Growing Cucumbers Vertically: Tips for Success

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Growing cucumbers is a rite of passage in a summer vegetable garden. With their refreshing crunch and abundant nutrients, what’s not to love?

Well, as it turns out, growing cucumbers vertically can be a hassle without proper planning. This is particularly due to the unruly vines that dominate precious garden space. Luckily, you can direct the growth in a better direction – up.

Vertical gardening is popular right now, but has actually been around since 3000 BCE. Besides saving space, there are many benefits that have kept it around for so long. Growing cucumbers vertically allows the following:

  • Better air circulation, which keeps the plant dry and free of rot and fungal diseases.
  • The cucumber leaves can spread out and enjoy more sun exposure.
  • No more killing your back! You won’t have to bend over to harvest the cukes.
  • Cucumbers will grow straight when they’re hanging from the vine instead of sitting on the ground.
  • Less ground space will be used, which means less weeding!
The helix pattern of a cucumber tendril is fascinating to watch develop
The helix pattern of a cucumber tendril is fascinating to watch develop. source

Now that you’re convinced of the vertical way, we’ll discuss the details of turning your flattened cucumber plants into healthy, space-saving wonders.

Choosing a Cucumber Trellis

A larger-scale and more robust cucumber trellis, training cukes upwards with ease
A larger-scale and more robust cucumber trellis, training cukes upwards with ease. source

There are many types of trellises out there. A-frames, grids, and cages are just a few. You can buy one online or make it yourself.

When choosing which trellis to use, consider where you want to put the cucumbers and how many you’ll grow. You’ll also want to think about how easy it will be to harvest from all sides. For example, if you lean a flat trellis against a fence, the cukes might find their way in between the trellis and fence, making them difficult to reach.

You’ll need a trellis that’s strong enough to support the plant. Cucumber plants grow rapidly, so they’ll fill their space quickly. They also need enough room to spread out. Don’t cram the vines together.

It’s recommended that your trellis is 5-6 feet tall. However, keep in mind that you’ll have to reach the top portion while harvesting.

Here are some trellis types to help you decide:

Trellis TypeProsCons
A-FrameProvides a sturdy structure and easy harvesting.May take up a lot of space.
ArchesAesthetically pleasing and easy to harvest from.May not be sturdy if built wrong.
Chicken wire framesEasy for the plants to climb; Inexpensive and easy to make.You’ll have to babysit the cucumbers. Little ones can start growing in the holes and be difficult to remove.
Grid trellisCan be attached to a fence or wall to save space.Cucumbers may grow between the fence and grid.
Tomato cagesCheap and easy.Small. You might need to secure one on top of another to make it tall enough.

An Alternative Option

If you want to try something even more creative than a trellis, you can grow cucumbers upside down! This method will eliminate weeds and ground pests while being easy to water. It also adds a unique look to your garden.

The easiest approach is to use a 5-gallon bucket with a handle. Drill a hole that’s at least 2 inches wide in the bottom. Line the bottom of the bucket with landscape fabric so the soil won’t spill out. Cut a slit in the fabric where it’ll line up with the hole.

Prop the bucket onto two chairs so you have access to the top and bottom. Take your cucumber start out of its container and gently thread the plant through the fabric and bucket hole. The roots should be inside the bucket with the plant hanging out the bottom.

Carefully fill the bucket with fertile soil, being sure not to squish the roots. Fill it one inch from the top.

To hang the plant, install a heavy duty hook into a sturdy support. Triple check that your installation will hold the weight. Water the cucumber plant from the top of the bucket until water drips out of the bottom.

Planting Cucumbers 101

A baby cucumber fruit getting its start in a cucumber cage
A baby cucumber fruit getting its start in a cucumber cage. Source: pecooper98362

Cucumber plants are fast growers that are easy to start from seed. They love their nutrients, so fertile soil, abundant water, and plenty of sunlight are essential. The vines will love climbing up the trellis.

When to Plant

Cucumbers can be planted in the spring as soon as the last frost has passed. If you want an early start, plant the seeds indoors a few weeks before the ground thaws. Have your trellis ready beforehand so you know how many plants you need.

Cucumbers need extremely fertile soil from the start. Prep the designated spot with store fertilizer, manure, or compost before planting.

Where to Plant

Choose the location based on the size of your trellis. You’ll need a spot where you can easily harvest from all sides of the trellis. Cucumbers need lots of sunlight, so choose the sunniest location you have.

If planting in the ground isn’t your thing, vine cucumbers can grow in containers too. Use a fairly large container to support your trellis and the plant’s long roots. If you don’t have a container large enough, a bush cucumber, without a trellis, might be a better choice due to its shorter roots.

The soil will dry out faster in containers, so you’ll need to water it more often. Also, as with any potted plant, don’t forget the drainage holes!

How to Plant

When planting cucumbers straight in the ground, plant a few seeds every foot along the bottom of the trellis. Plant the seeds 1” deep. When the seedlings start to grow, thin out the weaker plants from each bunch, leaving one to climb the trellis.

When starting indoors, put one seed in each section of a seedling tray. Make sure the soil is warm enough, at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, by using a heat mat. The germination time for cucumber seeds is 7-14 days, and the plants grow fast so don’t get them started too early. When the time comes, young cukes transplant well.

Cucumber Care 101

Cucumber plants aren’t too picky, as long as you keep up with the watering and harvesting. Growing them vertically requires some maintenance, but they usually know what to do.

Sun

When it comes to cucumber plants, the more sun, the better. They need around 8 hours of full sun each day. If your cukes just aren’t getting enough light, consider moving them to a better spot. Keep in mind that cucumbers transplant best when they’re small.

Temperature

Cucumbers thrive in temperatures from 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you think the ground is too cold for the plants even after the frost is gone, try using sheets of black plastic as mulch. The dark color will absorb the heat and keep your cucumbers warm.

How Often to Water Cucumbers

Because cucumbers are so succulent, they need lots of water. 1” a week is a good rule of thumb. However, the soil should not dry out in between waterings nor should it be waterlogged.

Avoid getting the leaves and fruit wet while watering. Too much moisture on the plant can lead to rot and disease.

Soil for Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow best in loam-type soil. They can also grow in sandy soil, as long as it has plenty of nutrients. Clay isn’t ideal because there isn’t enough water drainage.

Mulch is great for helping the soil retain moisture. It keeps the water in and the weeds out. You can start mulching once the plant has grown a few inches. Use anything from newspapers to bark chips to whatever else you find.

Fertilizing Cucumbers

Cucumbers rely on fertile soil for their crop yield. Before planting, mix fertilizer, manure, or compost into the soil. Cucumber plants need an even amount of these nutrients:

  • Nitrogen – Helps the plant grow
  • Potassium – Fights disease
  • Phosphorous – Encourages flowering

It’s recommended to add more fertilizer in early summer and fall. For this extra boost, sprinkle it on top of the soil around the plants. Slow release fertilizers or fertilizer tea work well here.

Training Cucumbers Vertically

You'll be surprised how quickly cucumbers climb and attach to a trellis
You’ll be surprised how quickly cucumbers climb and attach to a trellis. source

Cucumber vines will climb naturally, but you may need to help them out. Some might stay on the ground and venture over to neighboring plants. In this case, gently wrap the vines around the trellis. If they won’t cooperate, loosely tie the vines to the trellis until the tendrils start to hang on. 

For tying, you can use:

  • Twine
  • Wire
  • String
  • Zip ties
  • Fabric strips
  • Anything else!

Place the tie under a joint where the leaf protrudes from the stem. This gives it more support without harming the plant. Keep in mind that the stem may grow wider and can “choke” on the tie.

If your cucumbers are too heavy for the vine, put them in fabric slings tied to the trellis. Just ensure there’s plenty of room for them to keep growing. Also, keep in mind that cucumbers in slings may not grow straight.

Pruning Vertical Cucumbers

Pruning may be necessary if your cuke plants start to get rowdy. Prune from the bottom of the plant at 5-7 joints from the ground. This will allow the plant to fill out on the trellis.

Always prune the secondary vines, not the main ones. You’ll want to cut close to the main vine, being careful not to damage it.

Use bypass pruners if possible. Anvil pruners can crush the stem. 

You may choose to prune fruit on this lower portion so more energy can be directed to vine growth. Lateral runners can also be removed from the bottom of the plant.

Propagating Cucumbers

As you know now, cucumbers can be grown from seeds. But, you can also propagate them from stem cuttings. Take your cutting from a strong and healthy plant. If possible, clip the plants in the morning, since they’ll be the most hydrated then. The whole cutting should be 3-5 inches long.

Take your cutting from the end of the vine, just below the second leaf joint. Be sure to make a clean, straight cut. Carefully take off the bottom leaves so that you only have one set on the clipping. The newly bare leaf joints will help the cutting grow roots.

Once your cutting is ready, dip it in rooting hormone and then stick it in fertile soil. The bottom leaf nodes should be covered by ½” of soil. Water the cutting every day with a misting bottle. Your cutting will grow into an official cucumber plant in about three weeks.

FAQs

Q. Do cucumbers need a trellis?

A. No, they don’t. However, growing vine varieties on a trellis has numerous benefits for you and your cucumbers. If you’ve decided trellises aren’t for you, we suggest a bush variety. These cukes grow well on the ground.

Q. What’s the easiest cucumber to grow?

A. Almost all cucumbers are fairly easy to grow. For beginners, we suggest the Marketmore variety, which is the kind usually sold in grocery stores. The Marketmore is a standard slicing cuke that’s resistant to common plant diseases. 

If you’re after pickles, try growing Wautoma cucumbers. These provide lots of fruit and are extremely disease resistant.

Q. Can I plant cucumbers and tomatoes next to each other?

A. Yes, cucumbers grow well with tomatoes. In fact, cukes are pretty friendly with most plants. The only companion plants cautioned against are herbs, potatoes, and melons. Some other common companions for cucumbers are sunflowers, corn, broccoli, cabbage, and peas.

Q. Why are my cucumber plants dying?

A. To figure this out, check your plant for symptoms. If the leaves are wilted and the soil is dry, they probably need more water. If the leaves are yellowing, limp, and/or falling off, you’ve likely overwatered.

If you find any kind of damage, unusual coloring, or weird texture on your plants, a pest or disease might be responsible.

Q. Why are my cucumbers bitter?

A. This is usually caused by a stressed-out plant. Fluctuations in water supply or temperature is usually the culprit here. However, some varieties are naturally bitter. To avoid these, do your research before choosing what to plant.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Rachel Garcia
Succulent Fanatic

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

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