We have had a somewhat cool spring up to this point which has extended our vegetable planting season just a bit. My family loves pickles, so I always try to produce a crop of cukes both for slicing and pickling.
Cucumbers can be planted from seed or transplants which are often available from garden centers and feed stores. Once the seedlings are established and have their true leaves, they should be thinned to 2 to 3 feet apart.
Cucumbers perform best with at least eight hours of direct sun each day. The plants aren’t picky about soil types as long as they drain well. Ideally, till in several inches of compost or organic matter and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. For smaller plots, use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing cucumbers is 5.5 to 7.0
Cucumbers are generally direct-seeded into the garden and do better in the ground than in containers. Create a raised row about 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. Multiple rows should be around thirty-six inches apart. Cucumber seeds should be planted in groups of seed every 5 to 8 feet. This is known as planting in hills. Open a shallow depression about 1 to 2 inches deep and 4 inches wide with a hoe. Drop 4-6 seeds evenly spaced apart in the hole and cover lightly with loose soil using a hoe or garden rake. Gently tamp the soil down with the back of the hoe. Make sure the seed isn’t too deep or it won’t germinate. Transplants should be immediately watered in with a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro at half the labeled rate.
I prefer to grow my cucumbers on wire fence trellises for cleaner and straighter fruit. As soon as the vines on the cucumbers start to run or climb, you need to apply an additional application of fertilizer. This is known as side-dressing. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), around each hill, being careful to keep it off the plants. Work the fertilizer into the soil lightly with a hoe or rake, and water. After side-dressing, applying a layer of organic mulch (pine straw, grass clippings, compost, etc.) to conserve water and prevent weeds is ideal. Insects and diseases aren’t generally a major problem, but be on the lookout for cucumber beetles, leaf miners, and leaf-footed plant bugs (“stink bugs”).
Depending on the variety, cucumbers are generally ready to harvest fifty-five to sixty days from seeding. Always pick every fruit that is of usable size. Leaving a single fruit on the plant too long will cause the plant to cease production. Tender smaller-sized cucumbers are the best. There is no such thing as one too small to use. However, exceptionally large, seedy cucumbers are not something to be proud of or gifted to friends. They should be deposited in the compost pile or fed to the nearest horse or flock of chickens.
Cucumbers come in both pickling and slicing varieties, but I use them interchangeably. Cucumbers originated in India. For more information on growing cucumbers in the home garden, see the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Easy Gardening publication titled “Cucumbers” on the Aggie Horticulture website.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com and read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.