘Smart Pickle’ (pickling, 50‐55 days)
  • ‘Big Burpless’ (hybrid slicer, 12‐14″ (30‐36 cm) fruits, 55 days)
  • ‘Lemon’ (round yellow, 3 inch or 8 cm fruit, 65 to 70 days)
  • ‘White Wonder’ (white fruits, 35‐60 days)
  • ‘Summer Dance’ (Japanese, 10″ or 25 cm fruits, 70 days)
  • ‘Armenian’ (12‐18″ or 30‐46 cm fruits, 60‐70 days)

Growing Requirements

Cucumbers are a warm‐weather crop and should be planted two weeks after last frost, as they are susceptible to chilling injury. Wait for the soil temperature to reach 65°F before planting. Cucumbers will germinate at temperatures between 60°‐105°F (16°‐41°C).

Cucumbers like well‐drained soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5‐6.8. Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Dig in two shovels full of compost for each plant or hill.

Planting Cucumbers

Cucumber plants are either vining varieties with long vines or bush varieties with shorter vines. Cucumbers may be planted in hills or grown on supports such as trellises, fences, or stakes. Choose vining varieties for growing on supports.

The most common way to grow cucumbers is in hills. Hills provide warmer soil and good drainage. Dig a hole 18 inches (46 cm) wide and a foot (30 cm) deep. Add compost to create a mix of half soil, half compost, and fill the hole with this mixture, creating a six‐inch‐high (15 cm) mound. Plant five to six seeds per hill, one inch (25 mm) deep in a ring on top of the hill. When the seedlings are about three weeks old, thin them to the two or three strongest plants per hill. Snip off rather than pull out the unwanted plants, so as not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants. Allow 18 inches (46 cm) between hills for bush varieties and 36 inches (91 cm) for trailing varieties.

To grow cucumbers vertically on a trellis, fence, or stake, the support should be 4‐6 foot tall. Growing cucumbers vertically can increase production and save space. For trellising, sow seeds at the base of the trellis, one inch (25 mm) deep, three inches (8 cm) apart. Thin to one foot (30 cm) apart. To grow on a stake, train a primary runner to the stake and tie at 12‐14 inch (30‐36 cm) intervals like a tomato plant. Cucumbers can also be trained to grow on a wire mesh arch.

To get a jump start on the season, start seeds indoors. Sow two to three seeds 1/2 (12 mm) deep in a small pot. Thin to the strongest plant. After hardening off, transplant in the garden at the above spacing. Be careful transplanting, as cucumbers do not like their roots disturbed. Growing in peat pots and transplanting pot and all will solve this problem. Cucumbers contain about 90% water, so it’s no surprise that they need plenty of watering.

Why not plant an exotic variety of cucumber in your garden this season and perk up those summer salads!

Want to Know More?

Read our feature Squash, Cucumbers, and the Cucurbits on this site for more information on cucumbers.

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