An old gardening friend, the cucumber has been consumed by humans since, well… forever! There’s even evidence for pickled cucumbers as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. This fresh-tasting veggie generally prefers warmer weather, but if planted during the right season, it can grow in most climate zones. As different varieties will either grow along the ground, up a trellis, or in a compact, bush form, make sure you research your options prior to planting if space is a concern. Take note that, if growing indoors, cucumbers will need to be hand-pollinated. They’re monoecious, and since male and female flowers open at different stages in the plant’s growth cycle, you’ll need to push the guy towards the gal. Sounds like a middle school dance!
As its name would suggest, the Spacemaster cucumber varietal is the perfect selection for those of us that are growing in small garden spaces or containers. Cucumbers from this plant are dark green and juicy, perfect for pickling in their younger stages and for slicing as they mature to approximately 6–7″. As a fun project, try growing this compact varietal in hanging baskets. Keeping them off the ground allows for easier harvesting and less risk of losing fruits to pests and diseases.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 12–24″
Space Between Rows: 24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 80–90°F
Days for Germination: 3–10 (the higher the soil temperature, the faster the germination).
Sow Indoors: 3–4 weeks before the last frost.
Sow Outdoors: After fears of frost have passed and when temperatures are in the upper 60s and 70s.
Vegetative: Not recommended, but not impossible! The easiest way to accomplish a vegetative propagation of your cucumber would be through layering. Bend one of the vines of your cucumber plant and partially cover in soil (leaving the growing tip above ground). The portion that is buried will hopefully grow roots and can then be separated from its parent plant.
Rainy summers with low temperatures are not good for cucumbers. They enjoy warm summer climates with night/day temperature ranges of 65–90°F, and seeds will take forever to germinate if soil temperatures are not above 75°F. The cucumber vine will grow in Zones 4–11 but will do best in Zones 5–9.
Natural: Full sun. Will tolerate partial shade if necessary.
Artificial: Halogen or fluorescent lamps will suffice for vegetative growth, switching to HPS once buds have formed to encourage flowering and fruit development.
Soil: Prefers light sandy soils when grown in more northern gardens because the ground is more easily warmed. Use slightly more loamy soils in southern gardens. Cucumbers like a nice neutral pH of 7.0. Mature compost tilled into the soil about 2 inches deep will bring tastier, healthier fruits.
Soilless: Thrives in many soilless media such as rock wool and expanding coco pellets.
hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Aim to water 2–3 times per week, keeping soil moist and increasing frequency in severe dry spells.
Nutrients: Add a 2″ layer of compost to the soil before transplanting or when sowing seed. Fertilizing your healthy plants with phosphorus before flowering is recommended for the most bountiful harvest.
Foliar: You can spray your cucumber with a liquid seaweed or compost tea for added nutrient absorption and improved yields.
Pruning: Cucumbers will be most prolific when confined to one healthy and hearty vine: trim off any shoots that may emerge from the main vine to promote uninterrupted growth.
Mulching: Mulch with a natural resource such as straw to retain soil moisture.
Support: Structural support is recommended for the cucumber, so try training the main vine to climb up a post wrapped in chicken wire or a simple trellis.
Deficiency(s): A potassium deficiency is marked by a yellowing of the leaves, while a boron deficiency shows up as scuffing or yellow streaks on the fruit.
Rotation: Avoid planting other members of the cucumber family in the same plot year after year to prevent the spread of disease.
Companions: The cabbage family makes great companions as do sunflower, radish, and tomato. Although their pest repellent properties are praised, aromatic herbs actually make bad companions for the cucumber.
Harvest: Cucumbers should be producing ready-to-harvest fruit around three months after sowing. If your cucumbers start yellowing, pick immediately, since this is a sign of overripeness. Harvest for slicing when they are about 7–8″ long, showing a healthy lush green color, and are firm to the touch. If using your cukes for pickling, harvest once they reach 4–6″. Be warned: peak harvest will have you pickin’ cukes every couple days!
Storage: A cucumber is over 90% water and will keep up to 10 days with refrigeration.
Fun Fact: In its home land of India, cucumbers were thought to be poisonous for many years but eventually they spread and gained popularity across the continent. After tasting a fresh cucumber straight out of the garden, we can see why folks were willing to take the risk!
Preserve: These babies can be frozen, but first slice them and layer with a tablespoon or so of salt. Let this sit for a few hours and then rinse. Place in a plastic container, add about a half cup of vinegar, and then pop in the freezer.
Prepare: Cucumbers are usually eaten raw but are often enjoyed pickled or pureed. See our Culinary section for a delicious pickle recipe.
Nutritional: Cucumbers are rich in fiber and water, both of which aid healthy digestion. They also contain vitamin(s) B, C, potassium, and are low in calories.
Medicinal: Fisetin, an anti-inflammatory compound found in cucumbers, is shown to be important in improving brain health. It has been found to be active against memory disorders such as Alzheimers. Cucumbers also contain a number of antioxidants and are a source of natural antihistamines. The seeds of cucumbers have been used as a diuretic and emetic.
Warnings: Leaves can cause skin irritation and upset stomachs in cat friends.