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kitchen garden how-to
Published May 1, 2024 by Nicole Burke

Your Complete Guide to Growing Organic Cucumbers in a Kitchen Garden

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organic garden
kitchen garden
raised gardens
vegetable garden
how to grow
how cucumbers grow best

Grow Your Own Cucumbers

Cucumbers really are the most refreshing snack on a hot summer day and one of my favorite plants to grow in the garden. One of the reasons I love them so much is because the harvests never go to waste. Sometimes I grow a plant that looks beautiful on Instagram, but my family just isn't interested in eating it. But even my kids agree that there's nothing better than a cucumber straight from the vine.

Let's look at the best types of cucumbers to grow at home and tips to maximize your cucumber harvest in your kitchen garden.

is cucumber a fruit or vegetable

But First, Is Cucumber a Fruit or Vegetable?

A cucumber can be either one, depending on who you ask. It's not the only fruiting plant that's classified as a fruit by botanists and as a veggie by chefs (think, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, gourds, pumpkins, and so many other fruits you wouldn't think to mix into a fruit salad).

In the gardening world, it's best to think of cucumbers as a small fruiting plant. That's because it shares growing preferences with other small fruiting plants like tomatoes (meaning if you're ready to grow one, you're probably ready to grow the other) and because it's important to know that the goal is to get a fruit (the cucumber itself) to form from the pretty yellow flowers.

how to grow cucumber

The Best Cucumber Varieties to Grow in the Kitchen Garden

There are dozens of different varieties of cucumbers. You can grow cucumbers shaped like little globes or long cylinders. You can grow green cucumbers, white cucumbers, yellow cucumbers, and even brown cucumbers. They all fall under the categories of seedless, seeded, and mini. Here are just a few varieties:

The English Cucumber

This is the long and narrow cucumber that's usually sold wrapped in plastic for protection—that's because it has a super thin skin and probably needs to travel a long way to a grocery store near you. Because the skin is so soft and smooth (and sweet!), you don't need to peel it. These cucumbers are really easy on your stomach.

cucumber harvest

Persian Cucumber

Persian cucumbers are called burpless (because they don't induce burping like other types do thanks to a bitter compound that can disrupt the digestive system). Burpless cucumbers tend to be smaller, sweeter, and seedless.

Kirby Cucumber

These are small cucumbers typically used for pickling. They come in color variations from yellow to dark green.

pickling cucumber

The Best Cucumber Variety to Grow for Pickling

Smaller cucumbers with prickly skin, like the hokus gherkin, are often used for pickling. Even if you grow your cucumbers mostly for pickling, try a few of them fresh for something new—and extra crunchy!

The Best Cucumber Variety to Grow in a Container Garden

Bush slicing varieties are ideal for container gardening. You'll get full-size fruits on compact plants.

The Best Cucumber Varieties to Grow in Hot Climates

If you want to grow cucumbers over the summers in a hot climate, stick with cucumber types like the suyo long cucumber or the Armenian cucumber. Suyo longs are a burpless Asian heirloom that can grow over 18" long and taste sweet. Armenian cucumbers have lighter green skin and are technically elongated melons. They thrive when the temperatures climb over 85°F, when other cucumbers will feel stressed by the heat.

armenian cucumbers are best cucumber variety to grow in hot weather

Cucumber Growing Guide

How to Grow Cucumbers in Your Kitchen Garden

Let's start with a little grower beware: Cucumbers are from the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which includes watermelons, squash, pumpkins, and gourds. I only recommend growing plants from this plant family once you've mastered easier plants like lettuce, herbs, and root crops, because they can certainly test your gardening skills. That being said, cucumbers are one of the easier plants to grow in this family. (And the payoff is delicious!)

The cucurbit bunch are warm-season plants that do best when planted by seeds sown directly into the garden, and many plants in this family either need a trellis for their vines to grow up (like cucumber and winter squash) or a large spot in the garden to spread out (like summer squash and zucchini). These plants love a consistent amount of water and are prone to disease and pests such as powdery mildew and squash vine borer.

Don't let this put you off growing cucumbers. When you're standing in the garden pathway with cucumber juice dripping down your chin, you'll know you have arrived in kitchen garden heaven. Here are tips to grow your own cucumbers and maximize your harvest.

cucumber vines on arch garden trellis

Give Cucumber Plants at Least 6 Hours of Sunlight

Fruiting plants like cucumbers need a good 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day for best flower and fruit production. You can still grow cucumbers with less-than-ideal sun, but you'll find they take much longer to produce.

puna kheera cucumbers

Start Your Cucumber Plant from Seed

Cucumbers are best planted from seed directly into the garden once all threat of frost has passed. I've experimented with planting transplants and starting cucumber seeds indoors versus direct sowing, and I've found countless times that the direct-seeded plant will catch up to the transplanted one within two to three weeks and overall perform better over time. I think it's because cucumber seedlings are pretty fragile, and transplanting puts them through a lot of stress.

Look for organic cucumber seeds, ideally ones produced somewhere near you.

Also, when I say once all threat of frost has passed, I mean it. Cucumbers have zero frost tolerance. Again, these are warm-season plants. It's best to wait until your daytime temps are staying in the 50s and above to be safe.

If you live in a colder climate, cucumbers are the quintessential summer crop, and if you live somewhere warmer, they'll probably grow best in your spring and fall growing seasons (temps in the 90s or up can cause flowers to drop before forming fruit).

cucumber leaves

Grow Your Cucumber Plant in Nutrient-Rich Soil

Cucumbers love a well-draining sandy loam soil, like the 103 blend I describe in my book, Kitchen Garden Revival. Before planting cucumber seeds, add a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of fresh compost to the top of your beds to give your young plants a nice nutritional boost. Plant your cucumbers in a little hill, but don't bury the seeds too deeply.

cucumber plant

Give Your Cucumbers a Trellis to Grow Up

There are some bush cucumber types that don't need a support structure, but I've gotten healthier, more productive plants when I've grown vining cucumbers on a trellis and made sure their little tendrils always had something to climb on.

I plant all my cucumber plants in raised beds by trellises; panel and obelisk trellises at least 6' tall work great, but cucumber plants can make quite an impact growing up an arch trellis, too.

Shop Gardenary Trellises for Your Vining Cucumbers

Cucumbers have little tendrils that can wrap themselves around a trellis like hands on monkey bars. Sometimes, though, the leader is unable to find a nice spot to grab ahold on your trellis, so it'll just hang out in midair. When this happens, the vine might stop growing, or the stem will head back down the plant and wrap itself around the vine. We don't want either of these situations.

The best way to ensure stems stay attached to the trellis is to simply tie them up. Each week, come out to check on your cucumber vines, and bring some twine and scissors. Cut a couple inches of twine and loosely tie it around the top of the cucumber vine to hold it in place. Remember that cucumbers are fragile little plants, so do your best not to break off a vine.

Now, your cucumber plant will know where its next monkey bar is so it can keep climbing to the top and producing more fruit for you.

how to grow cucumbers vertically

Prune Your Cucumbers

Growing fruiting plants is a balancing act of keeping enough leaves to make food for the plant but not so many that the plant spends too much energy maintaining those leaves. You want your plant to focus on flowers and fruits.

As soon as your plant is established, do some weekly pruning. Start at the base of the plant and remove some of the leaves and non-fruiting stems. This improves air circulation and tells the plant to put its efforts toward fruiting. Keep more leaves at the top of the plant because it's nice to have the shade from the canopy over the fruits.

Never prune more than a third of a plant's leaves in a week. Just some light pruning at the base will keep the plant nice and healthy. Trust me, pruning and trellising each week are the keys to lush cucumber plants that cover your entire trellis.

cucumber vegetable or fruit

Keep Your Cucumber Plant Well-Watered

Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow compared to other fruiting plants, but there's one really important aspect to get right: the watering situation. If you've ever bitten into a cucumber and wondered why it tasted bitter, water—or lack of consistent water—was probably the reason.

I once grew baskets of gorgeous, Instagram-worthy cucumbers, but when I bit into them, my pride at my gardening accomplishment morphed into disgust. Every single one of those beautiful fruits was inedible!

Cucumber fruits are over 90 percent water, so it just makes sense that the moisture they receive while growing would be critical. It was only after I tasted those cucumbers that I realized I had missed several days of watering early in their life cycle.

After planting cucumber seeds, you'll want to water daily or every other day. Water is important for all plants to germinate, but fruiting plants like cucumbers also need tons of water when they're forming flowers and fruits. You can cut your watering down to one deep watering a week (aimed at the roots of the plant to avoid mildew issues) once the plants are established. You'll need to really monitor the moisture in the soil during periods of warmer weather.

Your first indication that your plants aren't getting enough water will be drooping cucumber leaves. Once the plant has formed fruit, you'll be able to tell if you got the water wrong (too much, not enough, or just too inconsistent) if there are cracking, peeling, bursting, or rotting fruits. Some bitter cucumbers can be salvaged by pickling them, but not all.

cucumber trellis

Fertilize Based on Cucumber Plant Stages

Cucumbers and other fruiting plants need nitrogen when they're young to help them grow lots of leaves and stems, then potassium and calcium for strong roots. Once a flower appears, this is your sign to feed the plant phosphorus and stop adding nitrogen (we don't want more leaves at this point, just flowers and fruit). To add phosphorus, you can spray the leaves with a diluted liquid fertilizer or side dress the plant with a granular mixture that the roots will slowly uptake.

If thinking about different fertilizers overwhelms you, you can always stick with compost. I love to add compost around the base of my cucumber plants every couple of weeks (or whenever the soil around them turns a lighter shade of brown or looks too dry or sandy) to keep them well-fed. Compost helps these plants retain moisture and releases nutrients into the soil in a safe way that doesn't risk burning your plants.

why cucumbers bitter?

Hand-Pollinate Your Cucumber Plant If Needed

Unless you're growing a cucumber plant with female-only flowers, you might need to step in and ensure each flower gets pollinated.

Male flowers typically appear on plants first and have a straight little stem behind them. Female flowers have more of a bulge underneath the flower (like the one pictured below). You can either remove the male flower and rub it on the female flower, or you can use a small paintbrush to collect pollen from the male flower and then dust it on the female flower.

Of course, the best way to ensure your fruiting plants get pollinated is just by welcoming bees and butterflies into your garden to help you with this process.

If you don't want to worry about pollination, buy female-only plants, like diva cucumber plants, which are self-pollinating.

Harvest Cucumber Fruits Frequently to Encourage Your Plant to Produce More

Cucumbers are long-seasons plants, so they'll grow for at least 60 to 90 days in your garden. Most plants will have fruits ready to harvest about 55 days after planting.

With cucumbers, it's super important to pick fruits early and often. One of the benefits of growing cucumbers vertically is that the plant is held in place and fruits are easy to find. The last thing you want is a cucumber hiding under all that foliage and draining nutrients and other resources from the vine that should be going to new fruits. Your little cukes will likely be much smaller than the ones you buy at the store, and that's okay—they'll taste much better!

cucumber pickles

One cucumber plant might produce between 10 and 20 fruits, depending on the variety. If you're hoping to plant one or two cucumber seeds and not have to buy cucumbers ever again, that's not the case. If you want a lot of cucumbers, you gotta grow a lot of cucumber plants. I typically plant 6 cucumber plants per person. I can fit 4 plants around my large obelisk trellises, so that means I have to devote many trellises to growing cucumbers.

The best time to harvest is in the morning, when the fruits are sweetest. Use a clean pair of pruners to harvest your fruits at the stem. Make sure to harvest all fruits before the threat of frost returns in the fall.

how to harvest cucumbers

Why Do My Cucumbers Taste Bitter?

There are a lot of types of cucumbers that contain something called cucurbitacins, which can lead to a bitter taste and even disrupt your digestive system (read: make you burp). Burpless cucumbers were bred so that they don't have cucurbitacins. If you're growing another type, make sure you really stay on top of the watering situation. If a plant gets too thirsty and gets all stressed out, you may find its fruits taste a little too bitter.

You can salvage bitter cucumbers by pickling them or peeling off the skin (where most of the compound is contained).

Time to Grow Your Own Cucumbers

I hope you have a better appreciation for everything that's gone into producing that long English cucumber or that jar of pickles. If you're not already growing your own cucumbers, you should be! Nothing will top that first bite into a freshly picked cucumber from your garden.

Thanks for bringing back the kitchen garden with me! Stay cool like a cucumber, everybody.

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Your Complete Guide to Growing Organic Cucumbers in a Kitchen Garden