The versatile cucumber (cucumis sativus) is tasty pickled, in a salad, as a salad, in a sandwich, or just eaten raw. How to grow cucumbers depends largely in part on how you plan to eat them. Cucumbers come in over 120 varieties that range from small picklers to large slicers and from dark green to the yellow of the lemon cucumber. They come “burped” or burpless, seeded or without seeds.
Originating in India where they have been cultivated for over 3,000 years, the cucumber is a quick growing subtropical vine. In fact, many varieties of cucumber are ready to harvest after 50 days. However, some gardeners shy away from learning how to grow cucumbers because of their peculiar pollination habits. The traditional cucumber produces both a male (staminate) and a female (pistillate) blossom. Male blossoms appear first and soon drop from the vine without bearing fruit. However, the vines soon bloom again with both male and female flowers and continue blooming throughout the growing season. Cucumber vines bear fruit in abundance as long as you harvest them before they reach full maturity.
Relatives of squash, melons, and pumpkins, there are a variety of ways to learn how to grow cucumbers. Grow them in hills, in rows along a wire trellis, or train your cucumber vines to climb a wall or wooden trellis. In addition to growing directly in the garden, cucumbers make an attractive container plant. The cucumber is an appealing plant with lovely blossoms that permeate the air with the heady fragrance of — what else? — cucumbers!
When getting ready to learn how to grow cucumbers in your garden, it’s best to prepare the soil about a month ahead of planting them. Cucumbers are not good at competing for space and nutrients. Remove weeds and spade in rich organic material. You’ll have plenty of time to do this, since cucumbers are subtropical vines that prefer the sunny days and balmy nights of summertime. Seeds need about an 80F temperature to germinate, but then will do so in four to five days. Although seeds can be planted directly into the garden, cucumbers can also be started indoors for transplanting. If you use peat pots to start the seed, you can bury the whole pot in the garden lessening the risk that you’ll damage the tender vines.
Once established, in addition to keeping the fruit cleaner, a layer of mulch in your cucumber patch minimizes weed growth and helps your soil retain moisture. Although cucumbers hate wet feet and won’t grow in standing water, the more moisture they can absorb the juicier and sweeter they will be.
Harvest cucumbers at whatever size you like, as long as you don’t wait for them to turn yellow (unless they are a yellow variety). Once they begin to turn yellow, they’re past their prime. Flavor turns bitter and the fruit begins to dry out. Besides, frequently picking your cukes will promote more prolific blossoming resulting in larger harvests.