Cucumber is a widely-cultivated creeping vine plant in the Cucurbitaceae family that bears usually cylindrical fruits, which are used as vegetables. The botanical name of cucumber is Cucumis sativus. The cucumber originates from South Asia, but now grows on most continents, as many different types of cucumber are traded on the global market.
The cucumber plant is a sprawling vine with large leaves and curling tendrils. The plant may have 4 or 5 main stems from which the tendrils branch. The leaves of the plant are arranged alternately on the vines, have 3–7 pointed lobes and are hairy. Cucumber may also be referred to as gherkin and originates from the foothills of the Himalayas, likely in India.
Table of Contents
1 - 8 feet
1 - 3 feet
5.5 – 6.5
Growth Nutrition of Cucumber
Cucumbers have low nitrogen requirements, but they need high potassium and high phosphorus levels. With commercial fertilizer formulas, this means the first of the three numbers on the package should be lower, for instance, 5-10-10. Or the numbers overall should be low, such as 4-4-4, rather than 20-20-20.
Types and Varieties of Cucumber
There are many types and varieties of cucumbers. Here are the differences:
Bush cucumbers can grow 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) tall and wide forming a compact plant. Bush cucumbers are well-suited for container growing or small gardens. Plant bush varieties every two weeks for a continuous harvest.
Vine cucumbers can grow to 6 feet (1.8m) high or more and 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9m) wide. Vining cultivars require more space but produce more fruit. Grow vining cucumbers on a fence, trellis, or tripods when possible to keep fruit off the ground.
Pickling cucumbers have thin, pale green skin, bear fruit early, and concentrate fruiting in a 10-day period. Pickle cucumbers a few hours after harvesting for crisp pickles.
Slicing cucumbers, for fresh eating, commonly are green-skinned and set fruit for 4 to 6 weeks. Slicing cucumbers include “burpless’ cultivars which are mild-flavored and easy to digest.
Asian cucumbers are thin, heavily ribbed cultivars; the fruit grows from 12- to 24-inches (30-61cm) long.
Gherkin is a term used for any pickling cucumber; however, a true gherkin is not a cucumber but the fruit of a different species, Cucumis anguria.
Cornichons is the generic French term for any small cucumber.
European, English, or greenhouse cucumbers is the one of the most common cucumber types. These cukes are almost seedless, thin skinned without spines and long (1-2 feet in length) (30-61 cm.). They are marketed as a “burpless” cucumbers and have a mild flavor compared to many other types. Because they are grown in hot houses, they also tend to be more expensive.
Armenian, or snake cucumbers are long and twisted with thin, dark green skin and pale furrows – which turns yellow and aromatic as it ripens and has a mild flavor. People often use them for pickling.
Japanese cucumbers are dark green and narrow. The skin is thin with small bumps on it. They are crisp and sweet with tiny seeds. This variety does best when trellised or otherwise vertically grown. Japanese cucumbers are also “burpless” varieties. People can eat them whole.
Kirby cucumbers are often use these for dill pickles. They are crispy, with thin skin and small seeds.
Lemon cucumbers are around the size of a lemon, with pale skin. The taste is sweet and delicate. Lemon cucumbers are ideal for a single serving. Harvest lemon cucumbers just as they turn yellow; do not wait too long or they will be seedy.
Persian cucumbers: Shorter and fatter than the hothouse cucumber, these are crunchy to eat. Persian cucumbers are sturdy enough to withstand heat and are wonderful tossed into a stir-fry.
Cucumber plants grow in two forms: vining and bush. Vines scramble along the ground or clamber up trellises, while bush types, such as Burpless Bush Hybrid, form a more compact plant. Generally, vining cucumbers yield more fruit throughout the growing season. Bush selections are especially suited to containers and small gardens.
‘Boston Pickling’ (vine) is our favorite heirloom variety bred especially for pickling.
‘Burpless Bush Hybrid’ (bush) is good for small gardens, pots, or pickling.
‘Bush Crop’ (bush) is a dwarf variety with a high yield. Great for eating fresh.
‘Calypso’ (vine) is disease-resistant and has a high yield. Perfect for pickling.
‘Parisian Pickling’ (vine) produces long, thin cucumbers perfect for making gherkins or cornichons.
‘Sweet Success’ (vine) is good for greenhouses, as it requires no pollinators. Produces seedless fruit.
When to Plant Cucumbers
For an early crop, sow cucumber seeds indoors about 3 weeks before you plan to transplant them in the ground. Provide bottom heat of about 70ºF (21ºC) with a heating pad or place the seed flats on top of a refrigerator or water heater.
Cucumber plants should be seeded outdoors or transplanted outside in the ground no earlier than 2 weeks after the last frost date. Cucumbers are extremely susceptible to frost and cold damage; the soil must be at least 70ºF (21ºC) for germination. Seedlings set best at that temperature, too. (In cooler climates, warm the soil by covering it with black plastic.) Do not plant outside too soon!
Make successive plantings (every 2 weeks) for continued harvests through the season. In warm soil, cucumbers will grow quickly and ripen in about 6 weeks.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
Select a site with full sun. Cucumbers need warmth and lots of light.
Cucumbers require fertile soil. Prior to planting, add about 2 inches of aged manure and/or compost to the bed and work it in to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Soil should be moist but well-draining (not soggy) and warm.
Soil should be neutral or slightly acidic with a pH of around 6.5 to 7.0.
Improve clay soil by adding organic matter. Improve dense, heavy soil by adding peat, compost, or rotted manure. (Get a soil test if you are unsure of your soil type; contact your local county cooperative extension.) Light, sandy soils are preferred for northern gardens, as they warm quickly in the spring.
How to Plant Cucumbers
Plant seeds 1 inch deep and about 3 to 5 feet apart in a row, depending on variety (see seed packet for details). For vines trained on a trellis, space plants 1 foot apart.
Cucumbers can also be planted in mounds (or “hills”) that are spaced 1 to 2 feet apart, with 2 to 3 seeds planted in each mound. Once plants reach 4 inches in height, thin them to one plant per mound.
If you live in the cooler climates, you can help warm the soil prior to planting by covering the hill or row with black plastic.
After planting, mulch around the area with straw, chopped leaves, or another organic mulch to keep pests at bay, and also keep bush types off the ground to avoid disease.
A trellis is a good idea if you want the vine to climb, or if you have limited space. Trellising also protects the fruit from damage from lying on the moist ground.
Cover freshly planted cucumber seeds with row covers, netting, or a berry basket if you have pests; this will keep them from digging out the seeds.
How to Grow Cucumbers
When seedlings emerge, begin to water frequently.
The main care requirement for cucumbers is consistent watering! They need at least one inch of water per week (or more, if temperatures are particularly high). Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting fruit.
Water slowly in the morning or early afternoon, and avoid getting the leaves wet, as that may encourage leaf diseases that can ruin the plant. If possible, water your cucumbers with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep the foliage dry.
Mulch around plants to retain soil moisture.
Cover young plants with row covers or berry baskets if pests appear.
When seedlings reach 4 inches tall, thin plants so that they are at least 1½ feet apart.
If you’ve worked organic matter into the soil before planting, you may only need to side-dress your plants with compost or well-rotted manure sparingly.
Otherwise, fertilize the plants with a liquid 5-10-10 fertilizer. Apply 1 week after the plant starts blooming and every 3 weeks thereafter, directly to the soil around the plants. Or, you can work a granular fertilizer into the soil. Do not over-fertilize or the fruits will get stunted.
If you have limited space or would prefer vertical vines, set up trellises early to avoid damage to seedlings and vines.
Spray vines with sugar water to attract bees and set more fruit.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
Don’t let cucumbers get too large or they will taste bitter.
At peak harvesting time, you should be picking cucumbers every couple of days. They’ll grow quickly!
Harvest regular slicing cucumbers when they about 6 to 8 inches long (slicing varieties).
Harvest dills at 4 to 6 inches long and pickling cucumbers at 2 inches long.
The large burpless cucumbers can be up to 10 inches long and some types are even larger.
Cucumbers are best picked before their seeds become hard and are eaten when immature. Do not let them get yellow. A cucumber is of highest quality when it is uniformly green, firm, and crisp.
Any cucumbers left on the vine too long will also get tough skins and lower plant productivity.
Use a knife or clippers to cut the stem above the fruit. Pulling the fruit may damage the vine.
Keep them picked. If you don’t, as plants mature, they will stop producing.
How to Store Cucumbers
Cucumbers are over 90 percent water. Store wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to retain moisture.
They will keep for 7 to 10 days when stored properly in the refrigerator.
Pests and Diseases
Cucumbers can be attacked by aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and slugs.
Control aphids by hosing them off with a blast of water or pinching out infested vegetation.
Cucumber beetles chew holes in leaves and can spread cucumber bacterial wilt when feeding on plant tissue. Hand-pick them off the vines and destroy them.
Squash bugs suck plant sap causing leaves to wilt. Squash bugs will also attack seedlings. Dust plants with diatomaceous earth around the base of plants.
Slugs can scrape ragged holes in leaves. Spread diatomaceous earth around the base of plants.
Cucumber plants are susceptible to scab, mosaic, and mildew.
Keep the garden clean of debris and weeds that can harbor pests and diseases.
Remove diseased plants immediately; put them in a paper bag and throw them in the trash to avoid the spread of disease.
Plant disease-resistant varieties. Look for the following coding to indicate disease resistance: leaf spot (LS), anthracnose (A), bacterial wilt (BW), mosaic (M), scab (S), and downy mildew (DM).
Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles; plants suddenly wilt and die just as they begin to produce. Control beetles as soon as they appear.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew, fungal diseases, will cause cucumber leaves to turn grayish-white late in the season. Slow the spread of fungal diseases by spraying plants with horticultural oil or neem oil.
To help prevent fungal diseases, plant resistant varieties, and space plants further apart to increase air circulation.
Benefits of Cucumber
Good for Hydration & Detoxification:
Cucumbers are 96% water. Consuming cucumbers, adds to the daily requirement of water by the body, thus keeping us hydrated. This is helpful, especially during summers when we tend to get dehydrated easily. Cucumber also acts as a coolant, providing us relief from the summer heat.
Detox water made using cucumber and mint, effectively eliminates toxins from the body, improves hydration and thus results in innumerable health benefits.
Regulates Blood Pressure:
Cucumbers are a good source of potassium, magnesium and dietary fibre. These nutrients are known to lower blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart diseases.
Research has also proved that regular consumption of cucumber juice was helpful in reducing blood pressure, in elderly people with hypertension.
Good for Digestion:
Cucumbers act as a coolant for our stomach. The soluble fibre in cucumbers helps in slowing our digestion.
Also, the high content of water in cucumber makes our stools soft, prevents constipation and keeps our bowel movements regular.
Reduces Blood Sugar:
Cucumbers are known to reduce blood sugar levels, thus being helpful in the management and prevention of diabetes mellitus.
Helpful in Weight Loss:
Cucumbers contain 96% of water and are low in calories. There are only 15.5 calories in 100 g of cucumber.
The high water and low-calorie content of cucumbers help in reducing weight.
Cucumbers are great beauty enhancers. They show amazing effects on the skin.
The application of cucumber juice on the skin makes it soft and glowy. Anti-inflammatory effects of cucumber naturally lighten our skin and reduce tanning. It also reduces wrinkles and fine lines.
Soothes our Eyes:
Keeping cucumber slices on the eyes for about 10 minutes relaxes our eyes and reduces puffiness around the eyes.
Reduces the Risk of Cancer:
The fibre in cucumbers protects from colorectal cancer. Also, cucurbitacin present in cucumbers possesses anti-cancer properties.
Good for Hair and Nails:
Cucumbers contain silica which is excellent for hair and nail care. They help in strengthening the nails and prevent them from becoming brittle.
Prevents Bad Breath:
Phytochemicals present in cucumber destroy the bacteria in our mouth that cause bad breath.
Although technically a fruit, cucumbers are used as a fresh vegetable, consumed fresh in salads. Some varieties are grown specifically for pickling. Yellow varieties are generally cooked before consumption.