Growing Cucumbers: The Ultimate Guide To Cucumis Sativus

2.4K Shares

Once the warmth of summer comes on, cucumbers are a favorite addition to summer salads and sandwiches. Growing cucumbers at home is surprisingly easy, and you’ll find that the ones you grow are far superior to anything you can buy at the store.

Whether used to make pickles, eaten fresh from the garden, or used for their juice, cucumber is a great source of vitamins and micronutrients. They’re packed with water and fiber, two things essential to our health. And they’re low-calorie, making them a favorite food of the diet-conscious.

Let’s not forget that the plants themselves are a bright green and will enliven your garden space with a mat of dense, fat leaves. Hiding within those vines or bushes can be an abundance of delicious food if you just follow this guide!

Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast

Subscribe to the Epic Gardening Podcast on iTunes

Cucumbers: Quick Care Guide

Cucumber blossom
A single cucumber blossom on a young vine. Source: jenn2d2
Common Name Cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers, plus a number of variety names
Scientific Name Cucumis sativus
Germination Time 7-14 days
Days to Harvest 40-85 days depending on variety
Light Full sun
Water Consistent and even watering, 1”/week min.
Temperature 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit
Humidity Tolerates humidity but needs good airflow
Soil Well-draining, nutrient rich, pH of 7.0
Fertilizer Balanced fertilizer or compost
Pests Cucumber beetle, aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, thrips, squash bugs, squash vine borer, picklebugs
Diseases Powdery mildew, downy mildew, bacterial wilt, cucurbit scab, fusarium wilt, phytophthora crown/root rot, cucumber mosaic virus (CMV)

Types of Cucumbers

Pipinex Picolino and White Wonder cucumbers
Pipinex, Picolino and White Wonder cucumbers. Source: Lorika13

Cucumis sativus, the cucumber, has a wide number of varieties, but these are mostly separated into two categories: how it grows, and what it’s used for.

Cucumbers By Use

Generally, there are two, sometimes three, categories that cucumbers fall under in terms of how they’re used.

Slicing cucumbers or fresh-eating cucumbers are those which are used in salads. These tend to be crisp, juicy, and tasty in most fresh-use situations. Many slicing cucumbers also have thinner skins.

Pickling cucumbers have thicker skins and slightly denser, drier flesh which takes well to absorbing pickle brine. These are a common storage cucumber.  While pickling cucumbers can still be eaten fresh, they’re most popular for pickling use.

Sometimes there’s a third category, the snacking cucumbers. These are used both for fresh eating and for pickling, but tend to be much smaller in size than either pickling or slicing cucumbers. Sometimes these are referred to as cocktail cucumbers. However, snacking cucumbers can easily be categorized in one or both of the other categories.

Cucumbers By Growth

All cucumbers are a form of vine, but not all cucumbers are bush types.

Bush cucumbers tend to be more compact and good for small-space growing. These are considered great greenhouse plants, hydroponic plants, or container plants.

Some form of support or trellis may be needed, but bush cucumbers usually only take up 2-3 square feet of space. In addition, some greenhouse or hydroponic types are self-fruitful, meaning that they don’t need outside pollination.

Vining cucumbers are those which splay out long vines from a central plant base. These are often grown on a trellis if space is limited, but may also be grown flat on the ground. These can take up a lot more real estate than a bush cucumber might, but they make up the vast majority of cucumber varieties.

Recommended Cucumber Varieties

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to break this up into slicing, pickling, or unusual cucumber types.

Bush varieties will be noted next to the cucumber name with a (B). All others are vining types.

Slicing Cucumbers

Marketmore cucumber
Marketmore cucumber vines growing on trellis. Source: Mark F. Levisay
Variety Growing Time Description Where To Buy
Iznik (B) 45 days 3-4″ snacking cucumbers, resistant to powdery mildew and scab. Self-fruitful. Buy Seeds
Bush Champion (B) 55 days 8-12″ cucumbers that grow well in small spaces. CMV resistant, great producers. Buy Seeds
Arkansas Little Leaf (B) 55 days Highly resistant to bacterial wilt, CMV, mildews, scab, leaf spots. Small plant, large harvest. Buy Seeds
Mini Munch (B) 55 days Self-fruitful with 3-4″ small fruits. Good in small spaces. Powdery mildew-resistant. Buy Seeds
Hoffman’s Johanna 57 days Also called Giganta. Mild, bitterness-free slicer. Very crisp European variety. Buy Seeds
Marketmore 58 days Very common market variety. Resistant to scab, CMV, downy and powdery mildew. Buy Seeds
Straight Eight 58 days A popular cucumber that’s best when harvested at an 8″ length. Grows on trellis well. Buy Seeds
Tokiwa 58 days Also called “Tokyo Green”. Popular Japanese cucumber variety. High-yielding. Buy Seeds
Telegraph 60 days 18″ long dark green fruit, great flavor and high yields. English heirloom. Buy Seeds
Ashley 65 days Mildew-resistant slicer, producing 7-8″ dark green cucumbers. Great in the south. Buy Seeds
Yamato Sanjaku 65 days Extremely long Japanese variety. Mildew-resistant. Harvest up to 2 feet long. Can grow longer. Buy Seeds
Pepinex 68 days Long, slender English-type cucumbers reaching 12-14″ in length. Mildew-resistant. Buy Seeds

Pickling Cucumbers

Diamant cucumbers
Diamant cucumbers. Source: cristina.sanvito
Variety Growing Time Description Where To Buy
Diamant 47 days Extremely early gherkin producer with fantastic disease resistance. Good fresh or pickled. Buy Seeds
Harmonie 47 days arly European pickler, 3-5″ in length. High resistance to powdery mildew & scab, also resistant to CMV. Buy Seeds
Bush Pickle (B) 48 days 4-5″ cucumbers that grow in compact spaces. Performs surprisingly well in hot climates. Buy Seeds
Excelsior (B) 50 days 4-5″ spined cucumbers, self-fruitful. Resistant to scab, CMV, powdery mildew & more. Buy Seeds
Picklebush (B) 52 days 2-ft vines that produce white-spined 4″ fruit. Productive, tolerant to powdery mildew & CMV. Buy Seeds
Calypso 52 days 3″ bumpy pickling cukes which may require pollination help. Resistant/tolerant to many diseases. Buy Seeds
County Fair (B) 52 days Tastes great harvested at 2-3″, can be grown longer. Multiple disease resistance. Self-pollinator. Buy Seeds
Double Yield 52 days Extremely heavy yielder. 1920’s heirloom variety, forms 4-6″ pickling cucumbers. Buy Seeds
Chicago Pickling 55 days Disease-resistant, fruit can grow up to 7″ but is often harvested earlier. Buy Seeds
Supremo (B) 56 days 3-4″ fruit on a compact vine, heavy producer. Great disease resistance. Buy Seeds
Boston 57 days One of the oldest available heirlooms (1880) with lots of smooth, green fruit. Very crisp, great for pickling. Buy Seeds
Wautoma 60 days Developed by the USDA, provides large harvests of 4-5″ picklers. Fantastic disease resistance. Buy Seeds

Unusual Cucumbers

Lemon cucumbers
Lemon cucumbers. Source: Chris and Jenni
Variety Growing Time Description Where To Buy
Mongkut 40 days Thai 4″ cucumber with mottled green/white skin and non-bitter thick flesh, very few seeds. Buy Seeds
Salt And Pepper 49 days White-skinned 3-5″ pickling cucumber with powdery mildew and leaf spot resistance. Buy Seeds
White Wonder 60 days 1893 variety. Pale ivory skin, 6-8″ long and fat. High-yielding even in hot weather. Buy Seeds
Dragon’s Egg 60 days Cream-colored fruit that are shaped like and about the size of a large egg. Fun to grow. Buy Seeds
Brown Russian 61 days Brown cucumbers? Sure! 6-8″ fruits, best harvested at 5-7″. Ukranian heirloom. Buy Seeds
Suyo Long 61 days Chinese long-fruited variety, up to 15″ curved fruit. Does well in hot weather. Buy Seeds
Solly Beiler 62 days Amish heirloom. Super-productive, makes great thumb-sized pickles but can be grown larger. Buy Seeds
Painted Serpent 63 days Armenian variety. Light green with dark green stripes, grow immense but should be harvested at 15″ or shorter. Buy Seeds
Lemon 65 days 1894 heirloom, round yellow cucumbers about the size of tennis balls. Prolific. Looks like a lemon! Buy Seeds
Richmond Green Apple 70 days About the size of a lemon, but colored like a green apple. Sweet and juicy Australian variety. Buy Seeds
Mexican Sour Gherkin 75 days Sometimes called mouse melon, these look like 1″ mini-watermelons. Slight citrusy taste. Buy Seeds
Gagon 85 days Good fresh or pickled when harvested in its unripe green state. Turns into a brown or red cucumber as it matures. Melon-like qualities. Buy Seeds

Planting

Cucumber vine
Cucumbers are great full-sun plants. Source: robstephaustralia

An old wives’ tale claims that if you plant your cucumbers before sunrise on the first day of May while wearing your pajamas, no bugs will eat them. But it’s actually a whole lot easier than that, and you don’t have to get your pajamas dirty!

When To Plant Cucumbers

Cucumbers are extremely frost-sensitive, and so you don’t want to plant this crop too early. At the very earliest, plant your seeds at least two weeks after the last possible frost date. The soil should be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit for seeds to germinate.

Those of us who like to start our plants indoors can use a seedling heat mat set to 70 degrees. Sow seeds 3-4 weeks before you want to transplant your young seedling plants. This should get them off to a great start.

Where To Plant Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a full-sun plant, so no matter where they’re placed, you’ll want at least eight hours of sunlight a day to keep them happy.

Bush cucumbers are quite happy as container plants. When space is limited, these are perfect options.

By comparison, vining cucumbers can take up quite a lot of space, so you’ll need to plan ahead for these. You can also consider training your cucumbers to grow up a trellis to reduce space.

Want to try something unusual? You can grow your cucumbers upside-down using a modified five-gallon bucket or an upside-down tomato plant container. Just be careful to regularly pick your produce so that you don’t put stress on the plant’s roots!

Be sure that there is plenty of airflow around your cucumbers.

These plants can be susceptible to various fungal plant diseases if they’re too tightly packed together. This is especially true if their leaves are regularly wet and don’t dry out quickly. Don’t cram them in too tightly.

How To Plant Cucumbers

Transplanted cucumber plants should be spaced depending on their variety’s requirements. Those grown up a trellis can be spaced about a foot apart, where bush plants prefer about 36″ apart. Vining types that aren’t grown upward should have at least 60″ spacing to enable them to spread.

Directly-sown cucumbers should be handled in a similar spacing pattern as transplanted seedlings. Place 3-4 cucumber seeds in each 1″ deep hole, and once they’ve germinated, thin down to the strongest plant or two.

Often, people will plant their vining cucumbers in hills. Make a mound of soil, 3-4″ tall, and plant your seeds in the center of the hill. The vines will then grow downward and around the mound.

Caring For Cucumber Plants

Closeup of female pollinated flower
A closeup of a female pollinated flower. Note the tiny fruit forming. Source: vigilant20

Growing cucumbers is actually quite easy. Read through the following tips to find the best way to treat your plants!

Sun

Sunlight is absolutely essential for quick cucumber growth. These plants have large leaves to shade their precious fruit, but they need full sunlight to do their thing.

Place them in one of the sunniest parts of your garden for best production, and be sure they receive at least eight hours of sunlight per day.

Temperature

Cucumbers like it warm – between 60-90 degrees!

They’ll germinate at soil temperatures of 80-90 as well, but at anything below 68 degrees, it’ll be slow or not at all. For the best conditions for growing cucumbers, ensure your soil is at least 70 degrees consistently before direct-sowing your seed.

Once your plants are established, hot conditions are just fine. They can handle even extremely hot (over 90 degree) weather for short periods of time, as long as they have enough water.

However, as the weather starts to turn colder in the fall, you will find your cucumbers drooping once the temperature regularly drops to the 50’s. At that point it’s time to remove the plants and get your fall cover crops in place.

Watering

Consistent heavy watering is essential to develop good fruit. After all, a cucumber is made up of mostly water!

A good rule to follow is to finger-test. If you poke your finger into the soil and it’s dry past your first knuckle, it’s time to water. Keeping the soil evenly moist is usually best, especially when there’s fruit on the vine.

An inch of water per week is recommended for most cucumbers, but they’ll need more once the weather gets hot. During the summer, check them regularly. You do not want your cucumber plants to get thirsty, because a lack of water makes for bitter cucumber fruit.

Bottom-watering is preferred. Try not to wet the leaves too much, as this can create problems such as powdery mildew. If you have a drip watering system or soaker hoses, these are ideal.

Soil

Cucumber flowers
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Source: jenn2d2

Growing cucumbers require a lot of nutrients, because they’re heavy feeders. Before planting, it’s recommended to mix in compost or aged manure to a depth of about eight inches.

The pH range should be neutral or slightly alkaline, as cucumbers prefer something close to 7.0 pH.

It’s essential to have well-draining soil. If your soil is too moisture-retentive, it can cause fungal diseases which will destroy your plants.

Similarly, clay-type soils are not ideal for growing cucumbers as the roots will find it too difficult to penetrate. Your soil should be soft and organic-rich. Slightly sandy soils will work well as long as they have plenty of nutrients.

For people planning on container gardening, a good soil blend is made up of one part rich compost, one part perlite, and one part peat moss or coconut coir. This blend holds water without turning to mud or getting overly soggy, but will drain off excess easily.

Fertilizing

Heavy feeders like cucumbers need a rich soil to begin with. They can survive without supplemental fertilizing if the soil is nutrient-packed from the beginning. However, applying a balanced fertilizer in the early summer and early fall provides soil replenishment.

Nitrogen is most important for plant growth. Potassium can help the plants withstand disease. Phosphorous is essential for flowering, which is necessary for fruit set.

Try to ensure whatever you use is well-balanced. If it’s nutrient-heavy on one of these, aim for it being higher in nitrogen than the other two.

A good, rich compost spread at the base of the vines during the season can act in lieu of the fertilizer. Slow-release granules are also good, as is the use of compost tea.

Pruning

Dragons Egg Cucumbers
Dragon’s Egg cucumbers. Source: the.pinoyboy

While bush-type cucumbers rarely need pruning, a cucumber vine can rapidly fork out and expand out of control.

These vines all come from a single stem, and spread out to conquer their growing area. If you feel you need to prune your vine to keep it under control, start near the very base of the stem.

Examine your stem from where it comes out of the ground through the first 5-7 leaf node joints. If there are any vines shooting off from that area, that’s when you need to make your choice. You can allow these to remain, or you can prune them off to keep the main vine growing.

It’s generally best to only prune these lower secondary vines, and to allow it to spread out at the top of the vine. This is also important if you’re training your cucumbers on a trellis, as the upper growth will fill out the trellis.

To prune, snip off the secondary vine as close to the main vine as you can without damaging the main vine. A good pair of bypass pruners helps to avoid crushing damage. Avoid anvil pruners if you can.

Similarly, you can prune off fruit that forms in that first 5-7 leaf nodes if you would like, as this will encourage further development of the vine.

Remove the first 4-6 lateral runners that appear near the base of your plant as well. Anything beyond those, allow to develop as they will fruit.

Training Cucumbers To A Trellis

A 5-6 foot tall trellis should be plenty for growing cucumbers. Ensure it’s well-supported and able to handle weight, as cucumber fruit can rapidly become quite heavy.

Start by planting hills of cucumber plants spaced about 12″ apart at the base of the trellis. Once the vines have gotten a few inches of growth, mulch the hills lightly to help keep the soil moist.

As the plants become tall enough to reach the trellis, encourage the vines to wrap around the trellis. If necessary, use strips of old t-shirts to loosely secure the vines in place. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the vine to thicken as it grows.

Added support can be given to the cucumbers as they fruit by making a sling. Tie it to the trellis and slide the fruit in the sling, being sure there’s lots of space for the fruit to get larger.  This helps support the weight so the vine doesn’t have to.

Growing Cucumbers In Containers

Bush Champion cucumber
Bush Champion cucumbers are great container plants. Source: kimll

Bush type cucumbers can easily be planted in containers, as can vining varieties if they’re being trellis-grown. Blend together a cucumber potting soil (see the “soil” section above) and plant your cucumber in the center of a pot that’s at least 12″ wide.

Bush varieties should not require added support.

Ensure you regularly check your cucumber plant to make sure it’s getting enough moisture. Container-grown cucumbers can rapidly dry out, and keeping that even and steady water supply is essential to good fruiting.

Propagation

Cucumbers can be propagated from seed, or from cuttings.

As we’ve covered growing cucumbers from seed elsewhere in this piece, let’s discuss cuttings. The cuttings should be selected from green, healthy plants.

It’s preferable to take your cuttings in the early mornings when the stems are extremely well hydrated.

You will want to take your cutting from the end of the stem. Cut 1/8″ behind the second set of leaves and their leaf node, making your cut straight across the stem. Gently remove the second set of leaves, keeping the first intact.

Dip the cut end of the stem into rooting hormone, and then plant in a pot of potting soil, pointing straight upward.

Be sure the lower leaf nodes are thoroughly covered with rooting hormone before planting. Also, make sure those lower leaf nodes are a half-inch in the soil.

Water your cutting daily with a misting bottle, being sure to moisten all the soil thoroughly. Don’t overwater, but make sure that the soil always remains moist. Roots should form within three weeks.

Saving Cucumber Seeds

Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers
Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers, also called Mouse Melons. Source: cuttlefish

Before you decide to save the seeds you’ve gotten from growing cucumbers, check to make sure of two things.

First, be sure that your plants are not hybrids. Hybrid plants tend to produce sterile seed and should be propagated through cuttings.

Second, be sure your plants did not cross-pollinate with other varieties. Cross-pollination can cause the plants to not breed true. When saving seeds, it’s best to only grow one variety.

Provided that you have viable seeds, the wet method of seed harvesting is best.

Neatly slice your cucumber down the center and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp with the seeds. Try to separate as many seeds from the pulp as you can, and place them in a bowl with some luke-warm water.

Cover the bowl and leave the seeds in the water for three days. This allows the gel that forms around the seeds to start to decompose, pulling away from the seed.

After three days, strain out your seeds, removing as much of the gel particulate as you can, and spread them out on a tray to dry.

Check regularly to see if your seeds have dried, and once they have, place them in a paper envelope, marked with the date and variety.

You can add any growing notes/germination times that came on your original seed packet as an estimate or guideline to follow for the next year.

Store your seeds in a dark, dry, and cool location. Airtight storage tends to be best, but if you can’t provide an airtight container, try to reduce airflow as much as possible and keep them dry.

Transplanting

Suyo Long cucumbers
Suyo Long cucumbers. Source: twistedstringknits

While it’s not recommended to move your older cucumbers to larger containers, young cucumbers are easy to transplant into their permanent home.

Prepare the soil by loosening it and blending in at least an inch of rich compost to provide plenty of nutrition.

Then, gently remove your cucumber plant from its container. Be careful not to damage the roots, as cucumber roots can be sensitive and fragile.

Nestle your cucumber into the soil at the depth it was planted to in its starter pot. If you are using a peat pot, be sure that the bottom of the pot has been scored to allow the roots to expand, and bury the pot completely.

Companion Planting

Cucumbers are friendly plants, and can be grown alongside a lot of other vegetables and fruits.

In fact, it’s easier to list what you shouldn’t plant cucumbers next to!

Avoid growing cucumbers near potatoes, as it can cause potato blight. It wouldn’t hurt the cucumbers themselves, but it can lower your potato crop.

Strong-scented herbs like sage should also be avoided near your cucumber vines. It’s best to keep your herbs separate.

Finally, there’s a debate on whether growing melons near cucumbers will be a problem. The simple answer is that it depends on what type of cucumbers and what types of melons you’re growing. Some may be able to cross-pollinate.

The real danger in growing melons near your cucumbers is that they have similar insect pests. Too many similar plants in proximity to each other can create an appealing target for cucumber beetles and other related pests. Try to vary your planting.

When deciding what to grow with cucumbers, here’s a basic and common companion list:

Sunflowers, nasturtiums, marigolds, radishes, beans, tomatoes, corn, peas, and brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

Harvesting & Storing Cucumbers

Straight Eight cucumber
This Straight Eight cucumber is ready to harvest. Source: littleREDelf

Deciding when to pick cucumbers is more difficult than the harvesting itself. Storing can also be a challenge. Here’s some helpful hints for both!

Harvesting

Depending on what type you have, check your growing cucumbers every day or two as the fruits begin to expand in size. For many varieties, it’ll be eight to ten days after the female flowers open, but that’s not always a good guarantee.

The long, “burpless” varieties of cucumber meant for fresh eating are best harvested when they’re an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. Take a clean pair of pruning shears and snip through the stem 1/4″ above the fruit. Avoid twisting the vine so as to not damage it.

Pickling cucumbers are best at around 6″ in length, and they should be harvested the same way as fresh-eating cukes.

The unusual varieties of cucumber, such as the “mouse melon” types, should be harvested when they’re the estimated size stated on the seed packet.

It’s important to pick your cucumbers when they’re ripe. Leaving them on the vine too long will cause them to begin to yellow, and that turns the fruit bitter. Pick when they’re green to dark green and the right size for their variety.

Storing

Armenian cucumber
Armenian cucumber. These can grow huge. Source: wayneandwax

Cucumbers are considered perishables. They will rapidly deteriorate once harvested. Therefore, storing them is a challenge.

At supermarkets, cucumbers are typically coated with wax. This helps to keep moisture inside the fruit while in the refrigerator. You can wax your cucumbers if you wish, or wrap them loosely in plastic wrap if they’re not cut open.

Cucumbers which are wrapped can be stored in the crisper drawer in the fridge for about a week. Those which are waxed may last as long as two weeks.

If you’ve used part of your cucumber, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and use the rest within a few days.

Other Preservation Methods

Boston cucumbers
Boston cucumber. Source: Chiot’s Run

If you have an overabundance of fresh-eating cucumbers and don’t have time to eat them all before they spoil, consider making cucumber juice. Peel the skin off six cucumbers (you may also opt to remove the seeds if you prefer) and roughly chop them into chunks. Place them in a food processor and turn them into a puree.

For a less-pulpy juice, strain this mixture through cheesecloth or coffee filters. You can also run your cucumber flesh through a juicer.

Juice can be frozen until needed, but should be thawed slowly in the refrigerator to preserve their flavor. Once thawed, use the juice up quickly so it does not spoil.

You can also add lime juice and other good-pairing flavors such as ginger and make a granita out of the juice if you’d like.

Unfortunately, cucumbers themselves can’t be frozen, as the flesh will turn mushy. However, they make phenomenal pickles, especially varieties grown as pickling cucumbers. There are a million pickle recipes online, and both fresh-eating and pickling cucumbers can be used to produce them.

Pickling cucumbers are a bit denser and hold up better to dill treatments or canning. Fresh-eating cucumbers make great refrigerator pickles to be eaten within a few days’ time.

Finally, cucumbers can be dehydrated or freeze-dried to produce crunchy cucumber chips. Follow the instructions for your dehydrator or freeze-drier for best results.

If you wish, sprinkle a seasoning blend on top of the cucumber slices before processing for added flavor. Store in an airtight container with a dessicant packet.

Troubleshooting Cucumber Problems

Baby cucumbers
Newly-forming cucumbers. Source: edmittance

For the most part, if you take care of your plants and buy resistant species, you shouldn’t have problems. But if you do, here’s a list of the most common ones to encounter.

Problems Growing Cucumbers

Cucumber flowers tend to be one of the least-noticed by pollinators. It may be because they’re hidden under a dense mat of leaves. But often, one of the most common problems is that the cucumber plant flowers just don’t produce fruit.

In reality, there are both male and female flowers on the cucumber plant. It’s relatively easy to identify female flowers, as they have a much longer flower which looks like a tiny cucumber in shape. You may need to self-pollinate your female flowers to encourage fruiting.

To do this, take a cotton swab or a fine paintbrush and brush some of the sticky pollen off of one of the male flowers. Then, dust it just inside the female flowers. Repeat this until all female flowers have been pollinated. This should help them fruit more readily.

Pests

Cucumber with pickleworm
Pickleworms are common pests that burrow into cucumbers. Source: Starr Environmental

The cucumber beetle is the largest pest of cucumbers, as evidenced by its name. The larvae of this beetle will attack the roots of your plants, while the adults will feast upon the wide leaves.

To defend your plants against this beetle, you’ll need to use a pyrethrin-based spray. I recommend Safer Brand Yard and Garden Spray, which tends to be quite effective. If necessary, move up to a stronger pyrethrin solution, but try not to spray pyrethrins right before harvesting whenever possible.

Aphids are an ever-present pest in most gardens. With millions of variations, these tiny sap-suckers are found in all parts of the world. Whiteflies, spider mites, and thrips are also known to go after the plant juices of your cucumbers.

You can protect your plants against these pests by spraying all leaf and vine surfaces with neem oil. This deters further infestation while slowly killing off any which are there.

If you grow pumpkins or other squash in addition to cucumbers, you might have issues with the squash bug. Squash bugs will readily munch on cucumber plants, although their preferred food is other cucurbits like pumpkin.

You can use neem oil or pyrethrin-based sprays like Safer Brand Yard and Garden Spray against squash bugs as well.

The squash vine borer is another pest which can become a major issue. Its larvae tunnel into the vines of squash, melons, cucumbers, and other cucurbit plants.

Repelling this borer, which turns into a moth in its adult form, can be a challenge. Spinosad sprays such as Monterey Garden Insect Spray have been shown to be useful.

Once the larvae has dug into your cucumber stem, you may have to perform larva-removal surgery on the stem and cover it with dirt to promote rooting.

Finally, we have the pickleworm. This unassuming moth larvae will nibble at the leaves and stems of your cucumber plant, but what it’s really interested in is the fruit. Pickleworms will burrow deep into cucumber fruit, damaging the fruit and rendering it inedible.

Avoiding the pickleworm (and indeed all of these other insects) can be done by using floating row covers over your plants. Once those covers are removed for pollination, it’s more complex.

Preemptive spraying or powdering the plants and their fruit with bacillus thurigiensis (BT) tends to be the most effective way to prevent larvae from digging in. I recommend a spray formula such as Monterey BT. For a powdered option, I suggest Garden Dust.

Diseases

Downy vs. Powdery Mildew
The difference between downy mildew and powdery mildew. source

Sphaerotheca fuliginea and Erysiphe cichoracearum are fungi which cause the dreaded powdery mildew. This white, powdery growth will form on the leaves of your cucumbers. Left untreated, your cucumber leaves will wilt, and the plants begin to die off from lack of chlorophyll.

Thankfully, powdery mildew is readily treatable with a number of methods. I prefer using neem oil, which coats the leaves and protects them from mildew development. However, there’s a number of other organic methods which work just as well.

You can read more about powdery mildew preventatives here.

Downy mildew is caused by yet another fungal infection. This one causes yellowed patches on the top of cucumber leaves, with purplish or brownish patches on the underside of the leaves. Treatment for downy mildew requires a copper fungicide such as Bonide Copper Fungicide to kill off the fungal growth.

Bacterial wilt is caused by a bacteria (Erwinia tracheiphila) spread by both the spotted and striped cucumber beetles. Initially, it causes leaf wilting along the stem, but over time it will spread throughout the plant and die.

To avoid this wilt, eradicate cucumber beetles and their larvae as quickly as possible. If you find an infected plant, remove and destroy it to prevent further spread, and monitor your other cucurbits.

Cucurbit scab is an interesting plant disease, as it reacts differently to different types of cucurbits.

On cucumbers, it creates white to greyish leaf spotting, sometimes with a yellowish halo around it. Over time, these leaf spots will dry and fall out, creating ragged leaves.

It can also cause sunken spots on the cucumber fruits which become covered with a greenish-black fungal growth.

Treatment of scab requires coating all plant surfaces in a fungicide such as Dr. Earth Disease Control Fungicide. If necessary, stronger measures include the use of Bonide Fung-Onil, but the lighter method should eliminate the scab.

Fusarium wilt is a common problem in many vegetable gardens. In newly-germinating seeds, the soil pathogen Fusarium oxysporum will cause damping off. In older plants, it can slowly cause the plant to wilt and die off.

Unfortunately, this pathogen dwells in the soil, and anything which it can attack, it will. Plant resistant varieties for best protection. If a plant shows signs of fusarium wilt, it should be removed and destroyed to prevent further soil spread.

Phytophthora crown and root rot is also a risk to cucumbers. This is caused by overly-wet soil, and can almost be entirely eliminated in a garden setting if one provides well-draining soil for their plants.

If it develops in your soil, avoid planting more plants in that spot for a couple years. There are resistant plants for this soil infection as well.

Finally, we have the cucumber mosaic virus. Spread mostly by aphids, this virus will cause cucumber leaves to wrinkle and become patchy in color. Fruit may become bumpier than normal, create odd shapes, or look pale or greyish.

The best way to protect your plants from CMV infection is to wipe out aphids when they appear on the underside of your cucumber plant leaves. Infected plants should be removed and destroyed to prevent further spread.

Many varieties of cucumbers are resistant to CMV now, and planting those is encouraged.

Growing cucumbers
A pile of cucumbers. Source: Mike Licht

I hope you’re ready for a massive harvest of cucumbers, because there’s a huge selection to choose from and many heavy producers! What’s your favorite cucumber variety? What do you use your cucumbers for – pickles or fresh eating? Tell me in the comments below!

2.4K Shares
This post was last updated on

8 thoughts on “Growing Cucumbers: The Ultimate Guide To Cucumis Sativus

  1. My cucumber plat is just starting to produce. It has several small green cucumbers and a few very small dark brown cucumbers. Are the dark brown ones just in the initial stage or are they bad and I should remove them? Thanks!

    • If they’re dark brown and dry, they may have died early due to a lack of water or an excess of heat. Make sure to give them optimal growing conditions and see how they respond Tiffany!

  2. What a dose of information! This post is crucial for everyone that would like to plant cucumbers! Even I have learnt lots of new things from it – especially about lemon cucumbers that I have never seen before. They look amazing and I am really absorbed about their taste. I plant few varietes of cucumbers in my garden, but I have only one not usual. It is a white cucumber, and now I can see that there is also available the lemon one that you mentioned in your post but it is called “citrus” here. Is it the same? I must try it! And thanks for your very usefull post, Kevin. Really great job!

  3. My expe g ience in growing and getting cucumbers has not been good. I find your article with all the information very good and will try again with cucumbers. Thanks again for your efforts to inform and help us.

    Sylvia

  4. Very informative post on growing cucumbers that I have read about on the web in a long time. Way to go Kevin! I grow the Marketmore variety with great success.

  5. wow!!! this is the most detailed post I have read about growing cucumbers. Great job Kevin. I’m sharing this on Pinterest too ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Comment