Cucumber plants are one of the easiest and most productive crops a gardener can cultivate. They spring from the ground and climb high up into trellises or across fences. Some even spread their vines over the ground and hide their cucumbers under wide dark leaves shading their fruit from the sun. For any gardener wishing to grow cucumbers, they should try growing a few plants to ensure plenty of pollination and thus a bountiful harvest! And of course enough leftover to make pickles! While planting, cucumber spacing is crucial to ensuring roots are sufficiently fed and watered, with enough airspace between vines to discourage pests from taking up residence under a wide and cozy leaf.
Cucumbers can be grown in a variety of different circumstances. Homesteaders will put in row after row of different cucumber varieties to ensure they get enough cucumbers every week. Both slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers can grow in abundance for fresh salads and to fill a cellar with pickles. City dwellers may want the abundance of the farm on their rooftop patio and turn to a container garden to fulfill their dream. The backyard gardener may install raised beds in their amply sized backyard, attempting to tame their landscape and turn it into a backyard grocer. For each one, cucumber spacing is important as it can lead to success or failure for each respective grower.
Why Is Cucumber Spacing So Important?
In order to grow a worthy harvest, the right amount of cucumber spacing is important not just for easy access when it’s time to pick cucumbers, but also to ensure the right amount of nutrients get to this shallow-rooted plant. The right spacing decides whether or not the gardener is growing cucumbers or a pest breeding ground. Essentially, the right spacing decides whether your endeavor will be worth it!
Finding the right spot for your cucumber plants is one of the most important parts of your cucumber’s success. Before planting, try and recall if you’ve grown your cucumbers before in your garden, and if you have, avoid planting them in the same spot as the last two years. Many diseases overwinter in the soil and introducing the same plants to their natural predators is going to make life a lot harder!
Once you’ve found the right spot, install trellis space if you’re going with a vining variety. Aim for 6 ft. by 3 ft. of trellis space per plant. This trellis needs to be strong enough to hold the cucumbers up, but also allow sufficient airflow. The lack of airflow is what attracts aphids to the underside of the cucumber leaves to both suck out the insides of the plant, and bring diseases with them. A strong metal or wooden trellis is optimal as they’re more likely to be able to bear the weight of a large harvest of cucumbers, and hold up to a heavy hosing should a host of aphids show up.
Cucumber beetles are a menace to your harvest for several reasons. The larva of the beetles feed on the roots, weakening their ability to nourish and sustain themselves. Adult beetles not only feed on the leaves, vines, and even fruit of the plant, but they also carry deadly diseases with them, namely bacterial wilt and mosaic virus that can get in the soil and plague a garden for many seasons. To prevent this, try having your cucumbers grow under floating row covers to keep these beetles away from tender growth. This physical barrier is an easy and organic preventative solution to a very common problem. Once the plant begins to flower, be sure to take the row cover off during the day so that the male and female flowers can be visited by bees and set fruit. Alternatively, cucumbers started after June have a better chance of survival as there are fewer adult beetles.
Powdery mildew is one of the biggest problems that a cucumber vine can face. A fuzzy white substance appears on the leaves of the plant, causing the leaf to die and severely reducing yields. Once affected, treat immediately or else cucumber plants won’t have quite as strong a growing season. Powdery mildew is caused by a fungus, Podosphaera Xanthii, which thrives in warm and wet conditions. A good amount of airflow among plants is essential for keeping it at bay, as well as treating the plants once affected. If only a few leaves are infected, you can prune them, but otherwise, treatment is your best option.
While prevention is very important, try seeking out disease-resistant seeds or transplants as they may improve the chances your garden has.
Nutrition & Soil Management
Another consideration to keep in mind when spacing cucumbers is the fact that this plant is a heavy feeder with shallow roots. Growing cucumbers too close together means that cucumber plants are fighting with each other for much-needed food.
Before planting, improve your soil’s health and nutrients by working in organic matter like compost or well-rotted cow manure into the top 2 inches of soil so that your plants can have plenty of nutrients to grow. Cucumbers prefer a soil pH of 6.0-6.5. Keep the soil well-drained and if possible, install a drip irrigation system to ensure an even amount of water gets into the root system. Unless there is a rain forecast, try and water 1 inch of water a week. Each cucumber plant needs even soil moisture, but avoid wet roots as this can lead to rot.
Try to make sure each cucumber plant will be in an area where the soil temperature is above 70 degrees. If planting cucumbers early in the spring when temperatures are just barely warm enough, try using black plastic both to keep the soil warm and as an easy way to mark out the spacing between plants. Burn or cut holes in the plastic at 18-inch intervals and plant!
After amending your soil, install a trellis, or create a ‘hill’ to plant your cucumbers on. This way, through proper spacing, your cucumber seeds will have enough nutrition to become healthy plants.
Sunlight is the final element in cucumber spacing. Cucumbers grow in full sun but can survive with just 5 hours a day. Spacing is important as competing cucumber vines can shade one another out if planted too closely. This will prevent the cucumber from growing evenly.
How To Space Your Cucumber Plants
To help growers determine the correct amount of space to go between plants, we’ve taken the time to break down the amount of space needed between each plant depending on their growing conditions. Different amounts of space are needed if planting in a raised bed vs. in-ground, or in ‘hills’.
Many growers choose to start their own cucumber seeds. This is a wonderful option that opens up a whole range of variety possibilities. Start cucumbers a week or so before your last frost date. Place 3-4 seeds in each small pot filled with potting mix an inch deep, and thin to a single plant per pot once the cucumber has set its first two true leaves. Be sure to cut the excess plants instead of pulling them to keep from disturbing the root system. Transplant while the plant is relatively young, no earlier than two weeks after the last frost date.
Cucumber Spacing In Raised Beds
Planting in raised beds gives a wonderful opportunity to manage pests, sun, and nutrients. For optimal results, start seeds for vining varieties every 6 inches in a row down the longest portion of the bed, sow seeds 1 inch deep in the soil. Once the plants are half a foot in height, thin so that there is a plant every 16-18 inches, ensuring there is a trellis the plants can climb.
If you’re putting in bush varieties (Cucumis sativus), use the ‘hill’ method. Create a small ‘hill’ in your raised bed about three feet across. Make sure the soil has had manure, compost or fertilizer worked into the soil and is well-draining. Space your seeds in a triangle shape in the middle of the hill, planting 2-3 seeds per hole with each hole. Once the cucumbers germinate and grow to 4 inches, thin to a single plant in each corner of the triangle.
Cucumber Spacing In Ground-Level Beds
For farmers, homesteaders, and the intrepid backyard gardener, growing cucumbers in-ground is a fast and inexpensive way to turn dirt into food!
For vining varieties, plant seeds every six inches along a row. Once the seeds have germinated let the plants grow to 4 inches tall, thin them to one plant every 16-18 inches. If growing more than one row, plant rows 5-6 feet apart so that there is not only enough space for airflow, but for you the gardener to access your bounty come harvest time!
If sowing in hills, gardeners can grow both bush varieties and vining varieties. Create hills about three feet in diameter and add three plants per hill. If you’re starting bush types, space the hills 3 feet apart. If you’re going with vining types, space hills 5 feet apart. If growing enough that you have multiple rows, again space the rows 4-5 feet apart.
Cucumber Spacing In Containers
When growing in containers on a patio garden, gardeners have two options. If they have access to a trellis or a wall for cucumbers to anchor themselves to as they climb, they’re able to grow vining cucumbers. Try growing in a large pot at least 18 inches across in size, and 15 inches in height. For a container this size, grow two cucumbers, at least 8 inches apart. While they will grow and overlap, the benefit of having two vines is the increase in pollination rates leading to more cucumber fruit! Be sure to set up a trellis or support system before transplanting or starting seeds.
If growing a bush cucumber, place up to three plants in a container 18 inches across. Space transplants at least 6 inches away from one another and allow their vines to trail down the sizes of the container. Some of the cucumbers may develop yellow or white spots when left on the vine while touching the earth; this is normal and happens as the cucumber is exposed to darkness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you plant cucumbers close together?
A: Avoid planting cucumbers close together. Cucumber roots and leaves need an ample amount of space in order to get the right amount of nutrients and have enough air space between leaves to prevent pests and diseases.
Q: How many cucumbers do you get per plant?
A: Different varieties produce very different numbers of cucumbers. However, commercially available varieties tend to produce around 5 pounds of cucumbers. Heirloom types produce closer to 2-3 pounds per plant. The number of cucumbers is dependent on how many inches long each fruit is, and you can find that information on the seed packet.