Is growing cucumbers a matter of hit – miss affair for you?
Every time you attempt growing them, either the seeds simply don’t germinate or the plants end up dying eventually. But what’s worse is the feeling that you’re no good with plants.
So, you do what every hopeless gardener does - you give up.
Not your fault:
As with everything worth doing, there’s only one way to growing cucumbers in pots successfully. And that’s having the right kind of information. As obvious as it might sound this is the surest way to increase the yield and quality of your cucumbers.
Luckily, by mysterious intervention, you’ve stumbled upon this article.
You’re going to learn 9 important tips for growing cucumbers in pots. If you stick around till the end, there’ll even be a bonus tip for you!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a gardening noob or a super green thumb. These tips will help you tip the scales of success in your favour.
Ready, let’s dive in:
9 Tips for Growing Cucumbers in Pots
Tip# 1: Choose a compact cucumber variety for growing in pots.
You need to start right by selecting a variety that increases your odds of success. If you’re a beginner, I recommend you start with bush-type and advance to vining cucumbers as you gain more experience.
Bush varieties are known to perform well in pots since they are short, compact and easy to grow as compared to vining ones.
Examples of bush cucumber varieties include; Salad Bush Hybrid, Bush Champion, Space master, Hybrid Bush Crop, Baby Bush, Bush Pickle, and Potluck.
Note: Carefully read the seed labels on the packets before making a purchase to identify the best choices for container gardening.
Tip# 2: Select the right size of the container
Cucumbers are deep rooted plants so they need containers that will offer enough depth for the roots to grow. Bigger pots hold more potting soil, which in turn retains water for longer period of time.
This is good for cucumbers!
The size or diameter of the pot will obviously be determined by the number of plants you want to grow in a single pot.
For example, a single cucumber plant requires a space of approximately 25 cm deep and wide.
With this example you will be able to calculate the size of the container for whatever number of plants you would wish to grow.
Scrub the growing pots with a brush and soapy water thoroughly before anything else and rinse out several times to make sure you get all the soap out.
Washing helps in getting rid of any bacteria present or insect-pest eggs that might hatch and attack your plants. You can also use one-part bleach and one-part water to disinfect the pots before planting.
Tip# 3: Use an appropriate potting soil
This is one thing that fails most gardeners. And that’s not paying attention to the kind of potting soil they use.
Cucumbers require a high quality well-draining potting soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
Most commercial container mixes are designed to have an ideal pH of 7.0 which is within the recommended range for cucumbers. But in case you aren't sure of the pH of your mix, it’s advisable you have it tested by a professional laboratory or local extension office.
Also, most commercial potting mixes have premixed fertilizer (slow release all purpose fertilizer) in them while others do not have.
If you happen to use the one without, you will be required to add an all-purpose fertilizer into the potting mix before planting.
If you’re a do-it-yourself freak like me, you can prepare your own mix.
Use compost, potting soil, perlite and peat moss at the ratio of 1:1:1:1 and boom – you have your own professional mix.
A word of advice; Under no circumstance should you use garden soil for growing cucumbers in pots. It might be cheap and readily available. But the drawbacks outweigh the good. For instance, the garden soil is heavy, slow to drain, and may contain insect and disease pests.
Tip# 4: Expose your cucumbers to enough light and temperature
Container grown cucumbers need warm soil and at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun to thrive.
It is very hard for anyone to really figure out how much direct sun an area gets.
This makes most if not all of us assume that the plants will obviously get enough sunlight.
Never make assumptions and expect your plants to thrive and give high quality produce.
Make use of technological improvements and innovations such as a sun calculator which helps in calculating how much sunlight a given area receives.
You can also use your watch instead and time the number of hours the sun is hitting an area.
Tip# 5: Adequately water your cucumbers
Do not leave the soil or mix to dry as this will inhibit growth and might lead to bitter cucumbers.
The potting mix should remain moist but not wet since too much wetness usually exposes your cucumbers to infections.
Water your plants preferably on a daily basis or whenever the soil feels dry depending on prevailing weather condition.
Slowly give your cucumbers enough water until a little extra drain out from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot or container.
How to check if your cucumber plants need water
Check whether your plants need watering by lifting the pot and feel its weight.
The heavier it feels, the more saturated the soil is with water therefore no need to water. But this method needs a lot of practice until you can master the weight changes before and after watering.
Actually, keeping a close check on the pot throughout the day for several days will help you know when the potting mix is dry.
Another simple way to check if the soil is dry is by sticking your finger in it and if it feels dry then it’s time to water your plants.
You need to conserve moisture. You can do this by adding a thin layer of mulch around the plants. This also helps in reducing the frequency with which you water the cucumbers.
Alternatively, you can choose to use self-watering planters which have in- built reservoirs that retain moisture for long.
This way you get to enjoy more time between watering. Though you still need to closely monitor the moisture level.
Remember: Plants use most of water during the day when they're actively photosynthesizing and transpiring so water your cucumbers in the morning unless it is expected to rain.
If you’re interested in learning more about watering, read this article – How to Water Potted Plants and Keep them Happy.
Tip# 6: Fertilize the plants
Cucumbers are heavy feeders so add a slow release all-purpose fertilizer into the potting mix before planting.
Feed your cucumbers with a diluted or half strength fertilizer in about 2- 4 weeks after planting. This should be done once every week during the growing period to improve crop performance.
Use either a commercial fertilizer or an organic fertilizer like liquid kelp or fish emulsion.
It is always good to drench the mix first before adding fertilizer.
In case your cucumbers are in an Earth box follow the instructions on the leaflet and add the organic fertilizer that comes with it.
Note: Different formulations have different application rates so read the leaflets attached to the fertilizer first beforehand.
Tip# 7: Use trellis to support the cucumber plants
Even though bush cucumbers do not require trellis, they do benefit from it.
First of all, trellising allows the cucumber to climb along the trellis from the start so your plants do not sprawl all over the ground.
The cucumbers therefore will not get dirty nor will they get damaged from the debris on the ground.
In addition, the plants on a trellis have most of their leaves exposed to more sunlight and this translates back to higher yields and improved fruit quality.
Moreover, trellising helps you train your cucumbers to grow in a desired direction therefore making use of the available vertical space.
The key thing to note when using trellis is to ensure you have a strong trellis system that can withstand strong wind because as the cucumbers grow, they will cover the trellis completely offering lots of wind resistance.
It is also important to keep your containers in an area that is well protected from wind such that they won’t be blown over.
Tip# 8: Protect your cucumbers from pests and diseases
The most common diseases in cucumbers are bacterial wilt, anthracnose, downy Mildew and Powdery Mildew.
Let’s look at what causes each of them and the control measures.
Bacterial wilt is caused by a bacteria Erwinia tracheiphila
This disease is spread mainly through striped and spotted cucumber beetles. These are small yellow colored insects with black stripes or spots on their backs.
They pick up bacteria while feeding and transfers them to other clean plants.
Symptoms of bacterial wilt in cucumber include yellowing, drying, and wilting leaves. This happens during the initial stages of infection. Within a few days the infected stems and vines wilt changing color to yellow or brown.
Make sure you use sanitary cultural practices and avoid exposing stems, leaves, and fruits to water and soil contact. This is the only effective way of preventing bacterial infection.
If a large part of your plant is affected, it's best to remove the entire plant from your garden.
A fungal disease caused by Colletotrichum orbiculare.
It is most prevalent in wet and warm conditions/regions with high humidity like southern and Mid-Atlantic States.
Symptoms of anthracnose in cucumber include yellow, water-soaked, circular spots on the leaves and fruits with dark brown to black edges.
The circular, yellow spots on the leaves are small at first but enlarge as the disease progresses. Spots on the fruits on the other hand appear black and sunken with pink clusters of fungal spores in the center.
Discard infected plants.
Downy mildew in cucumbers is caused by a fungi Pseudoperonospora cubensis
This disease is favored by shade and moisture especially in temperate regions.
The fungi can overwinter in plant debris.
Symptoms of downy mildew in cucumbers include; light green to yellow, angular spots on the leaves and fuzzy dark gray spots with purple spores on the underside of the leaves.
As the disease progresses, leaves will dry out, turn brown and fall off.
Use approved fungicides like Curzate, Zampro for control along with clearing affected plant or plant parts.
Powdery mildew in cucumbers is caused by a fungi Podosphaera xanthii or Erysiphe cichoracearum.
The fungi love warm, wet conditions and can overwinter in plant debris.
The spores don’t need moisture to germinate and they spread to other plants by wind, insect, and contaminated water or gardening equipment.
This disease is characterized by white, powdery spots or layers on the leaves and stems.
Spray organic powdery mildew treatments such as Vinegar, Neem oil, Potassium bicarbonate and Baking soda accompanied by removal of the affected plants or plant parts for control.
Pests in cucumbers
The most common pests in cucumbers include thrips, cucumber beetles and aphids.
Just like we did earlier with the diseases, let’s us now take a look at each one of them and the control measures.
Cucumber beetles can either be striped, spotted or banded. The banded cucumber beetles are found mostly in warm, southern areas.
Adult striped beetles have yellow wing covers with longitudinal black stripes, black head and abdomen whereas spotted ones have yellowish-green wing covers with black spots, yellow abdomen as well as a black thorax and head.
Cucumber beetles feed on leaves and flowers causing damage. They also transmit bacterial wilt pathogen to the healthy plants from the infected ones.
Management of cucumber beetles include; use of fabric row covers early in the season to physically exclude the beetles from cucumber plants, encourage sanitation around the plants and application of insecticides as a primary means.
The insecticides application should target adult beetles. These are active mostly in dusk and dawn.
The cotton or melon aphid is very common in cucumbers. These insects are either be light yellow, green or black in color.
Infestation by aphids begins when your cucumbers start to form runners.
Aphids suck sap from the underside of leaves leaving honeydew excretes that makes the leaves turn brown and eventually die.
Use reflective mulch to repel aphids.
Thrips are small, slender insects with sucking and rasping mouth parts that they use to feed leaving behind damaged plant parts.
The plant therefore becomes prone to disease infections which may lead to death.
Use yellow sticky traps during the flowering period to monitor thrips population from which you decide on the proper control method to use.
Encourage proper weed management as this helps in controlling thrips population. In case this doesn’t work, then apply an approved insecticide.
Tip# 9: Harvest your cucumbers upon reaching maturity
Depending on variety, cucumbers take approximately 50 to 70 days to reach maturity.
Harvest the cucumbers while they’re still small and tender by cutting them off the plant using sharp pruners or knife.
Pick the fruits more often in order to encourage more fruits.
I’d also suggest that you harvest your cucumbers in the morning when the weather is cool.
Bonus Point: Common Problems in Growing Cucumbers in Pots.
Cucumber Leaves wilting, turning yellow or bitter fruits
These are all common symptoms of an underlying problem. The biggest culprit being unhealthy watering practice. Over-watering could lead to wilting while underwatering often leads to bitter fruits
It’s important to keep a close eye on the cucumber plant. If the leaves are yellowing, but you aren't over-watering, it’s a sign of nitrogen deficiency.
Furthermore, the status of the potting mix such as the pH, drainage as well as nutrient availability greatly influences how the plant behaves. You can refer to Tip #3 in this article.
Fruit rots are as a result of you not giving your cucumbers enough space to grow.
As mentioned earlier, trellising offers enough vertical space for cucumbers to spread out such that fruits are kept off the ground.
Leaf and general plant deformation
Leaf deformation is caused by pests and disease attack. For example, aphids gather on the underside of the plant's leaves. They suck the sap from the leaves and stem causing the plant to be deformed.
Having the right kind of information gives you the superpowers to achieve anything you want. While this article, has a ton of information, how much you succeed depends on how much you act.
You’ve read the important tips for growing cucumbers in pots so that you can enjoy fresh cucumber salad or a crunchy cucumber and tomato salad all fresh from your own balcony garden.
What are you going to do NOW?
It’s your turn.
Know someone who’ll benefit from reading this article? Help me spread the word and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.