University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
GROW YOUR OWN CUCUMBERS
Dr. Leonard Perry,
University of Vermont
Most know cucumbers from their use
in salads, eaten fresh, or pickled.
are among the top five vegetables nationwide, and in recent
they ranked the fifth most grown vegetable.
You’ll find dozens of selections in stores and seed
catalogs. Cucumbers are
easy to grow from seeds, and
there are selections for slicing or pickling, for garden beds or
patio pots and
Cucumbers are in the same
family as squashes, pumpkins, and melons.
They all are trailing vines with rough, hairy leaves, and
flowers. Cucumbers of the
past grew as
long vines, and many still do, but some newer selections are
“bush” types. These grow
in mounds, making them good for
small space gardens and large containers. ‘Spacemaster’ is a good
Most cucumbers are slicing types,
dark green with prickly skin when young, some still with spines
white flesh, and in addition to the usual cylindrical can be
globular. These “American”
types are for
eating fresh, with fruit from 4 to 10 inches. Two of the most
popular in the
north are ‘Sweet Success’ and ‘Marketmore’.
Asian or oriental cucumbers are
those that are quite long—a foot or more, sweet and mild, and with
a thin skin.
You’ll want to grow these on a trellis for long and straight
down. ‘Armenian’ is a
selection that comes in either light green, or with light stripes. This novelty is actually an
cantaloupe that is best eaten fresh when immature, or cooked like
squash. Leave it on the
vine and it can
reach 3 feet long!
If you tend to have a social, if
digestive, problem after eating cucumbers, then look for the
selections, either American or Asian types. They produce little to
none of the
“cucurbitacin” compound that is responsible for bitterness, as
susceptibility to burping. Other
can become more bitter with stresses, such as heat and drought. Much bitterness can be
eliminated by peeling
the skin, and cutting off an inch of fruit close to the stem.
Tired of the usual or want
different? Then try the
yellow-colored “Lemon”, ‘Gold Standard’ with golden flesh, or the
(from 1893) white-skinned “White Wonder”.
For a different pickling cucumber, consider the
white-skinned ‘Salt and
Another means to help choose among
available, is to look for All-America Selections (AAS) winners. Vegetables and flowers with
have been judged among the best when they were introduced. There are nine such cucumber
the program began in 1933.
Among the more recent AAS winners
‘Sweet Success’ (a winner in 1983), burpless, with thin skin that
peeling. ‘Salad Bush’
(1988) is a good size
for containers and raised beds. Good
winners include ‘Fanfare’ (1984) and ‘Diva’ (2002), the latter
non-bitter and spineless. ‘Saladmore Bush’ (2014) can be picked
pickling, or older for slicing, and has a semi-bush habit. ‘Pick a Bushel’ (2014) has a
bush habit so is
good for patio containers, can be harvested young for pickles or
slicing, and bearing early is good for the shorter season in the
When choosing cucumbers, you’ll see
terms related to their sex life. Some
male and female flowers on the same plant, and are termed
the Greek meaning “of one house”).
Others have mainly all female flowers, and are termed
“gynoecious”. Female flowers produce the
fruit, but they need
male flowers to be pollinated, so these
need a plant with male flowers nearby.
Seeds packets of these contain a few seeds of male plants
pollination. But stresses
growing season may result in some male flowers on these otherwise
plants. And some
don’t need any pollen for female flowers to bear fruit, and are
To grow best, cucumbers like full
sun, and a well-drained soil that is fertile, with plenty of
compost. You can sow
directly outdoors when the soil
has warmed at least above 60 degrees (F), and all danger of frost
is past. Cucumbers grow
best with air temperatures
above 70 degrees day, and
degrees at night.
To get a jump on the short northern
season, sow seeds indoors 2 to 4 weeks prior to planting out. Use a soilless potting mix,
and peat pots or
similar containers. “Harden”
off before planting out, both to outdoor temperatures as well as
light levels. If you take
from low light to full sun outdoors, leaves will surely “bleach”
out and become
or seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart for slicing types, in rows 5 to
apart. For pickling types,
space 8 to 12
inches apart in rows 3 to 6 feet apart.
If sowing, use 2 to 3 seeds per “hill”, or over a one foot
thin out the weakest to the final spacing.
Once planted, give plenty of water
with deep watering. Plants need lots of fertilizer to grow well,
so use one
especially for vegetables, according to label rates.
When plants start to grow, mulch
around them with several inches of straw or similar weed-free
plastic, or synthetic weed fabric, to help with weeds and
moisture. If nights get
cool, you may
want to cover the young plants for a few weeks with a “floating
lightweight fabric you can find in complete garden stores, or even
a hotcap or
“cloche”. Just make sure
to remove these
before flowering for proper pollination.
These floating row covers also
provide protection against a couple of key insect pests--cucumber
and squash vine borers. The
comes from eggs laid in stems in late June from orange moths with
spots. The borer larvae
that hatch chew
in stems, causing them to wilt and die.
If your vines do get infested, and you see holes at the
base, just poke
a wire in the holes to kill the larvae. Cucumbers can get several
too, but choosing disease-resistant varieties and providing good
circulation will help prevent these.
If you’re short on space, consider
growing cucumbers upright on a trellis, lattice, or A-frame
should be at least 6-feet high,
and well-anchored to the ground. Help
young vines find the string or netting, and tie them to these as
needed. If growing in a
large container (make sure it
has drainage holes) such as wooden tub or whiskey barrel half, use
mix or one amended with an equal part compost. These will dry out
and need more water than plants in ground beds.
Keep plants fertilized. You might try interplanting some
as nasturtiums or petunias in these containers for color.
The key to the highest yields, in
addition to proper culture, is to pick regularly. Mature fruits, left on the
vine, signal the
plant to stop producing. Generally,
slicing types when they are 6 to 8 inches long, the larger ones
before they are
10 inches long. Harvest
when they are one to 4 inches long, the shorter ones referred to
“gherkins”. In addition to
mature fruit will be firm and of uniform color.
Cut them off, rather than twisting, to avoid damage to the
vine. Refrigerate soon
Each year the National Garden
chooses a Vegetable of the Year, the one for 2014 being the
cucumber. Visit their
website to learn more about this,
as well as other popular vegetables and flowers (www.ngb.org/).