How to grow and care for cucumbers

The cucumber is a popular ingredient in summer salads, where it adds a crisp and refreshing bite. You can grow your own very easily, and without taking up a lot of space.

What you need to know about cucumber

Name: cucumber, Cucumis sativus and varieties

Height: up to 1.5m on a trellis

Foliage: evergreen, but lasts less than a year

Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid, sub-tropical and tropical.

Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil with plenty of rotted organic matter added.

Position: full sun in cooler districts, but some shade in warmer areas.

Flowering and fruiting: small yellow flowers followed by round or sausage-shaped fruit.

Feeding: regular feeding with an organic fertiliser.

Watering: keep the soil damp, but not wet.

Appearance and characteristics of cucumber

The edible cucumber grows as a trailing and climbing vine. It has green leaves and small wiry stems—known as tendrils—that curl around support structures, allowing the plant to climb. This plant has yellow male and female flowers, with the female flowers having a tiny unfertilised cucumber directly behind the flower.

We are used to seeing cucumbers that are long and green, but cucumbers also come in other shapes and colours. There are round ball ones, some quite small and others the size of tennis balls; there are short and stubby cucumbers; and ones up to 30cm long! Skin colour can be light green or dark green, but also white, cream, yellow and striped.

Uses for cucumber

Cucumber has traditionally been grown for the long fruit, which is used in salads and in sandwiches. However, many people don’t realise that the pickled gherkins you see are actually baby cucumbers that have been preserved. There are also various recipes where cucumbers are cooked, rather than eaten raw.

How to plant and grow cucumbers

1. Prepare your soil by digging in some rotted organic matter and manure until it is thoroughly mixed through and the soil is free of clumps.

2. Install a trellis system for the cucumber to grow on. This keeps the fruit and foliage off the ground, reducing incidence of diseases and making the fruit easier to pick. It also takes up a lot less space, and makes it easier to provide shade over the growing plants, which you will need if you are in a really hot district.

3. Plant the seeds or seedlings into already damp soil and keep it damp, but not wet.

 

Growing cucumber from seed

Cucumber is grown from seed. These can be sown directly where you want the plants to grow, or into punnets or pots to give yourself a head start.

Sowing time depends largely on where you are. In temperate and arid areas, sow in the frost-free warmer months. In the tropics you can sow virtually year-round.

Close up image of cucumbers

Caring for cucumber

Plant support

When your cucumber first grows, it may need a little help to cling to the climbing support. Use some soft tie or string for this job. Once the plants have reached about 10cm they should produce their own tendrils to let them cling onto the frame.

Pollinating

If you find that you get flowers without fruit, it may be that the female flowers are not being pollinated. You can help with this by growing lots of bee-attracting plants in your garden. You can also manually pollinate by taking off a fresh male flower and rubbing it onto a freshly opened female flower. Remember, females are the ones with the tiny fruit behind the flower.

Diseases and pests affecting cucumber

Sometimes cucumbers get spots of a white powdery substance on the foliage. This is called powdery mildew, and can be controlled with a garden fungicide. You can also reduce the incidence of this by watering the ground and not the foliage, watering early in the day and also ensuring you have well-spaced plants growing in a sunny and airy location.

If you like this then try

Lettuce: the classic summer salad base.
Avocado: delicious fruit for salads and for dips and spreads.
Nasturtium: a trailing flowering plant whose leaves can give a peppery taste to a salad.

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