How to Grow and Support Cucumber Plants (Cucumber Trellis Ideas)
Cucumbers are a quintessential summer garden crop. The crisp, juicy fruit are perfect for refreshing summer salads, sandwiches, beverages, homemade pickles, dips and more. Read along to learn how to grow cucumbers, including how to train cucumber plants on a trellis to maximize space, yield and success!
This article explores different types of cucumbers to grow, ideal growing conditions, several awesome cucumber trellis ideas, important pollination requirements, potential pests or diseases, and ways to use and preserve your cucumber bounty.
This article is proudly sponsored by Gardener’s Supply Company, our favorite Certified B Corp for seed starting supplies, cucumber trellises, and other garden goods. This post also contains affiliate links that help support the work we do here at Homestead and Chill. We’re so grateful for your support!
Cucumber Growing Conditions & Requirements
- Temperature: Cucumbers grow best when both the air and soil are nice and warm. They thrive when outdoor temperatures are between 75-85°F, and the soil is at least 65°F. Cucumbers grow more slowly (or fail to grow at all) when temperatures dip below 50 or rise over 95°F. Above 95, the plants will fail to produce fruit as the flowers fall off. Use shade cloth and mulch to protect cucumber plants from extreme heat. Cucumbers do not tolerate frost.
- Sun: Cucumber plants need full sun in most cases, or at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Yet since cucumber plants don’t love extreme heat, they will benefit from partial shade (especially afternoon shade) in hot climates where summer temperatures routinely exceed 90°F.
- Soil: Cucumbers grow best in soil that’s rich in organic matter, but loose and well-draining. For the best results, amend soil with a few inches of well-aged compost and/or worm castings prior to planting. Fluff up heavy clay soil with the addition of sand or potting soil.
- Water: Regular deep water is one of THE keys to successfully grow cucumbers! Cucumber plants love consistently damp soil and a regular watering schedule*. Irregular water (fluctuating between very wet and dry) leads to stressed plants, dry fruit, and bitter-tasting cucumbers. A couple inches of mulch around the base of plants will help with even moisture retention. Avoid overwatering however, since soggy soil or standing water can lead to root rot.
*Water needs and frequency vary depending on your climate, soil, and rainfall. It doesn’t rain here in the summer at all, so we run our raised bed drip irrigation system twice a week for an hour to give the plants a nice deep drink.
Types of Cucumbers and Varieties To Grow
Cucumbers generally fall into three categories: classic slicers, pickling cucumbers, or thin-skinned burpless varieties.
- Slicing cucumbers are what’s most commonly found in grocery stores, and are used for fresh eating (though they can also be pickled). Slicers average about 6 to 10 inches in length, usually have medium-thick skin that’s slightly bumpy, and a moderate amount of seeds inside. Marketmore, Paraiso, and Green 18 are a few great slicer cucumber varieties. Some hybrid slicers have thinner skin – like Manny, my favorite!
- Pickling cucumbers are short and stout (3 to 4 inches long) and usually have bumpy skin. The compact size is perfect to pack inside jars for homemade pickles! Pickling cucumbers are also usually more firm, and therefore better retain a crunchy texture in pickles and preserves. Popular pickling cucumber varieties include Homemade Pickles, Excelsior Cucumber, National Pickling, and Provision.
- English, Asian, or other “burpless” cucumbers are similar to slicers, but have exceptionally thin, tender skin. This makes them ideal for fresh eating, and easier to digest – hence the “burpless” moniker! Burpless cucumber varieties tend to grow longer (up to 12 inches or more) but stay more slender, so they’re usually less seedy than traditional slicers. I love to grow burpless cucumbers, including Tasty Green, Telegraph and Kalunga.
- There are many other types of cucumbers out there too! Cucamelons, gherkins, white cucumbers, Armenian, lemon, and more. Visit our cucamelon grow guide here.
Bush vs. Vining Cucumbers
Cucumber plants have two different growth habits: bush or vining, much like squash plants. Vining cucumber plants grow larger, produce more fruit over a longer period of time, require a trellis for support, and maximize space by growing vertically! In contrast, bush cucumber varieties are compact, bear less generous volumes of fruit per plant, and don’t require a trellis. They’re ideal to grow in fields, rows, containers, or raised beds – but need to be spaced farther apart, explained below.
Planting Cucumber Seedlings
- Starting Seeds: Start cucumber seeds indoors about 3 weeks before you plan to transplant them outside. Cucumber seedlings grow really fast and won’t be happy if they’re kept indoors for too long! Also plan provide indoor seedlings ample bright light (e.g. under grow lights) for the best results. Get more detailed tips on indoor seed starting here.
- Planting: Transplant cucumber seedlings outside in the spring after the soil has warmed, and at least 2 weeks after the danger of frost has passed. Studies show that cucumbers will not grow if the soil temperature is below 63°F, so when in doubt, use a soil thermometer to check before planting! May is generally a good time to plant cucumbers in most growing zones. Be sure to harden off indoor seedlings first and follow other transplanting best practices!
- Spacing: Hilled or bush cucumber plants (those left to sprawl out) should be spaced about 3 to 5 feet apart. However, vining trellised cucumber plants can be spaced as close as 12 inches apart along the base of a common trellis.
Cucumber Pollination and Fruit Growth
Did you know that some cucumber varieties need pollination to grow fruit, while others do not – and are considered “self-fertile”? The seed or plant description should specify if the variety is monoecious or parthenocarpic.
Most cucumber varieties are monoecious: in order for cucumbers to grow, pollen must be physically transferred from their male to female flowers – either by bees, other insects, or by hand! Without proper pollination, the cucumber fruits fail to develop, staying small and eventually falling off the vine.
In contrast, parthenocarpic cucumber varieties set fruit without pollination. They’re exceptionally productive, including in greenhouses or high-tunnels where pollinators may not be present. Parthenocarpic cucumber varieties are always vining plants, further adding to their appeal for maximizing productivity.
Supporting Cucumber Plants on Trellises
Cucumber vines grow about 4 to 6 feet long on average, depending on the variety. That said, an ideal cucumber trellis should be at least 4 or 5 feet tall. Using a wide trellis allows you to grow several cucumber plants side-by-side up the same trellis, spaced about a foot apart along the base. Vining cucumber plants naturally climb trellises with clinging tendrils, so there’s no need to tie them up.
The Benefits of Cucumber Trellises
Even vining cucumber plants could be left to sprawl out on the ground, yet growing cucumbers up a trellis offers numerous benefits: it saves space, increases airflow (which reduces disease and pests), makes harvesting easier, and keeps the cucumber fruit growing nice and straight! Cucumbers left to grow on the ground tend to curl, or get discolored spots where they were laying on the soil.
In small garden spaces, you may even be able to grow other crops below your cucumber trellis. For example, planting lettuce or other small leafy greens below a cucumber trellis both maximizes your growing space AND provides the greens with valuable shade and shelter during the heat of summer.
Cucumber Trellis Options
Cucumber trellises come in many shapes and sizes: lean-tos, A-frames, vertical trellises, tall cages, or pointed teepees… they all get the job done! A-frame cucumber trellises are especially popular among home gardeners. This extra-large “Over the Top” cucumber trellis is sturdy enough to support melons or vining squash too. You could even grow cucumbers up a large walk-through arched trellis or arbor, though the vines likely won’t make it to the top.
Gardener’s Supply Company offers a wide variety of high-quality, sturdy, and attractive cucumber trellises to buy online. Check them out here! We have and love the Deluxe Cucumber Trellis from Gardener’s Supply, and plan to add a second one to the garden this season. Or you could get creative and make your own cucumber trellis using netting, stakes, wire, sticks, or other sturdy materials.
Growing Cucumbers in Containers
Yes, you can grow cucumbers in pots! Choose a container that is at least one foot deep and wide per plant. Then, all of the basic growing requirements that we’ve already covered (soil, sun, temperature, etc) applies to growing cucumber plants in pots too.
However, achieving the ideal even and consistently damp soil (not soggy) that cucumbers love is more tricky in containers, since potted soil tend to yo-yo between wet and dry more than raised beds or in-ground gardens. To solve that, consider planting cucumbers in this handy Victory Self-Watering Planter with Vine Trellis. The self-watering system ensures consistent, optimal hydration – and a sturdy support trellis is included!
Cucumber Pests and Diseases
Common cucumber pests include spotted and striped cucumber beetles, aphids, thrips, whitefly, root knot nematodes, squash bugs, squash vine borers, and spider mites. Some of these pests cause harm by chewing on the plants while others transmit diseases (or both). For instance, spotted and striped cucumber beetles cause damage by chewing on foliage and fruit, but they also transmit a bacterial wilt pathogen that can kill cucurbits.
The first step in organic pest management is to properly identify the pest first, then proceed conservatively and depending on the severity of the infestation. Neem oil spray, fine mesh garden fabric (row covers), and marigold companion plants can all help deter pest insects. I don’t recommend using broad-spectrum pesticides – for the sake of your health, pollinators, and the environment! Click on any of the pest names above to see specific control tips.
There are also a number of cucumber plant diseases that can occur including powder mildew, cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew, angular leaf spot, bacterial wilt, Phytophthora crown and root rot. Bacterial wilt, leaf spot, and mosaic virus are difficult to remedy once they set in, but there are a number of proactive prevention and management techniques to use – including good garden hygiene and sanitation, reducing overhead watering (use drip irrigation instead), minimizing aphid and cucumber beetle populations, and removing infected plants.
Cucumber fungal diseases such as downy mildew or powdery mildew can often be controlled organically with the use of neem oil spray. See this guide for more complete instructions on how to safely and effectively use neem oil in the garden, and more information about powdery mildew here.
One great way to thwart these issues is to grow disease-resistant varieties! For example, powdery mildew is very prevalent in our area, so we seek out powdery mildew resistant cucumber varieties like Tasty Green or Manny. Other varieties may exhibit natural resistance to downy mildew, cucumber mosaic virus, scab, bacterial wilt, and more.
To harvest cucumbers, either cut their stem or gently twist the fruit off of the vine. Be careful to not damage the vine. For the best-tasting cucumbers, it’s key to harvest cucumbers in a timely manner: soon after (or even just before) the fruit have reached their desired size for the variety grown. Harvest pickling cucumbers nice and small (2 to 3 inches long) and don’t let them grow longer than 4 or 5 inches.
Cucumbers don’t need to “ripen” so they really can’t be picked too early. On the flip side, cucumbers left on the vine too long will taste bitter, the skin gets increasingly thick and tough, and the insides get more and more seedy. Plus, routinely harvesting fruit allows the plant to redirect its energy into growing new cucumbers – thereby increasing yields!
Why do my cucumbers taste bitter?
Cucumbers get bitter when a natural compound called cucurbitacin becomes elevated in the fruit. A number of things make cucumbers taste bitter, including when they’re harvested and how they’re grown.
- Cucumbers that are harvested early are more sweet and tender, while overgrown cucumbers left on the vine too long quickly become bitter.
- Heat stress causes higher levels of cucurbitacin and bitterness.
- Irregular or inconsistent watering throughout the growing season also stresses the plants and makes cucumbers bitter.
- Finally, some cucumber varieties are naturally more sweet and less bitter than others, such as English and Persian cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers are most prone to getting bitter.
Reduce bitterness in cucumbers by providing regular water, harvesting fruit early, protecting plants from extreme heat with shade cloth and mulch, and removing the peel on already-harvested fruit that is bitter.
How to Store Cucumbers
Store just-harvested cucumbers in the refrigerator inside a reusable plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Cucumbers should stay fresh and crisp for over a week in the fridge, compared to only a few days if left out at room temperature. Wait to cut cucumbers until you’re ready to use them, but it’s okay to wash them before storage.
Yet try not to store cucumbers below 40F, as they’ll degrade more quickly under too cold of conditions. Also avoid storing cucumbers near apples or tomatoes, which emit a plant hormone (ethylene) that will cause the cucumbers to yellow. Store sliced or cut cucumbers in a bowl of cool water for only a few days to prevent them from drying out.
Ways to Use and Preserve Cucumbers
Given their mild and inconspicuous flavor, there are endless ways to use and preserve cucumbers! Use fresh cucumbers in salads (including cucumber-forward Greek salad), sandwiches, wraps, burgers, smoothies, tzatziki, salsas, sliced in water or sun tea, or use them in a juicer. You could even experiment cooking with cucumbers, including sauteed, roasted or grilled.
To preserve cucumbers, consider making delicious homemade pickles (either quick refrigerator pickles or canned), dehydrate thin slices into chips, or freeze them. Check out this post from Practical Self Reliance to see 15 different ways to preserve cucumbers!
And that sums up everything you need to know to successfully grow cucumbers.
All in all, I hope you enjoyed reading this article – and hopefully learned something new! I even learned a couple new things myself, which is always a treat. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, and feel free to visit our other seed-to-harvest grow guides here. Here’s wishing you bountiful cucumber growing season ahead!
You may enjoy these related posts:
- Easy Tzatziki Sauce Recipe (Cucumber Yogurt Dip)
- How to Grow Cucamelons (Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumbers)
- 7 Useful Seed Starting Supplies for Success Indoors
- 13 Must-Try Zucchini Recipes: Clever Ways to Use Zucchini
- 6 Ways to Support or Train Tomatoes: Cages, Trellises & More
Very excited to put this post to good practice! Already bought the Manny variety on your recommendation alon with more seeds(!) using the awesome coupon code – thanks! Last year I got some “hero” cucumbers but hardly enough and made some mistakes from the outset (not starting indoors) among others. Looking forward to more cukes!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Mariangela, that’s great to hear you got some seeds for the Manny variety and starting them indoors, you should have plenty of cucumbers this year! One of the varieties we grew last year needed pollination and we got a lot less cucumbers compared to the Manny, have fun growing and thanks for your support!
I have 3 of the Large Cucumber Trellis from gardener’s, and love it! On the years I’m not using all of them, I’ve found I can use them in different configurations to support other things.
Another great article!! 🥳
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Courtney, that’s great to hear! We might try out a trellis or two with butternut squash or melons this year as well, should be fun.
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