At last, the weather is fair and it’s time to get busy outdoors, or more specifically, get busy planting your garden.
One of the best additions to any garden and one of the easiest to grow is cucumbers. Cucumbers love sun and heat, so as long as the danger of frost is passed and the soil and days are toasty, get those seeds going.
It’s a good idea to determine ahead of time where you will plant your cucumbers so you can also designate space for your cucumber companion plants.
These are complementary plants to enhance the hardiness or flavor of your cucumbers.
Helpful plant neighbors can also protect against crop-killing pests. Likewise, you’ll want to keep bad cucumber neighbors well away.
These are plants that can take too much moisture for themselves or hog the nutrients your cucumbers need to thrive.
There are two types of cucumbers:
The vining variety can grow up the side of a fence or a trellis. Vining cucumbers are great space savers versus the bush type, and climbers keep fruit and leaves away from the wet ground.
Bush cucumbers work well for container planting and smaller gardens.
Both kinds have a short growing period – usually around six weeks and the warmer their home, the better they grow.
1. Soil Preparation
Prepare the soil for the cucumbers in advance by mixing compost or aged manure to a depth of 6-8 inches.
If the soil is too dense and doesn’t drain well, you can add peat with the compost or manure.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to start cucumber seeds inside if you live in a cooler climate.
Give the seedlings about three weeks in a consistently warm space – at least 70 degrees. This gives them a healthy start and helps ensure the danger of frost and cooler nighttime temperatures are over.
Note that the roots of cucumbers are easily damaged, so handle them gently.
If you’re planting from seeds, push several seeds (2-3) about 1 inch into the ground, leave the recommended space, and plant several more seeds.
Plant the vined variety about 6 inches to 1 foot apart. Cucumber bushes should be 2-3 feet apart.
If you’re worried the ground might not be warm enough, you can use black plastic around your plants to retain heat.
In very warm climates, you should see growth from seeds in just a few days. Cooler climates will have a longer germination period.
After four weeks, mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and keep pests away. You can use straw, grass clippings, or any organic mulch.
3. Care and Maintenance
More than anything, cucumbers need lots of sun and consistent watering.
A good baseline amount is 1 inch per week with increased watering in higher temperatures.
Water in the morning or early afternoon. Drip irrigation or soaker hose methods work best. Wet foliage can lead to leaf diseases.
When your plants begin to grow fruit, increase watering to 1 gallon every week per plant.
Set trellises early and guide the plants to take hold of the trellis or fence.
If you planted seeds, you might need to thin the plants so they aren’t competing for water and nutrients.
4. Pests and Diseases
Anything you plant in your garden can be susceptible to various pests and diseases.
Cucumber beetles wreak the most havoc on young plants and can transmit disease from plant to plant. Other pests include spider mites, whiteflies, and aphids.
Sometimes it’s not pests that ruin your crop of cucumbers, but disease. Even though you’re consistently watering and caring for your plants, you might start seeing spotted or wilting leaves.
Diseases found on cucumbers can be viral, bacterial, or fungal. Sometimes diseases can overwinter in the soil from past garden debris, be passed from plant to plant through the air, via pests, or by water.
Diseased plants can sometimes be treated with natural fungicides, but often the only option is removal of the plant before it can infect others.
Usually, the best treatment is prevention, and this is where cucumber companion plants are most helpful.
5. Harvesting Cucumbers
Cucumbers are ready to pick when they are firm and about 6-8 inches long, or 3-5 inches for pickling.
Picking them before they get too ripe signals the plant to continue producing. Morning is the best time to pick – before the sun hits the plants.
Helpful Cucumber Companion Plants
Here’s a list of plants that help cucumber grow better. Some of these keep pests away, some enrich the soil, enhance flavor, and others provide shade.
- Corn (controls wilt and provides shade)
- Dill (improves flavor)
- Nasturtiums (pest control)
- Marigold (pest control)
- Radishes (pest control)
- Oregano (pest control and flavor)
- Tansy (pest control)
Harmful Companion Plants for Cucumber
Just as some neighbors are helpful, others can bring harm to your cucumber plants.
Other vining plants, like melons and squash, will compete with cucumbers for space and nutrients, and neither will be strong.
- Melons (shared pests and nutritional needs)
- Potatoes (will blight when near cucumbers)
- Sage (attract pests)
- Squash (shared pests and nutritional needs)
Where to Buy Seeds
Part of growing healthy cucumber plants and its companions is starting with quality seeds.
Buying online also makes it easier to find the exact seeds you need as well as specific growing information – beats standing in seed aisles reading the back of endless packets.
By planning out your organic garden in advance, making sure to leave room for cucumber companion plants, you’re sure to have a successful growing season.
You’ll possibly end up with more cucumbers and a variety of other vegetables than you know what to do with.
Fortunately, most people love cucumbers, so what you don’t pickle you can pass on to the neighbors!