Cucumbers are a popular warm-season vegetable to grow. Cucumber plants go through different stages when growing. Each stage needs slightly different amounts of water and fertilizer to grow optimally.
This guide will discuss the stages of a cucumber plant and what care the plant needs at each stage.
Cucumber Plant Stages
Here are the seven stages a cucumber plant goes through on its way to producing lots of tasty cucumbers. The full cycle takes 55-70 days from planting to harvest.
The first step to tasty cucumbers is to prepare your planting site and plant your seeds. Before planting your cucumber seeds,
- Till the earth to a depth of at least six inches. Cucumbers have deep roots, so till the soil twelve inches deep if you can.
- Add three inches of compost and mix that in the tilled soil.
- Do not use manure, as it can cause illnesses like E. coli.
- Take a soil test and fertilize the area according to the soil test recommendations. In the absence of a soil test, use three pounds of 5-10-10 per 100 square feet of garden area.
- Form hills about four to six inches in diameter and four to six inches high. Separate the hills by three feet.
- Plant four seeds about one inch deep in each hill. Plant the seeds on the four sides of the hill.
- Water the hills after planting the seeds.
Cucumber seeds should be planted only after all danger of frost is gone, and the soil is at least 60 degrees F. They will germinate better at a soil temperature of 70-80 degrees.
A seed takes three to ten days to germinate, depending on the temperature. The seed needs to be in moist soil to germinate, so water daily but only enough to keep the soil moist. If the soil is wet, the seed can rot before it germinates. An inexpensive moisture meter will help you keep track of the soil moisture. Keep the needle in the “moist” range for best results.
The seedling stage starts when the new plant grows up past the soil. The new plant has two leaves that were in the seed, called cotyledon. The first thing the plant does is produce two “true” leaves and start surviving by photosynthesis. Once the seedlings have two true leaves, pinch off the weakest seedlings on each hill at ground level, leaving two seedlings per hill. Do not pull the weak seedlings, as this can damage the roots of the survivors.
Once the vine is about twelve inches long, you can start training it to grow up a trellis. Use plant tape to tie the plants loosely to the trellis. The plant tape stretches when the plant grows and won’t cut off the vine like wire will.
Keep the soil evenly moist during this stage of the cucumber plant’s life cycle. The fertilizer you spread before planting will sustain the seedlings during this stage.
When cucumber seedlings get to be about a foot long, they start putting out runners. The vines can grow about two to three feet for bush varieties and over six feet for vining varieties. Tie the vines to the trellis as they grow so they grow up, not out. Continue to keep the soil evenly moist. No fertilizer is needed at this stage.
The first flowers are all males and will drop off the plant. After that, there are about ten male flowers for every female flower. You can tell a female flower because it has a little fruit at the base. Some varieties have all female flowers and produce cucumbers earlier than plants that have both male and female flowers. In the south, male flowers are often picked, battered, and deep-fried. Be sure to leave some male flowers, or you won’t get any fruit. The first male flowers appear 35-55 days after planting. The first female flowers appear 42-62 days after planting.
If the female flowers are dropping off the cucumber vines, you may have a pollination problem. Pick a male flower. Carefully peel the petals off. Swabe the male flower over the interior of the female flower, where the pistel is. Use one male flower for every five female flowers.
Keep the soil evenly moist. One week after the first flowers occur, side dress 33-0-0 fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet. Reapply the fertilizer three weeks later at the same rate. Do not fertilize again with 33-0-0 after this because it will encourage the vines to grow at the expense of flowers and fruit.
As soon as the female flower is pollinated, the fruit at its base begins to grow. It takes about ten days for a cucumber to be ready to harvest after the female flower is fertilized. Fruiting takes up a lot of water. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist, or the fruit will be bitter. You may have to slightly increase the amount of water you give per week to keep the soil moist during this stage but do not overwater it.
Check your cucumber vines every day, or at least every other day, for ripe cucumbers. Harvest cucumbers when they are dark green, an inch in diameter, and three to four inches long for pickling cucumbers and six to eight inches long for slicing cucumbers. Cut the cucumber vine one-quarter inch above the cucumber to avoid damaging the vine.
Do not let the cucumbers turn yellow unless you are growing lemon cucumbers. Regular cucumbers get fibrous and have large, hard seeds when they turn yellow. Leaving cucumbers on the plant until they turn yellow will make the cucumber plant stop producing cucumbers. The more cucumbers you pick, the more the plant will produce. Read my article to know the number of cucumbers per plant you can harvest.
Vining Versus Bush Cucumbers
All cucumbers are vines. The types of cucumbers labeled “bush” only grow two to three feet long. They are ideal for small spaces or containers. Vining cucumbers can grow from six to twelve feet long. They either need a lot of room or need to be grown up on a trellis.
Benefits of Trellising Cucumber Vines
In addition to saving space, training your cucumber vines up a trellis, wire fence panel, or even string keeps your fruit off the ground, promotes better air circulation, and means the fruit stays clean. The trellis almost eliminates belly rot and keeps the cucumbers out of reach of rolly pollies and other ground bugs. You won’t be as likely to lose a cucumber in the foliage and let it get too ripe, either.
Pickling Versus Slicing Cucumbers
Cucumbers come in pickling varieties and slicing varieties. Pickling varieties produce smaller pickles with a thicker skin that helps keep them crunchy when pickled. These vines also only produce for two to four weeks and do not produce as much fruit as slicing cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers produce fruit for four to twelve weeks and have more cucumbers. Their thin skin can be eaten, so you do not need to peel them. Small slicing cucumbers can be pickled, but they will not be as crisp as pickled cucumbers.
Cucumbers should be refrigerated as soon as they are picked. Use slicing cucumbers within ten to fourteen days of harvest. Pickling cucumbers should be pickled within a week of harvest.
In conclusion, cucumbers go through seven stages: planting, germination, seedling, vining, flowering, fruiting, and harvesting. While the soil needs to stay evenly moist throughout the stages, the amount of water needed to do that will increase as the vine begins to grow the fruit. Cucumbers should be fertilized with nitrogen when the flowers first form and about three weeks later. Do not fertilize with nitrogen after that, or the vines will grow but not have many flowers or fruit.