Cucumber plants are either vining varieties with long vines or bush varieties with shorter vines. Cucumbers may be planted in hills or grown on supports such as trellises, fences, or stakes. Choose vining varieties for growing on supports.
The most common way to grow cucumbers is in hills. Hills provide warmer soil and good drainage. Dig a hole 18 inches (46 cm) wide and a foot (30 cm) deep. Add compost to create a mix of half soil, half compost, and fill the hole with this mixture, creating a six-inch-high (15 cm) mound. Plant five to six seeds per hill, one inch (25 mm) deep in a ring on top of the hill. When the seedlings are about three weeks old, thin them to the two or three strongest plants per hill. Snip off rather than pull out the unwanted plants, so as not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants. Allow 18 inches (46 cm) between hills for bush varieties and 36 inches (91 cm) for trailing varieties.
To grow cucumbers vertically on a trellis, fence, or stake, the support should be 4-6 foot tall. Growing cucumbers vertically can increase production and save space. For trellising, sow seeds at the base of the trellis, one inch (25 mm) deep, three inches (8 cm) apart. Thin to one foot (30 cm) apart. To grow on a stake, train a primary runner to the stake and tie at 12-14 inch (30-36 cm) intervals like a tomato plant. Cucumbers can also be trained to grow on a wire mesh arch.
To get a jump start on the season, start seeds indoors. Sow two to three seeds 1/2 (12 mm) deep in a small pot. Thin to the strongest plant. After hardening off, transplant in the garden at the above spacing. Be careful transplanting, as cucumbers do not like their roots disturbed. Growing in peat pots and transplanting pot and all will solve this problem.
Cucumbers contain about 90% water, so it's no surprise that they need plenty of watering. Why not plant an exotic variety of cucumber in your garden this season and perk up those summer salads! Cool, crisp cucumbers from the garden are perfect in summer salads or on their own with sour cream and fresh dill. We grow 'Passandra' as we find it the most successful but there are many other shapes and sizes to choose from.
Types of Cucumbers
Standard cucumbers are often called slicers. Slicers are usually 6-9 inches (15-23 cm) long, but may be as short as four (10 cm) and as long as 14 (36 cm) inches. "Burpless" varieties have been bred to avoid a common side effect.
Pickling cukes are usually shorter (6 inches or 15 cm) and "blockier" than slicing cucumbers, and have a bumpy or spiny skin. They're also crunchier, which is why they're best for pickling. Some cucumber varieties are bred to be good for both slicing and pickling.
Gherkins are actually the fruits of the 'West Indian Gherkin' (Cucumis anguria), a close relative of the cucumber, which produces 1-3 inch long (25-76 mm) spiny fruits. Gherkins are grown just like cucumbers. Many pickles called "gherkins", however, are made from regular pickling varieties.
Round, yellow "lemon cucumbers" are about the size of a tennis ball. Lemon cucumbers are sweet and don't contain as much of the chemical that can make some cucumbers bitter. They also make colourful pickles.
English hothouse (also called Dutch or European) cucumbers have a ridged or smooth skin, virtually no seeds, and do not require peeling. As the name implies, they are usually grown in greenhouses. Japanese cucumbers, which are also long, slender, thin-skinned, and virtually seedless, are a good substitute.
Armenian cucumbers (Cucumis melo) are long and light green with thin, ridged skins that also don't need peeling. Asian cucumbers come in a wide variety of lengths, colours, and flavours.
You can sow cucumber in March if you have a heated greenhouse but as I've never come across anyone who has one these days we're sticking to later sowings. Cucumbers need a lot of warmth so late May is the earliest sowing for an unheated greenhouse or tunnel. You will need a propagator or warm south facing windowsill for this one.
The reason early sowings can be difficult is cucumbers grow very fast and will quickly outgrow the propagator. If the glasshouse or tunnel is warm enough in late April ot early May then it's much easier as plants can go straight into their planting positions.
Sow 2 seeds about 1.5 cm deep in 9cm pots. Keep at 20 degrees C in the propagator until the seedlings emerge. The seeds should germinate in 3 -5 days.
The temperature after germination should be kept at a minimum of 16 degrees C.
Some will advise to plant cucumber seeds on their edge because if they go in on their flat they may rot. I'm not so sure about this but as cucumber seeds are expensive you might want to play it safe!
Cucumber Seedling Care
When growing seedlings indoors you be careful they don't get leggy, i.e. long spindly plants.
Seedlings become 'leggy' when they get too much heat and not enough light. If you are starting them off on a windowsill make sure they get as much daylight as possible. You can make a makeshift light box by placing a sheet of reflective tinfoil on the room side of the seedling tray. This will reflect daylight onto the darker side of the plant.
If the plants are on a heat bench or in a propagator and they are looking spindly, turn the heat down and try to give them as much light as possible. If 2 cucumber seedlings have germinated in any of your pots you need to remove the weaker one. Don't pull the seedling out as you'll damage the roots of the one you want to keep. Nip the unlucky one with your finger nail or cut with a scissors.
Cucumbers roots can rot if left in a pot of soggy compost so you need to be careful not over water. If in doubt leave them a little on the dry side.
You are actually far better to under rather than over water your plants. This may sound odd but making the roots search for water helps to develop a better root system. It's a bit like keeping fit.
You do need to be careful, however, not to let the compost plug completely dry out or it will form a crust on top and won't absorb the moisture the next time you water.
It will all depend on the weather of course but on a hot day you will need to water twice a day, if it's it's dull every 2 days will be fine.
Hardening off Cucumbers
Cucumbers raised in a propagator will need to be hardened off even though you are still planting them indoors. A sudden temperature drop from the propagator to the temperature of the tunnel can kill the plants so you need to be careful.
If the spring is mild and the tunnel is warm enough it will be fine to leave the plants out in the tunnel during the day and covering with a layer of fleece at night. If night are still cold return the plants to the propagator before darkness falls.
Remember to keep the compost moist but not soaking. Once the plants are planted into the larger bed in a week or so this will no longer be a problem.
Cucumbers can be planted in large pots (25cm would be a minimum) or in growbags. The traditional and best way to plant is using a hotbed but this may not be an option for you. I'll cover two methods below:
Making a hotbed
Clearly this will depends on whether you can get your hands on new, fresh strawy manure. Place a generous pile of compost on top of some fresh strawy manure, the pile will need to be about a metre in diameter per plant. A small timber raised bed would be ideal for this purpose.
Let the manure cool for a couple of days until the first burst of heat has subsided. The pile will depend on how many cucumbers you're planting but the distance is 45cm between plants to give you an idea.
Plant your cucumbers into the compost at a distance of 45cm apart. The trick here is the strawy manure keeps the roots of the cucumber warm and well drained helping to avoid problems with root rot. If the night get cold after planting out you can drape some fleece over the plants, the heat from the manure will keep them cosy.
If you can't get your hands on the manure you can still grow a good crop of cucumbers unless you're very unlucky with very cold nights after you plant.
Make a pile of mound of compost and soil where you want to plant your cucumber. Mix a good quantity of seaweed / manure pellets through the soil. Plant in the top of the mound at a distance of 45cm apart. The mound will aid drainage and help keep the roots from getting waterlogged. If you do get cold nights after planting place a layer of fleece over the young plants.
This is a bit of a balancing act as cucumbers need the soil to be kept thoroughly moist but never water logged. This is the reason for the raised bed or mound system. Keep a close eye on your plants and never let them dry out, the more moisture your cucumbers absorb, the sweeter they'll be.
If the plants are a little on the dry side you can get powdery mildew on the leaves (a white powdery coating on the leaves). You can combat this by using a diluted milk spray, mix 10% milk with water and spray using a pump action hand sprayer.
Be careful with root rot already mentioned. The soil must be kept moist but not waterlogged. Earthing up plants with compost around the stem to produce new roots will help.
Crop Care & Support
Your cucumber plants will need a framework to grow up otherwise they will trail along the ground.
If you have a tunnel it's handy to push a stick ot bamboo in beside the plant and run a string from the stick to the crop bars or hoops on the tunnel. Simply twirl the growing vine around the string as it grows, you can use a tie every now and then to stop the vine sliding down the string.
I like to make a bamboo wigwam to support the vines, once they out grow the wigwam they can be trained further up the tunnel. The photo shows how to make a traditional cane support to place in your tunnel or greenhouse.
Male Flowers & Mature Fruits
Unless you chose an all female variety (recommended) you need to remove the male flowers regularly or the fruits will have a bitter taste. Nip the flower out just below the flower head. This prevents the the male flower from pollinating the female.
Don't let mature fruits stay on the vine, the cucumber will think it has done it's job (Producing seeds) and cease production of new fruit.
Once the fruits start to swell you can feed the cucumbers by sprinkling some seaweed /poultry manure pellets in a wide spread around the base of the plant.
It is also a good idea to apply garden compost around the base of the stem. New roots will grow into the compost from the stem, this will also combat the problem of root rot as a new batch of healthy roots are produced.
Cut your cucumbers from the vine, don't pull them off or you'll damage the vine. Each vine can produce between 20 and 50 fruits in a season. You'll get some odd shapes but they will all taste as good!
As already mentioned make sure you harvest the mature fruit from the vine (even when you don't want it) because the plant will stop producing if you don't.