A garden favorite, Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are annual vining plants grown for their crisp edible fruits, which are typically eaten fresh or pickled. Easy to grow and prolific, Cucumbers are grown in home vegetable gardens throughout the world. There are hundreds of varieties bred for use as picklers or slicers.
- Botanically, a Cucumber is a fruit from the same family as watermelons and pumpkins (Cucurbitaceae), but most people consider them vegetables.
- Cucumbers are native to South Asia, have a mild melon aroma and flavor, and sometimes can be slightly bitter.
- Cucumber plants are intolerant of frost. They thrive in hot summer daytime weather with warm nights. They can be grown in a greenhouse or in a warm sheltered spot outdoors.
- Seeds can be sown indoors or outside, from spring to early summer, or young plants can be bought from garden centers.
- Cucumbers come in various sizes, shapes, and colors depending on the variety or cultivar. Growth habits, flowering habits, and disease resistance also vary between varieties.
Main Types of Cucumbers
- Fast-growing, vining Cucumbers can reach 4-6 feet in length (120-180 cm) and even more.
- They grow best when trained up a trellis or garden structure – rather than left to sprawl on the ground.
- They often produce a generous fruit crop.
- Bush cucumbers have been bred to take up very little space. They grow only 2-3 feet long (60-90 cm) and do not require a trellis.
- Bush cucumbers are ideal for container gardening or small gardens.
- They do not produce as generous a harvest of fruits as vining Cucumbers.
- Slicing Cucumbers are long, around 12-24 inches long (30-60 cm), smooth, and usually dark green.
- They are eaten fresh, often in a salad or sandwiches.
- Compared to slicing Cucumbers, pickling Cucumbers are usually shorter, 3-4 inches long (7-10 cm), thicker, less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black-dotted spines.
- Color can vary from creamy yellow to pale or dark green.
- Burpless Cucumbers are sweeter and have thinner skin than other varieties of Cucumbers.
- They are reputed to be easy to digest and taste pleasant. They can grow as long as 2 feet (60 cm), are nearly seedless, and have delicate skin.
Among these main types of Cucumbers are interesting Cucumber varieties:
- English or European Cucumbers are long and slender with smooth, thin, dark green skin. Their firm, sweet flesh has a mild flavor and contains tiny, barely noticeable seeds.
- Garden Cucumbers have a bitter skin than English Cucumbers and contain large seeds. They are commonly found in North America.
- Armenian cucumbers, also known as yard-long cucumber, snake cucumber, or snake melon, have very long, twisted fruit with dark green, very thin, light green, and bumpless skin. They have a mild flavor and can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, and sushi or grilled with fish or pickled.
- Kirby cucumbers are small, about 6 in. long (15 cm), crunchy, and mild with firm flesh and bumpy skins.
- Lemon Cucumbers are round yellow cucumbers the size of a small tennis ball. Resembling lemons, they are mild and sweet with a crispy texture. They are great for salads and pickling.
- Gherkins, also called cornichons or baby pickles, are small Cucumbers, 1-5 in. long (2-12 cm), often with bumpy skin. They are typically used for pickling and are usually found pickled in brine or vinegar. They are perfect with charcuterie and cheeses.
- Persian Cucumbers are small burpless Cucumbers with thin, edible skin and very few seeds. They are juicy, crunchy, and wonderful, tossed into a stir-fry or in fresh summer salads and soups.
Cucumber Health Benefits
- While Cucumbers make a flavorful addition to salads and various dishes, they can also provide some health benefits.
- Cucumbers are low in calories and about 95% water: they are particularly effective at promoting hydration.
- They contain several essential vitamins and minerals: vitamins C, K, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.
- Cucumbers contain fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements and prevents constipation.
- Cucumbers contain antioxidants (beta carotene) that can help fight free radicals.
- Placing sliced cucumber on your skin may help ease sunburn pain, swelling, and damaged skin.
- Eating cucumbers with the peel provides the maximum amount of nutrients. Buying organic cucumbers may reduce your exposure to pesticides and toxins.
- Cucumbers grow up to 10-18 in. tall (25-45 cm) and 3-8 ft. wide (90-240 cm), depending on the variety.
- Cucumbers perform best in organically rich, acidic to neutral (pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.8), loose textured, moist, well-drained soils in full sun (at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day).
- Before planting, add well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost, and work it into a depth of 6-8 in. (15-20 cm).
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting Cucumbers.
- Depending on the variety, Cucumbers take 50-70 days to harvest.
- Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
- Cucumbers are ideal for growing in beds and borders, raised beds or containers, or in a greenhouse.
- If space is limited, set up trellises early to avoid damage to seedlings and vines.
- Cucumber seeds will not germinate until the soil reaches at least 70ºF (21ºC). So wait until the weather is warm before planting.
- Make successive plantings (every 2 weeks) for continued supply through the season.
- Plant the bush varieties approximately 18 inches apart (45 cm) and the vine varieties 2-3 feet apart (60-90 cm).
- Rotate crops so that no member of the cucurbit family (squash, melon, and cucumber) is grown in the same place more often than every 4 years.
- Mulch to retain moisture, keep the soil warm, and control weeds.
- Use a row cover to protect young plants from insects and late cold snaps. Remove the row cover when Cucumbers begin to flower so insects can pollinate the flowers.
- Pinch out tips of leading stems once they have reached the top of the trellis or growing support. Laterals should be pruned two leaves beyond where the fruit is developing to divert the plant’s energy into the development of the fruit.
- Cucumbers are susceptible to a few pests. Keep an eye out for whiteflies, cucumber beetles, aphids, and spider mites.
- Cucumbers are susceptible to diseases, including Cucumber mosaic virus, wilt, downy mildew, powdery mildew, anthracnose, stem blight, scab, and leaf spot.
- Cucumbers are propagated by seed.
Good Companion Plants for Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a popular vegetable in many gardens, and planting them with certain companion plants can help improve their growth, health, and yield. Here are some good companion plants for cucumbers:
- Beans: Beans are a great companion plant for cucumbers because they fix nitrogen in the soil, which can benefit the growth of cucumbers. They also help to keep the soil moist and provide a living mulch that can help to keep the soil cool.
- Catnip: attracts beneficial insects (soldier beetles), particularly fond of cucumber beetles.
- Chamomile: has a strong aromatic odor and is an excellent companion plant for cucumbers as it can improve both their vigor and flavor.
- Corn: Corn can be a great companion plant for cucumbers because it provides a trellis for the cucumber vines to climb. Cucumbers seem to be offensive to raccoons, so it’s good to plant them near your corn.
- Dill: Dill is an excellent companion plant for cucumbers because it attracts beneficial insects like pollinators and parasitic wasps, which can help to control pests like aphids and cucumber beetles.
- Garlic: repels aphids, so plant it near your cucumbers.
- Lovage: improves the flavor and vigor of most plants and offers a suitable habitat for ground beetles.
- Marigolds: Marigolds are among the most popular companion plants because they repel many pests, including aphids.
- Marjoram: helps improve growth and flavor.
- Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are colorful flowers that can be planted around the edge of the cucumber patch. They attract beneficial insects like bees and hoverflies, which can help to pollinate cucumber plants and control pests like aphids and whiteflies. Nasturtiums also improve the cucumbers’ growth and flavor.
- Radishes: Radishes are fast-growing plants that can be planted as a cover crop between rows of cucumbers. They help to break up the soil, which can make it easier for cucumbers to grow. They also deter cucumber beetles.
- Sunflowers: Sunflowers are a beautiful addition to any garden, and they also attract beneficial insects like bees, which can help to pollinate cucumber plants. They also provide support to your vining cucumber.
- Tansy: contains volatile oils, making it an excellent insect repellant. It repels cutworms, cabbage worms, squash bugs, striped cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, ants, flies, mosquitoes, and fruit moths.
- Yarrow: is a good companion for vegetables, in particular cucumbers.
Bad Companion Plants for Cucumbers
While some plants can make excellent companion plants for cucumbers, there are certain plants that can negatively impact their growth, yield, and health. Here are some bad companion plants for cucumbers:
- Aromatic Herbs: Herbs like sage and rosemary, while useful in cooking, can inhibit the growth of cucumbers. They contain natural oils that can slow down the growth of cucumber plants.
- Brassicas: Plants like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower can compete with cucumbers for the same nutrients in the soil. They also attract pests that can damage cucumber plants, such as flea beetles and cabbage worms.
- Fennel: Fennel has been found to produce chemicals that can inhibit the growth of nearby plants, including cucumbers. This can lead to stunted growth and reduced yields for cucumbers.
- Melons: While cucumbers and melons belong to the same family, planting them together can lead to the spread of diseases that can affect both plants. They can also compete for the same nutrients, which can lead to reduced yield for both crops.
- Potatoes: When planted together, potatoes and cucumbers may compete for nutrients and water, which can result in reduced yields for both plants. Both potatoes and cucumbers are susceptible to the same diseases, such as blight, and can spread the disease to each other.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are not a good companion plant for cucumbers because they can attract pests like aphids and whiteflies that can also attack cucumber plants. They also require similar nutrients and water, which can lead to competition and reduced yield.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.