Cucumbers are fast growers and prolific croppers, producing crunchy fruit that's eaten raw or used in pickles. Cucumbers contain more than 90% water and tend to stay cool even in hot weather, giving rise to the saying 'as cool as a cucumber'.
Binomial name: Cucumis flexuosus
Life Cycle: Annual
Some other plants are known as ‘cucumber’ but are different species botanically. This guide is still relevant as these plants are grown in the same way as cucumber. African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus) and Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) are examples that grow in a similar way to standard cucumbers.
When to Sow Cucumber Seeds
Cucumber is a warm season crop. Use the table below to identify the best time of year to sow cucumber seeds in your climate.
Low humidity with most rainfall in winter; hot dry summers and cold winters. Some regions will experience frosts and snow. Includes coastal areas of south-eastern Australia and alpine areas of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.
Cucumber plants are best grown in full sun. Choose a location that will receive at least 6 hours of full sun each day.
Cucumber plants need a well drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. Prepare soil by weeding it thoroughly, digging it over to loosen it and adding aged animal manure or compost. Keep the area free of weeds until planting.
How to Sow Cucumber Seeds
Cucumber seeds do not require any treatment (eg soaking, stratification) before sowing.
Cucumber seeds grow best when they are sown directly into the garden.
Sow seeds directly in the garden 10mm deep and 40-60cm apart, with rows 100-120cm apart.
Keep soil moist but never wet or dry.
Seeds should germinate in around 4-10 days at a soil temperature of 18-35°C.
Young seedlings will need protection from pests, pets and weather until they are established.
Cucumber is a tender crop that’s sensitive to frost. Do not transplant seedlings or sow seeds outside until all danger of frost has passed.
How to Grow Cucumber
Cucumber plants may need watering during the growing season. Water when the soil is dry about 5cm below the surface (test this by scratching away a little soil with your finger). Water deeply in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid watering the leaves of plants to avoid fungal diseases. Learn more about watering here.
If soil was well prepared no extra fertiliser should be necessary. In poor soil or to give your plants an extra boost, application of a balanced fertiliser or one formulated for fruit and vegetables can be beneficial:
Apply slow release fertiliser at the recommended rate when transplanting or when seedlings are 5-10cm tall.
Apply liquid fertiliser at the recommended rate and frequency while plants are fruiting or flowering.
Vines can sprawl along the ground or be grown up a strong trellis. If growing on the ground, allow at least 2 square metres per plant. If growing on a trellis, plants will attach themselves using their tendrils but extra support can be provided by tying plants gently using twine or plant ties. Make sure you have the support in place when you sow seed or transplant seedlings to avoid disturbing the plant’s roots later.
How to Harvest Cucumber
Cucumber should be ready to harvest in approximately 60-90 days.
Fruit is ready to harvest when the skin is glossy and the fruit is large enough to eat. Harvest fruit when tender and young as older fruit can become unpalatable. Harvest fruit by cutting it from the vine or bush, leaving a small amount of stem attached. Store cucumbers in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge. For longer term storage cucumber can be pickled.
Common Problems when Growing Cucumber
Like all plants, cucumber is susceptible to some pests, diseases and other problems. Below is a list of the most common problems gardeners encounter when growing cucumber plants:
Aphids are small (2-4mm long) sap-sucking insects that congregate on the new shoots or the undersides of leaves. They can cause leaves to wilt or become discoloured, and also excrete honeydew which can attract ants and other insect pests. To manage aphids, remove them by spraying with a garden hose, apply a soap or alcohol spray, or encourage predatory insects to your garden. Read more about aphids here.
Not setting fruit is a problem caused by lack of pollination. Flowers may fall off the plant or small fruit may form but then shrivel and rot. Wait until the plant is producing both male and female flowers. Use a paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female ones. Learn more about hand pollination here..
Possums, birds and other animals can ruin a large percentage of your harvest overnight. Physically exclude pests by using netting or cages, or try spraying plants with a pungent homemade spray made from garlic, fish oil or mustard.
Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores reproducing on the leaves of plants. First showing as white spots on leaves, affected areas areas can spread quickly to cover the entire leaf surface. While rarely fatal, powdery mildew can reduce yields. Water plants at soil level (not on the leaves) to prevent spreading spores, allow good air flow between plants, remove affected leaves and if necessary spray with an appropriate fungicide or homemade spray. Read more here about powdery mildew here.
Spider mites (Tetranychus urticae), also known as two spotted mites, are sap-sucking arachnids that cause dry, wilted or discoloured leaves. The undersides of leaves may feel dry and a little like fine sandpaper. Prune plants to allow good air flow or spray with eco-oil or wettable sulphur. Learn more about managing spider mites here.
Sunscald will show up on fruit as white marks or blisters that often become moudly. Young, unripe fruit are most susceptible. Do not prune leaves from plants at the height of summer; leaves will help to shade and protect the fruit. Cover plants with a light fabric on very hot days to protect them from sunburn.
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