How to Grow Cucumbers

Home-grown cucumbers are a different experience to shop bought and well worth growing.  Home-grown cucumbers are crunchy and juicy compared to those sold in supermarkets.  Being nosey, I checked with a major food retailer to find out the shelf life of the cucumbers they sell. From this I can say that shop bought cucumbers may have been picked between 4/5+  days earlier if grown in the UK, or 10/11+ days if grown abroad.  In the supermarket you could be buying a cucumber which is nearly 2 weeks old.  Home-grown cucumbers are really fresh, the skin is thinner and not the least bitter; and they are a breeze to grow. Cucumbers almost grow themselves which means it is definitely worth growing cucumbers. 

Cucumbers are members of the Cucurbits family, which include squashes, melons and courgettes and are a fast growing subtropical vine. Because they are quick growing, some can crop within 50 days, cucumbers are worth making space for and a good crop to interest children in growing food

How to Grow Cucumbers from Seed

emerging cucumber seedling

Cucumbers are easy to germinate from seed, which means they are also a good starting point for a new gardener. Cucumber seeds are large which makes them easy to handle. Generally, about two/three plants are enough as each plant produces quite a few cucumbers. Place a couple of seeds per pot and cover with a fine light dressing of compost, and keep warm (18C or 65+F) which means placing the pot on a window sill, conservatory or greenhouse. Covering the pot with a poly bag fixed in place with elastic band or string, or placing in a propagator will make germination quicker and more reliable. 

After a few days the seedling will emerge, as in the image left, at which stage remove the pot from the propagator, otherwise it can overheat which will make the seedling go soft. This is true of all plants germinated in a propagator do not leave in for any time after the seedling has become established unless it is too cold without cover.

If you are not keen on growing from seed, it is easy to buy cucumbers as young plants either at the garden centre or on-line,  and grow on in the greenhouse or a window sill. 

Green-wheelbarrow-on-background-colour-50px

Cucumbers are colour coded green as they are easy to grow and maintenance free;  information about colour coding.

Planting Cucumbers & Indoor and outdoor varieties

Cucumbers need a good warm summer to crop well outside, and to be planted in a sheltered spot. They are not frost hardy, (what does frost hardy mean?) and don't like it cool, which means it is best to delay planting outside until the warmer weather arrives. This is important when growing cucumbers because planted outside too early there is a real risk of frost or cold damaging the plant. In cooler areas it can be easier to grow cucumbers in containers in a greenhouse.   

Also, some varieties of cucumbers are only suitable for growing in a greenhouse or under glass. There are specific varieties for indoors and outdoor growing. The only way to tell is to read the seed packet/growing instructions. Generally, if you are growing cucumbers outdoors, you will need to grow the ridge varieties, such as illustrated top right which have a tougher skin. In a greenhouse you can grow the smooth-skinned varieties as illustrated in the centre image.

If you are planting outside, protect with cloche against wind and chill until established. 

Growing, caring for and watering cucumbers

Like all Cucurbits, water very carefully and sparingly at first. The small seedlings have a tendency to rot at the stem, where it meets with the soil, particularly if over watered or the stem and surrounding soil becomes too wet. A good tip if this does happen, or the weather very wet, or just as a precaution, it's worth clearing the soil away from the stem to avoid it resting against the plant until there is strong growth.

Once Cucumbers put on growth the reverse is needed, more water is required to keep the cucumber growing.  If growing outside an economical use of space is to grow the cucumber up a wigwam/trellis which has added bonus of keeping fruit off the ground and out of slug reach. (for tips on keeping slugs at bay) As they grow cucumbers plants need support up a wig wam, or tied into a cane. 

Cucumbers are vigorous and produce a lot of fruit. Just like courgettes, a few plants cucumber plants go a long way.  To harvest cucumbers simply pick when they look ready to eat.

Like Courgettes, cucumbers can suffer from powdery mildew and if so pick off worst affected leaves, water and feed. Whether in the plot or under glass, all cucumbers like plenty of water and do not allow them to dry out. It follows that cucumbers can't be left unattended and you will need a friendly neighbour to water if you go away.

A tip when growing cucumbers is to make sure as soon as the flowers form with plenty of baby cucumbers, pinch out the tip of the plant so the plant's energy goes to the fruit development, not more growth. Don't let the plant grow too large at the expense of the fruit. Harvesting regularly which will encourage more fruit. 

Removing male flowers: how to tell the difference between male and female flowers on a cucumber

When growing outdoors, similar to  courgettes, it's a good idea to remove some of the male flowers.  On both courgettes and cucumbers the male flowers will not produce fruit so thin out the male flowers. Do not remove them all as male flowers are needed for pollination but often at the beginning and end of the growing season there can be too many male flowers.

 How do you know the difference between male and female cucumbers and courgettes? Female flowers have little bump behind the flower, which is the embryo fruit, compared to the males flowers which just have a stem.The image left is of courgette flowers but they look very similar to cucumbers. 

It can often be easier to grow cucumbers under glass which helps to control the growing environment. This is especially so if you do not have a sheltered spot on your veg plot.