Summertime meals really shine when you include fresh fruits and veggies. The only thing to make your summertime menu even better is to include your own homegrown produce. Not sure where to start? Cucumbers are one of the easiest fruits to grow. Follow these five tips on how to grow cucumbers and you’ll be eating fresh cukes in no time!
Tip #1: Don’t Plant Too Early
Cucumbers do not like the cold weather. Before planting, wait until the soil is approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A good rule of thumb is to hold off on planting until two weeks after the last frost in your area. You may also use black plastic or landscape fabric to speed up soil warming.
Tip #2: Direct Seed When Possible
Cucumbers are highly susceptible to transplant shock. Ideally, direct sowing is the preferred method. If the weather in your area makes it difficult to directly sow or you want to get a jump start on the growing season, use biodegradable seed trays to prevent transplant shock due to root damage. Consider using soil additives when transplanting to prevent shock.
Wilting, yellow, or upturned leaves and stunted growth are signs of transplant shock. If your cucumber plant is exhibiting these symptoms, check the pH level of the soil. Cucumbers grow best in soil with a pH range of 6.5-7. Overcrowding can also cause wilt. Plan to give each plant one to five feet of ground space.
Tip #3: Use a Trellis
Cucumber plants come in two basic varieties: bush and vine. The bush variety will remain a compact bush that produces limited fruit, while the vine variety will grow much larger and produce more fruit. A trellis will allow your cucumber plant to flourish vertically, saving room in your garden for other plants. It will also make growing your cucumber vine much easier for you, while ensuring the health and longevity of the plant and protecting against disease and mold.
A trellis can also help to keep ground pests like snails from easily accessing your plant. As temperatures warm, adding straw to the soil can also impede pests. A trellis makes your job much easier during harvest time, too, making the fruit more visible and accessible. You can purchase a trellis, or construct one out of wood or wire fencing.
Tip #4: Water Often and Early
Make sure that your plant is getting enough water; conversely, make sure you aren’t overwatering. Lack of water leads to malformed and bitter fruits, while overwatering can lead to root rot. Check the top ½” of the soil. If it is damp, then there’s no need to water them. If it is dry, give the plant a little water. Cucumber plants need about 1” of water a week and thrive in soil that remains moist, but not too damp.
Apply the water to the base of the plant. Watering in the morning ensures that the sun will dry the leaves and soil surface, which helps prevent mold and disease. Depending on how much sun exposure your cucumber patch has, you may need to water more frequently.
Tip #5: Prepare to Pickle
Once your cucumber plant starts to flower, begin checking for cucumbers daily. The fruit will grow quickly. If you leave cucumbers on the vine too long, they may become bitter and seedy. The ideal size of the cucumber depends on the variety, so you may have to experiment a little with your harvest time.
Harvesting the fruit stimulates more fruit production, so once you start picking your cucumbers, prepare to have plenty for the next few weeks! Find a variety of recipes featuring cukes, like cucumber salad, sandwiches, and dips. Of course, friends, family, and coworkers would probably enjoy a gift of home-grown cucumbers, too!
Pickling is another option to make the most of your cucumber harvest. Gather glass jars and lids, a large pot, and a few ingredients to get started making homemade pickles. Look online for a pickling brine recipe and full instructions. You can experiment with different recipes for dill, sweet, and spicy pickles. Canning your pickles will allow you to enjoy your harvest for up to six months.
Overall, growing cucumbers is a fun hobby that allows you to add healthy, delicious fruit to your everyday meals. Following these five tips will ensure that even a novice gardener can create a bountiful cucumber harvest!