How to Grow Cucumbers in Your Own Backyard
Cultivating this vegetable requires more than just sun and water.
Cucumbers have always been a summer staple, and that's true whether we're talking about in the garden or in your favorite recipes. They pop up in everything from tossed salads to ice-cold beverages, and it's no wonder why: The super vegetable fights dehydration and is packed with nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. Best of all, cucumbers are an easy-to-grow vegetable you can cultivate in your own garden.
We spoke with Jon and Adrienne Roethling, a husband and wife public horticultural team, to get expert tips on how to grow the biggest, greenest cucumbers in your vegetable garden.
It's All About Location
When looking for a good spot to plant your cucumbers, go where the sun goes. "Cucumbers like full sun but will tolerate some shade," says Jon Roethling, director of Reynolda Gardens at Wake Forest University. After you have a nice, sunny spot he recommends planting your seeds—he says cucumbers planted from seed seem to do better than those that are transplanted after they have begun to sprout—in the right dirt. "The soil needs to be amended for good drainage and you should be sure to add compost," the expert says.
Water Is Key
Maybe the reason cucumbers are known for fighting dehydration is because they require so much water to grow. As a matter of fact, the key to growing good cucumbers is keeping them well hydrated. "They do like a lot of water, especially if they are planted in a raised bed," explains Adrienne R. Roethling, the Director of Curation and Mission Delivery at the Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden. In the south, cucumbers must be watered daily. In cooler areas, they may be fine with less frequent watering. "It is always best to water at the roots and avoid splashing the leaves as this leads to mildew," she says. Since cucumbers are prone to mildew, the pro recommends making sure your plants get full sun, good airflow, and regular watering.
Cucumbers Love Compost
In order to be sure your cucumbers are getting all the nutrients they need, both Roethlings agree that they should be planted in soil that's been mixed with compost. "Here at the gardens, we have been adding a cover crop every few years to add nutrients and compost to the soils," Adrienne says. "We turn the soils often for good air circulation and if we need to add soil, it is always compost from our very own compost pile." If composting is not your thing, or if you just want to give your soil an additive, she suggests using vegetable tone. "It's organic and [lasts] a long time."
They Make Good Neighbors
If you're planting cucumbers in a garden with other plants, make sure they're located next to something they'll get along with. "The best companion plants for cucumbers range from zinnias to cosmos to marigolds," explains Jon. Adrienne agrees that the companionship matters since cucumbers have stiff hairs that furry pests may find uncomfortable, making them less likely to nibble on your plants. She suggests planting them with taller items like corn, peppers, dill, and fennel. "Of course, adding marigolds too could double the chances of keeping rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks away," she says. "If the cucumbers act like a carpet plant, they will help suppress weed seeds as well as keeping the soils cooler."
How to Harvest Your Cucumbers
When your plants are mature, which generally happens within 50-60 days from when you planted them, they will be ready for harvest. You can verify your cucumbers are ready for picking by checking to make sure they are smooth, a deep or dark green, and have no sunken or wrinkled areas that need plumping up. Use garden shears, or sharp kitchen scissors, to cut the stem about a quarter-inch above the cucumber's skin. You should never pull or twist the fruit to remove it from the vine as you might hurt the remaining plant. Freshly picked cucumbers will keep for a few days in your refrigerator.