Growing Cucumbers

On this page are step by step instructions for growing cucumbers in a short growing season and rainy climate.  We are located in the mountains of central Pennsylvania  where the last frost date is June 1st and there is about one week with days in the 90s.  Our process for starting cucumbers has been continuously improved over the years and we are very happy with the results.

On this page are step by step instructions for:

Planting Bed Preparation

Seed Planting

Fertilizing

Pests

Harvesting

Planting Bed Preparation

mound tops are flattened to collect water efficiently.

See above how these cucumber plants are on "high ground"?  Larger mounds keep the plant out of the puddles that form in the hollows between the mounds. 

Starting Indoors?

We don't start growing cucumbers from seed indoors because the plants don't like to be transplanted.  They just sit out in the garden, not growing, for so long that a seed planted out in the garden at the same time will often overtake the transplant.

Growing cucumbers horizontally uses about 7 sq. ft of garden space (one mound).  One mound planted with a productive variety, such as Vertina, can produce 80 or more cucumbers over the summer.  As they spread out, the vines send down new roots dramatically increasing their access to water and nutrients.  This improves the output of a single cucumber plant grown on a mound over one grown on a trellis.

Growers trellis cucumbers when space is an issue.  If you plan to use a trellis, still mound the soil were the seeds are going to be planted so the soil warms up faster and drains properly.

The steps below are for growing cucumbers horizontally on the ground.

  1. Till ground.  Even though you are planting in mounds of dirt, tilling knocks down the weeds and makes the soil loose so its easier to mound.
  2. Build mounds 3 - 4' diameter & 6-12 inches high.  Mounds warm up faster so you can plant sooner.  They also drain really well.  We recommend mound spacing from 7 - 8.5' apart center to center.  Some compact varieties can be grown with a closer spacing or even in pots.  We grow standard sized cucumber varieties and use the wider spacing because we mow between the mounds to control weeds.  If you use a narrower spacing you may lose your walkways to the vines.  When cucumbers grow into each other, they compete for resources and productivity declines.
  3. Flatten the tops.  When you water the mounds the water just rolls off unless you flatten them.

Optional:  Mulch in between mounds with black plastic, newspaper or straw (not hay).  Ask yourself, are you sure you can keep up with the weeds?  Do you have a tiller you can use weekly?  Some up front effort into weed blocking mulch can save a ton of time later.  If you have a big garden you can space the mounds wide enough for a mower.

Note about straw:  Straw has to be really thick to be an effective mulch.  It works better if used with a solid barrier like newspaper or plastic.  When used alone, lay it down at least 6 inches thick.

Seed Planting

Before Planting

Soil Temperature: 60 - 90˚F

Optimum Weather: warm & dry.

Planting Cucumbers

Evenly distribute the seeds over the flat top of the mound.  Then push them in with your finger.  Otherwise you can lose track of were they all are.

Planting depth: 1/2 - 1 inch. 

Seeds: Large & easy to handle

Qty: 6 - 12 seeds/mound. We vary the number depending on germination rate and age of seeds.

Water lightly if the soil is already damp.  Water thoroughly if the soil is dry.

After Planting

Keep slightly damp, and not soaked until established. Keep an eye on them when they are small.  Young cucumber plants wilt readily when they need water.  The idea is to prevent wilting while not over watering.  Repeated or prolonged wilting will stress the plants and reduce output. 

Fertilizing

Rotted manure:  If you have access to this, it makes an amazing garden.  It doesn't burn the plants, improves the soil, releases nutrients over time and still provides the kick your plants need to be productive.

Application

  • Top dress:  Just lay down 1 - 3 inches on the surface after the plants are up.  Easy.  Every time you water or it rains, the nutrients leach into the soil.  Reapply during the growing season if the plants start to slow down or lose their deep green color prior to cold weather.
  • Work Into Soil:  If your soil is hard, high in clay or rock you may want to do this to improve the soil.  Work in the manure during tilling or work it into the mounds prior to planting.

Rapid release liquid fertilizer:  This is great for providing rapid results.  There are lots of application systems.  We like the containers that you attach to your hose and then just spray like you are watering your garden.  If you know your soil is low in nutrients, spray on the mounds and young plants.  Use during the growing season if you think the plants are starting to slow down.  If you buy the kind you have to mix yourself, follow dilution instructions carefully so you don't burn the plants.

Pests

Well 2012 was interesting.  We were hit with a stink bug invasion.  They were on everything.. except the cucumber plants.  Actually we had no pests on the cucumbers at all and we didn't spray.

Animals

In 2010 we lost our entire cucumber crop to critters.  We think woodchucks were the biggest culprit but there were deer tracks too.  Animals such as deer, rabbits and woodchucks love cucumber plants and eat everything, flowers, leaves, stems and cucumbers.  They'll walk past your corn, tomatoes and peppers to munch cucumber plants. 

What Helps:

  • Locate plants closer to your house.  If your garden is already close, place your cucumbers on the side closest to your house.  Our more distant garden gets much more animal traffic and damage.  What area of your yard gets the most people traffic?  These are the least popular with the critters.
  • Minimize cover:  These animals generally do not like to be out in the open, especially if they are regularly hunted/chased by cats, dogs, or people.  Keep your plants as far from the animals' brushy, weedy highways as is possible. 
  • Fence It can be expensive but once it is up it will provide benefits for many years.  Click here to get fence designs that will protect your growing cucumbers from several animal species.

Harvesting

Pick to Maintain Production: Picking the cucumbers triggers the plant to bloom and produce more.  Large maturing fruit can signal the plant to slow production.  Growing cucumbers and maturing seeds take energy so pick large fruit off the plant even if you aren't going to eat it. 

Storing:  If you need your cucumbers to last  longer, rub them with vegetable oil after washing.  Then refrigerate. Cucumbers have thin skins that easily allow moisture through.  As they dry out they feel softer and the skins start to wrinkle.  This is especially helpful if you are trying to get enough to do a batch of pickles.  Just wash the oil off before you pickle them.

Collecting Seeds:  One caveat... if you want to collect seeds for next year, you can let a few fruit mature for that purpose.  Let them get quite large prior to picking.  The larger cucumbers have larger more mature seeds which germinate more successfully.

If you are growing cucumbers that are hybrids, they will not come true to type, but that doesn't mean its not worthwhile.  Some of our favorite vegetables were "surprise" seeds from the previous year.

Twist the stem or cut with a knife or pruners to remove.

Pick every 2-7 days as a general guideline.  The frequency depends on the size of your garden and productivity of your plants.  They produce continuously from July until frost.

Smaller is Better: The best cucumber is a small cucumber.  They taste better and have smaller seeds.  Pickling cucumbers are usually picked at 2-4 inches.  Slicing and burpless can be harvested when longer.