How to Plant Cucumbers (Plant, Grow, Harvest)

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Cucumbers are a sweet and tasty warm season vegetable.  And one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a home vegetable garden. 

Given the right soil, enough water and sunlight, you are almost guaranteed a successful cucumber crop.  Learning how to plant cucumbers is not difficult and they will taste so good for dinner during hot summer days.  

growing cucumbers in small space Hidden Springs Homestead

Starting Cucumbers From Seed

When starting cucumbers from seed, you actually have a choice:  

A)  If you prefer, you can start cucumber seeds indoors approximately 3 weeks prior to the last frost in your area.  It is important that transplants are not root-bound though when being transplanted into garden soil.  

Once transplants are hardened off, they can be planted outdoors no sooner than 2 weeks after last frost.  

B) An easier way is to direct sow cucumber seeds into garden soil.  Cucumbers are heavy feeders and will thrive in rich organic soil.  They also like a neutral pH soil of about 6.0 – 7.0   

How to Plant Cucumbers

As I mentioned, cucumbers are a warm season vegetable and they do not tolerate frost.  They grow best in temperatures of 80-95°F. 

Nighttime temperatures should not get below 60°F in order for cucumbers to continue to grow.  

If soil temperatures are at least 70-80°F or warmer, cucumber seeds will germinate outdoors in 3-10 days.  

Cucumbers do  not need a long growing season.  Here is Southeast Tennessee we have a rather long growing season of about 185 days.

Most cucumbers varieties take an average of 50-70 days to be ready for harvest.  So planting direct outdoors is very doable.    

To find out approximately how long your growing season is by entering your zip code here.  

Prepare For Planting Cucumbers

2 weeks prior to planting cucumbers outdoors, work into soil about 2 inches of rich compost and worm castings to awaken all the wonderful microbes in the soil.

This amendment will help to fertilize and feed your cucumbers plants and other vegetables throughout their growing season.  

Cucumber Plant Spacing

Cucumbers grow best when planted in hills of approximately 3 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter.  Moisten hill with water and a rich organic fertilizer. 

My favorite fertilizer for cucumbers is Kelp or Green Sand, both of these are rich in potassium and will feed the cucumber plant to be strong and healthy.

In the center of the hill, make a small hole about 1-3 inches deep and place inside the hole 3-5 cucumber seeds.  Cover with soil 1/2 – 1 inch deep.  

Spacing of cucumbers will depend on how you will be growing them: 

A)  Trellised cucumbers can be spaced 18 inches apartB)  If growing without a trellis, space hills approximately 3 feet apart in all directions. Cover hills with rich mulch to help hold in moisture.  

My raised beds are 40 x 45 inches and when I plant cucumbers, I use a trellis in the center of the bed and plant 2 hills on each side of the trellis.  

Grow Cucumbers on a Trellis
Growing cucumbers on a trellis in a raised bed

Once cucumber plants develop 4 leaves or are about 4 inches tall, thin plants to 1-2 plants per hill.  

RELATED: Take the guesswork out! Use the easy formula worksheets in The Canning Garden Workbook (printable) to figure out how much to plant, for canning, to feed your family for a full year!

Protecting Cucumbers From The Cold

As I mentioned, waiting at least 2 weeks after last frost date is safest for growing cucumbers from seeds. 

But here in Tennessee, our weather in the spring season can be really unpredictable. In the event of a cold snap, cucumbers need to be covered with a row cover for protection. They will not tolerate frost.  

 A minimum night low temperature is 60°F. If temperatures are predicted to be below 60°F, cucumbers will be cold damaged or even killed.  The leaves will turn a dark brown and be shriveled.  

To prevent this, cover plants with a lightweight Agribon row cover.  This will help to keep the temperatures inside the cover on average of 8-10°F warmer than the outside temperatures.  It allows 90% of light penetration and water can also penetrate.  

Of course, this is only necessary if a cold snap is expected to help cucumbers avoid cold temperatures or frost.  

How Long Do Cucumbers Take To Grow?

Depending on the specific variety, cucumbers are ready to harvest within 55-70 days.  Cucumbers produce both male and female flowers, so pollinators are important for them to produce.    

Male flowers grow in clusters of 3-4 and female grow as individuals. A cucumber plant will produce on average 10 male flowers to 1 female.

Grow Cucumbers from seed in a home garden. Hidden Springs Homestead
Female Cucumber Flower Growing on a Vine

Once pollinated, the female flower will set fruit on the bottom of the flower and the male flowers will drop from the plant. 

On average the time for a cucumber to grow AFTER the female flower is pollinated is about 10-12 days.  

Growing Tip:  Spray young cucumber plants with a sugar water. This will attract more bees for pollinating flowers.  More pollination means more fruit produced.  

How Much Sunlight Do Cucumbers Need?  

Cucumbers need at least 8-10 hours of full sun a day to grow. Remember, cucumbers are a warm season vegetable and do best when in full sun.  

Cucumbers planted in a space that does not get enough sunlight will most likely have a poor fruit set.  In other words, your harvest will be much less if any at all.  So choose the sunniest place in your yard to start a garden.  

How To Fertilize Cucumbers

Since you worked good organic compost and worm castings into your garden soil prior to planting cucumbers, it may not be necessary to fertilize them.  In a rich healthy soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0, cucumber plants will be happy and grow well without fertilize. 

If you prefer to though, a LOW nitrogen/higher potassium and phosphorus level fertilizer is needed.  I recommend for potassium –  again both Kelp or Green Sand are great. 

And for additional phosphorus I recommend bone meal or a rock phosphate

Side dress cucumber plants about a week after they bloom and then about every 3 weeks after that.  Work fertilizer into the garden soil well.  Careful not to injure roots.  

The reason you want to use a low nitrogen is because nitrogen forces leaves to grow and does not help with fruit set.  You don’t want to end up with a lot of leaves and no cucumbers.   (Speaking from experience).  

How Much Water Do Cucumbers Need?  

Cucumbers should be watered early in the morning or late in the eveningAvoid getting the leaves wet as much as possible.  This will help to prevent disease on the leaves that can kill the cucumber plant.   

A great way to water a garden and keep the leaves dry is to by using a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose.  Both of these will place water down at the roots and will soak deep into the soil to force the roots to grow deep and strong.  

I use an irrigation system I got from Drip Depot. They sell only irrigation parts and products and are very helpful and trained when you have questions.  I highly recommend this company. 

How Tall or Large do Cucumber Plants Grow? 

Cucumbers don’t necessarily grow “tall.”  They are a vine plant that grows to a large size with large leaves that cover the fruit.  The leaves help to shade the fruit to allow it to grow larger without “sunburn.”  

There are two types of cucumbers -Vining and Bush.  We will talk more about the specific varieties in just a bit.  Cucumbers are really fast growers, so being prepared for them in advance is helpful.  

Vining cucumber plants can be grown on a trellis, fence line or just allowed to spread over the garden. Do keep in mind, if left to spread, they will cover most any plant that is near them. 

Their vines do get rather large and can have many cucumbers on each vine.  I would recommend you use a trellis for growing cucumbers.  A trellis will also make it easier for harvesting. 

growing cucumbers on a trellis in a raised bed Hidden Springs Homestead
Cucumber plant trellised in a raised bed

Bush cucumbers are more suited for small gardens and even containers.  

How To Harvest Cucumbers

 How can you tell when cucumbers are ready to be harvested?  

  • Once cucumbers are ready to harvest, you will be harvesting every other day if not every day
  • Depending on the variety you are growing, will determine when to harvest:
    • Canning cucumbers should be small: 
      • Pickling or “Gherkin” pickles – harvest at  2-3 inches long
      • Dill Pickles – should be harvested at no more than 3-4 inches long
    • Slicing cucumbers – harvest at approximately 7-10 inches long;  much longer than this and they will become bitter.  

Harvesting Tips: 

  • If you will not be using a harvested cucumber immediately, a good habit to do is to leave about a 1 inch vine on the cucumber.  This will allow the cucumber to store for a few days without harming the flavor.  
  • Wear gloves when harvesting cucumbers, some varieties have these prickly spines that grow them and the vines that can be painful when harvesting.    

How long does a cucumber produce fruit?  You can encourage continued production as long as you consistently harvest mature fruits.  

Varieties of Cucumbers

Slicing: 

Marketmore Cucumber:  seeds germinate in 6-10 days;  they are ready to harvest in about 65 days.  These cucumbers grow to about 8 inches long and are a sweet flavor.  These are a vining cucumber that grows to about 6 feet long.  Trellis recommended.  

Straight Eight Cucumber:  can be harvested in approximately 65 days.  These cucumbers grow to about 8 inches in length and are known to be very sweet. 

Bush Crop Cucumber:  this cucumber is great for small urban gardens or containers.  They grow to about 2 feet tall with no runners.  Fruit is crispy and very juicy.  

Pickling:  

Bush Pickle:  This is ideal for small urban gardens or containers as well.  The vine grows to about half the size of regular cucumber plants but it produces medium sized, 4-6 inch, cucumbers. They are sweet, crisp and great for pickling.  

Little Tyke:  To be completely honest, I have never grown this specific cucumber.  Little Tykes grow well in hot climates and produce small but flavorful fruits.  This variety produces mainly female flowers, so I recommend planting more than one plant.  

Boston Pickling:  This is my go to favorite picking cucumber.  We all have our favorites and this is mine.  These cucumbers grow to only 5-6 inches long and are perfect pint jars.  They are a bright green and produce large amounts of fruit as long as you keep them harvested regular.  

Of course there are many other kinds of cucumbers.   I would take a guess to say well over 20 varieties. 

I would recommend you collect Free Seed Catalogs and read about various slicing and pickling cucumbers.  This will help you to decide what variety of cucumber is best for your home garden.  

Growing Cucumbers Is So Worth The Effort

Don’t let all this be overwhelming.   I remember my first year of gardening, it was not pretty.  Just do the best you can and learn from year to year.  

I know we covered a lot.  To sum it all up in a simple form for you:

  • Planting cucumber seeds directly outside on hills of about 2-3 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter
  • Place 3-5 seeds in the center of each hill; mulch hills to keep soil moist
  • When cucumbers get to be about 4 inches tall or have 4 leaves, thin to 1-2 plants per hill
  • Water consistently in the early morning or late evening
  • Keep leaves dry when watering to avoid disease
  • Side dress with an organic high potassium and phosphorus fertilizer 1 week after blooming and then every 3 weeks then on
  • Limited on space?  Use Bush varieties are best.  Vining varieties need to be trellised.  

Are you excited now?  Will you be growing cucumbers this year in your garden.  If so, GREAT!!!  Please comment and tell us what variety you will be growing.  I’d love to know….

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3 thoughts on “How to Plant Cucumbers (Plant, Grow, Harvest)”

  1. I am very lucky living in Florida because we grow cucumbers almost year-round! We leave a few extras in the garden at the end of the season and have had new shoots sprout in the spring from their seeds even! We make pickles alot! I love that you use kelp as a fertilizer, we do the same! Very good post with tons of great info! Thanks for sharing!

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